Why is resilience important and is it something that all of us can develop?
Everyone seems to agree about the unpredictability of resilience, who will actually demonstrate resilience and when. At the same time most also agree that each of us has the capacity to adopt for ourselves perspectives, attitudes and behaviors which seem to be consistent factors among those who have demonstrated resilience through stresses and trauma.
In short, understanding a definition of resilience is a first step, but in the long run resilience will be achieved when we actually respond to stressors and trauma in resilient ways. “How you respond to the issue is the issue.”
Watch this short excerpt (3:39) of an interview with Linda Graham, author of a recent book Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back (2018), where she gives a definition of resilience and some basic ideas of what creates the quality of resilience in an individual.
Optional: If you have difficulty loading the video above you may read the transcript here:
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with author Linda Graham about her book Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back From Disappointment, Difficulty and even Disaster. I hope that you’ll enjoy the interview.
Q: The title of your book is Resilience and I’m curious how you would define that word.
A: So resilience is a capacity. It’s innate in the brain. We can develop it to face and deal with life’s challenges, to bounce back from adversity and whether that’s, you know, barely a wobble, some minor disappointment, to a serious struggle and a heartache, to really the trauma of too much being dumped out of our boat. So we can develop capacities to bounce back from anything that disrupts our resilience and our well-being at any level.
Q: You say early in the book that flexibility is the core of resilience. Will you tell us more about that?
A: So there’s a capacity in the brain of response flexibility that allows us to perceive and then shift our perspective, our response, to something, and that’s what’s really key to resilience. My colleague Frankie Perez says, “How you respond to the issue is the issue.” So we’re cultivating that capacity to be able to see and catch our automatic habitual responses to things and to be able to shift them to new options, wiser choices.
Q: You also say that resilience is truly recoverable.
A: Thanks to the neural plasticity in the brain that even when we have our condition patterns in the neural circuitry has been laid down, out of experience, we can use that neural plasticity to create new patterns of response to rewire the old patterns of response. So as we learn how the brain works and how to work with it to create new responses then, yes the capacities that our brain supports are fully recoverable.
Q: And why do some people react to a trauma, like losing their home or losing a spouse, by seeming to fall apart when other people react to the same trauma seemingly unscathed, or even grow from the experience?
A: So we do know from research that different people will respond to the same trauma differently. Even the same person can respond to the same event differently at different times in their lives. So now the scientists are saying there’s really some factors that contribute to resilience and whether people go into trauma or not. It’s the severity of the external stressor or event. It’s the strength of their external resources in terms of people, financial and medical, and it’s their own internal resources of grit and determination and courage and compassion. I would add to that- it’s also people’s internal messages that they tell themselves, about how well they’re coping or not coping. So depending on those factors, people will perceive and then respond to an event differently. We know that when people are stressed or there’s an accumulation of stressors, it’s much harder for the higher brain to stay online. When we’re tired, when we’re frightened, it’s much harder for the higher brain to stay online. So there’s so many factors that go into that. What I try to teach in the book is that even if the resilience isn’t available at first, even if people experience a trauma, even if there’s been an accumulation of trauma over time, it’s still possible to recover the resilience and come out of those experiences into what’s now called post-traumatic growth.