The subject of resilience in positive psychology deals with the ability to cope with whatever life throws at you. Some people can be knocked down by life and return as a stronger person than ever before. These people are called resilient.
A resilient person works through challenges by using personal resources, strengths and other positive capacities of psychological capital such as hope, optimism and self-efficacy. Overcoming a crisis by resiliency is often described as “bouncing back” to a normal state of functioning. Being resilient is also positively associated with happiness.
“If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”
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Let’s start at the beginning
Relationships play a vital role in building the resilience of an individual. This starts at a young age, when we are heavily influenced by our parents. The most resilient children are those who have been raised with an authoritative parenting style, rather than authoritarian or passive parenting styles.
The authoritative parenting style displays the qualities of warmth and affection that also provide structure and support to the child. Baumrinds’ (1971, 2013) theory of parenting styles has shown that authoritative parenting is the ideal approach to raising a well rounded, independent, self-reliant, and self-controlled individual. Opposing this is the authoritarian parenting style, that often results in rebellious or dependent children who experience more distrust and tend to be withdrawn.
Lopez and Snyder (2009) present the protective factors for psychological resilience, concluding that parenting style is just one of many factors affecting resilience. They also consider parental educational level, socio-economic status and home environment (organized vs. disorganized) as strong influences in the of development of a child’s psychological resilience.
Many researchers have developed similar conclusions using Baumrinds’ categorization of parenting styles. The type of relationship, as well as the type of person in the relationship, play big roles in the development of resilience.
These positive relationships, where well-adjusted and rule abiding behaviours are valued, have strong positive effects on the resilence levels of those involved.
The most salient individual characteristics include cognitive skills and personality differences related to effective problem solving, self-regulation, and adaptability to stress.
Through early relationships and supportive environments, children can learn a variety of personal resources which directly contribute to the development of their psychological resilience over time. Lopez and Snyder mention these key protective individual factors as:
- Positive self-image
- Problem-solving skills
- Faith / understanding the meaning and one’s purpose
- Positive outlook
- Skills and talents that are valued by self and community
- General acceptance by others
Environments for Growth
Environments which provide structure and safety have effects on the development of individual psychological resiliency.
Factors such as good public safety and availability to health care impact the development of a community’s resilience. Namely, the greater the social care, the more positive is each individual’s perceived value of their place in the world.
Education is another major factor to consider when building resilience as it provides structure and opportunities for individuals to learn and develop skills and talents. This can also be encouraged through prosocial organizations such as sports teams or clubs. These environments enable individuals to develop a positive self-image and feel the purpose by contributing to the world.
A core part of the positive education movement is creating prosocial organisations and effective schools but, additionally, there is a focus on specific school programs, teaching methods and engaging family relationships in order to develop resilience directly and in a supportive environment. An example of such a program is the Penn Resiliency Program.
How do I become more resilient?
Even if the environment you grew up wasn’t ideal for the development of resilience: it’s never too late. Being resilient is not a personality trait, but more a dynamic learning process. The individual doesn’t perceive moments of crisis as an unsolvable state, but rather as a learning experience and a chance for personal development and growth.
A major point in learning resilience is to be able to take perspective on things. In moments of stress it might be useful to place your individual situation into a bigger context to get a grasp on its real severity, or the lack thereof.
People that are resilient often show a positive attitude. They don’t label failure as something negative, instead they see it as helpful feedback and motivation to work more and get better. Getting in touch with other people, helping them, and overall establishing positivity in life are important steps in the process of learning resilience. In Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504 course, professor Tal Ben-Shahar goes in-depth on the subject of resilience in positive psychology.
Use your strengths
Using your character strengths is a good way for yourself to experience your competence. However, a lot of people don’t know what their strengths are. Something that you are good at comes easy to you, which is why you often take it for granted and don’t recognize it as a major strength.
Learn more about character strengths and take the VIA test for instance to find your strengths. It can also be helpful to ask people who know you well what they think you are good at. While you are at it, ask yourself as well!
Several strengths are associated with happiness, which in turn is a helpful state of mind to become more resilient. Science shows that consciously embracing moments of daily life and being fully present (mindfulness) leads to increased happiness.
Practice your ABC’s
Briefly described by Seligman and addressed in detail in Reivich and Shatté, the ABCDE model is often used in different resilience programs and is particularly useful in breaking down a given adversity and seeing how it’s our beliefs about what happened that are causing us to feel a certain way, not the event itself.
This allows for a greater level of awareness about our own reactions and subsequently a more adjusted and healthy response to adversity. The model is composed of 5 steps:
These steps offer the keys to building resilience which involves recognizing any unfavorable thought patterns, finding the true reason behind the emotions, recognising the negative impact of these emotions, learning to challenge them with varied ideas and thus begin choosing new more effective courses of action.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
– Dr. Steve Maraboli
Lopez, S. J., & Snyder, C. R. (Eds.). (2009). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.
Baumrind, D. (1971). Current Patterns Of Parental Authority. Developmental Psychology, 4(1), 1-103.
Baumrind, D. (2013). Authoritative parenting revisited: History and current status. In R. E. Larzelere, A. S. Morris, A. W. Harrist, R. E. Larzelere, A. S. Morris, A. W. Harrist (Eds.) , Authoritative parenting: Synthesizing nurturance and discipline for optimal child development (pp. 11-34). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/13948-002