Building resilience

People

April 27, 2023



Understanding strengths, facing failures and maintaining strong relationships help us when facing hardship.

by Juliet Lam Kuehnle

A primary factor that is foundational to our wellness is resiliency. My guess is that you’ve already demonstrated a lot of resilience throughout your life. But resilience, since it’s not a personality trait, can also be learned and strengthened. Resiliency is the ability to undergo hardship and still be OK — to bounce back after periods of stress. A person does this thanks to their inherent strengths, personal resources, belief in themselves, and their perspective on problems. 

The meaning we assign to things is largely influenced by our sense of self and belief in our own resiliency. When a bad thing happens, our belief about what happened impacts how we navigate it. Being able to separate what happened from the meaning we assign to it is an essential tool of resilience. For example, let’s say you get a negative performance review at work and your boss has made several suggestions for improvement. You might jump to conclusions about how this means you’re the worst employee ever, you’re stupid, and you’re going to get fired. Or, you can widen the lens, put the performance review in the context of your strengths and weaknesses and see it as an opportunity for growth. Being resilient means that we’re able to catch the meaning-making of any situation so as to remain objective and optimistic about pulling through. 

Another primary resilience factor is psychological flexibility: learning to hold thoughts and emotions loosely so as to have the ability to act on our longer-term values, no matter the short-term impulses. Therapists often compare this to the image of a tree being blown around in the wind by a storm and ultimately being righted when the wind passes. Humans are this way, too. We may be tested and pushed, but we are best served to trust in our innate abilities — along with skills we can build — to bounce back. 

We can learn to have a good grasp of our strengths to help us get through inevitable setbacks. A lot of people downplay their strengths or simply aren’t aware of them since perhaps they’re taken for granted. To better understand our strengths, we can consider how we show up well in our various roles (as partner, coworker, parent, sibling, friend, etc.). We can also ask people close to us what they observe and think we’re good at. Finally, we can look at a strengths inventory online to identify words that feel true to who we are. Recognizing our strengths means we’re more attuned to our true selves and that we also know our weaknesses. Understanding both means we know what to leverage and where to ask for help, which all helps build our resilience.

Bea Moise, author of Our Neurodivergent Journey and parenting coach says: “Resilience lives in the intersection of success and failure. To become resilient, you must have both. Many psychological factors can help with how an individual processes failures; home, social, or community support are all things that help build resilience. However, recognizing that failure is a key component is critical.” Facing our failures helps build our resilience because we know we’re giving things our all and growing in the process. It’s quite freeing to learn to be authentic as you grasp shortcomings, big wins and everything in between. This takes off undue pressure and allows us to be more self-aware.

Lastly, building and maintaining strong relationships aids in our resiliency. Pursuing connections that allow us to be vulnerable and honest makes us feel less alone. We learn to appropriately lean on others, strengthening our ability to trust and love. In turn, this allows us to be a positive support for others, as well. Once again, social relationships prove to be key in our psychological wellness. We’re all in it together!  SP

Juliet Kuehnle is the founder/owner and a therapist at Sun Counseling and Wellness. Kuehnle’s first book entitled Who You Callin’ Crazy?!: The Journey From Stigma To Therapy debuts this month. Follow along on Instagram @YepIGoToTherapy for updates. You’re also invited to attend an “End the Stigma” book launch party on May 7 from 2-5 p.m. Visit yepigototherapy.com/pages/book for more information.

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