We are Born Resilient. Part I

In this article we are going to talk about resilience and about being resilient, rather than learning about resilience, because we believe that this is something we are all born with, and something we should be aware of, rather than treat it as a brand new competence. Resilience probably is one of the “hot” words of 2020 and looks like 2021 too, loads of people talk about it, from therapy sessions to bus stop conversations, besides a massive offer of webinars, tutorials and articles out there on the topic. Let’s go step by step. 

In psychology, resilience, is a process of adapting to adversity, tragedy, trauma and stress and their sources, such as job, relationships, health issues and a global pandemic. 

Probably the best description comes from pedagogist Dr. Ginsburg and his seven components that are at the origin of resilience known as the 7Cs (Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping and Control).

Let’s explore them: 

Competence: how to deal with stress and stressful situations, skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours on ho you face challenges, deal with them and how to handle yourself when they happen. Confidence: Faith in yourself and your abilities rooted in your competences and ability to use them in real situations, knowing how and when use your strengths to face those challenges. 
Connection : community, family, friends, give connection and security, a net that can keep you safe from destructive behaviours and a place of care. Character : everybody has traits that positively influence confidence and self-worth and the roots are in our values, fostering self-care and awareness of our value-based compass through life. 
Contribution:  The feeling that we are giving something significant to others, contributing, for the benefit of a dear person, a community, the biosphere and the object of our contribution is better off because of us, together with the ability of accepting “thanks”, do help healthy decisions and choices, and enhance competences, connections and character. Coping : Includes social skills, and stress-reduction ones, essential to face life’s challenges when used with the other 7Cs. When dealing with resilience usually a strong focus is placed on coping, and just as often forgetting about the other six aspects. 
Control: you are in control of your actions and you are aware of it, you control who makes decisions about yourself, you control choices and you face life’s challenges and the results you get. 

Stop! Take some time before moving on, there is time trust me, and ask yourself some questions about what competences do you possess now that you can use to be a more resilient person? What are you confident about? And how is this rooted in your competences? What connections do you have that support your resilience? What is your community of belonging? How do you make choices? What is your compass in decision-making? Where and to whom do you give and contribute? How capable are you of accepting contribution and care from others? What are your coping mechanisms when facing hardships? What do you feel in control of?  Answer each and as spontaneously and naturally as possible. Great ! taking a few minutes to answer those questions will already start to raise your awareness about your own resilience, and what did I tell you?  it has been inside you all this time. 

The ability to deal with adversities and hardships and the impact those have on our physical and mental health, as these are known generators of stress, anxiety, neurotic behaviours and that these are an inevitable part of life, that we have to eventually face, and how we deal with these situations when they occur depends much on how we were able to learn from our present and past experiences and what they taught us on how to deal with adversity. Mostly is something we learn in childhood when facing what are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) which shape the blueprint of our worldview and interaction with ourselves, our communities and the biosphere. These ACEs are so impactful that they not only affect how we face adversities through life but go as far as determining the length of life, a disposition to suffer strokes, heart diseases and other serious health impediments, and the adversities we talk about can be domestic violence, substance abuse at home, parents divorcing etc. All threats that ignite in the child survival mechanisms which will be repeated and reused in other adult life stressful situations, the well known reaction of fight, flight, freeze upon which survival depends triggered by adversity. However it is not all gloom and doom, humans have a common characteristic, that of learning and evolving and what was learnt once can also be unlearnt, and most of that happens through interaction and mutual help, which translates as allowing those who care for us to close, to be given a chance for giving and receiving care as mirrors that will raise our own awareness concerning our resilience, discovering the 7Cs we already possess. 

We are social animals in constant interaction with one another, it is our nature to be mutually dependant, and as our minds constantly generate patterns that affect our behaviour and how we take decisions, every interaction we have demands rewiring of those patterns, as we adapt to circumstances which are ever dynamic, it’s our nature! The number of neural connections in our brains is higher than the number of atoms in the universe, do you realise how many patterns, choices and connections can be created? 

Our brain has also a function to store our memories , and what is a memory if not knowledge associated with an emotion? Then wait a minute! If knowledge can be gained and changed by rewiring ideas, that means the emotion can also change, and gain new insights and meanings, therefore today we can gain new learnings and awareness from past experiences, and a stressful situation that generated negative emotions can be transformed into a learning and game-changing opportunity that will support our dealing with adversity today. Take a minute. Can you remember a stressful situation in the past and how you managed it? What learnings can you gather from that? Take your time. 

Understanding resilience also means understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (and let’s make a distinction between needs and wants, although they look similar does not mean they are the same). At the top of Maslow’s pyramid is Self Actualisation which may occur once the physiological, security, belonging, appreciation needs are fulfilled. There may be another way to look at it, a more resilient one, by turning the pyramid upside down starting by self-actualisation without waiting for the other ones to be fulfilled. How? By starting contributing with what we got already, and that contribution is the way to gain purpose and meaning, and having purpose and meaning will lead to self-esteem, belonging, security etc. That is resilience, face reality for what it is, and to be proactive when dealing with what life gives, simple as that. 

Piling up negativity, use of Could Have, Should Have, Would have when talking about the past is harmful for both mind and body, so what is health? Forgiveness is healthy, so is reducing resentment and reducing envy too, that’s much healthier, and is a choice, our choice. 

Another constant element of our life is change, it’s natural and constant and can’t be escaped, change happens in the biosphere, in our communities in ourselves whether we want it or not, what is optional is growth, because growth is a choice on what we can gain from facing change. Therefore we have the privilege of being able to consciously choose to awaken our resilience to grow alongside with change, as individuals and as communities. Growth from Change is a possibility and a choice, and it can be an offspring of our contribution to the growth of others.

Change is something we all experience, and we experience it that means that we have an opportunity to learn and therefore grow from it, how does that become resilience? Simple by proactively sharing it with others, contributing, giving. Why is that? Because your growth that resulted from change and the learnings you gathered gain significance, purpose and meaning once it is shared, and those are essential for self-actualisation. 

Just keep in mind that purpose requires time and patience, remember the huge number of connections and patterns the mind can do, trying out, rewiring, learn, grow take time, does not mean it has to be huge and aim for the Peace Nobel Prize, great if you do! Just needs to be something which has meaning for you, set the target right, as long as it is not only about you, it’s about you and something greater than you and beyond you. The key is to work on behaviour, as that impacts attitude and a behaviour shaped around your purpose is actually beneficial to your mental health. 

Once more now take a pause to ask yourself some questions. What I do and feel right now, does it help anyone in any way? What is the purpose of doing and feeling this way? Do others besides me have a need for what I do and feel? What shall we do with what we have to improve our lives, other people’s lives, our communities and the biosphere?  Answered every question? Great! Well done! Interesting insights right? 

You can read the best books and theories, that won’t help unless your core has not rediscovered the already existing resilience from within you, this is something we are all inborn with, because it is an essential part of our survival and adaptation instinct, that which tells us to bend during a storm and wait for it to pass unless we want to be broken and shattered, yielding, flexibility, humility are the qualities brought by resilience. Keep in mind that adversity is often an opportunity as well, has it ever happened to you to face hardship and bring out the best in you in order to face and overcome it? 

True, we are inborn, and yet if unused it is as good as not having it, fortunately there are some practices that can bring out your resilient self and optimise it, and that is by practicing being realistic, flexible and optimistic and enjoy the effect this will have on your private and professional life. Easy to say right? If you are having trouble implementing those practices, tap into a time of your past when you were able to, I am talking about your childhood, that child you used to be, carefree, without a worry, curious about everything that surrounded you, and courageous as you faced and accepted challenges and adventures, able to get to out to play, fall get hurt and bounce back to continue to play. 

Hardships and stress are part of life, and this requires acceptance,  happy life does not mean being happy all the time, it means enjoy the good times and be resilient in the bad ones, ready to bounce back to your feet. “When we can’t change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves” V. Frankl. That is our freedom, if the situation can’t be changed we can change our attitude towards it, coherent with our optimism, realism and resourcefulness. 

Oftentimes transition from childhood to adulthood means that you start to perform what others expect of you and living to those expectation starts to generate anxiety which becomes vulnerability, just recall that the lighthearted child who constantly asked questions, is brave and takes risk is also a part of you and your experience, just as your resilience is. 

The final point concerns focus, most of the time people when facing stress operate coping mechanisms aimed at stress reduction, and by doing that the focus is kept on stress and the stressful situation, rather than the enjoyment of stress-reducing activity. As if you are told not to think of a blue flower, and automatically the blue flower comes into your mind. Let’s say for example that choose to start working out in order to release some of that anxiety, pressure and stress while keeping exactly that in the centre of your mind, instead of the enjoyment of the workout, the positive mental and physical results that will come, in the first case the workout will start to become heavier, more demotivating, likely to be skipped and irregular, because anchored to the stressful situation, rather than the enjoyment of the action itself. 

Stress is part of life, welcome it, and balance with a pursuit that is meaningful for you, volunteer, do something creative, whatever has meaning for you, pursue it, you owe it to yourself, to the child within, and to your resilient talents hidden, not for long, deep inside you. 

Published by Lorenzo Nava

Consultant, Trainer and Coach, on participatory learning processes, experiential learning dynamics, non formal education and NLP certified practitioner