When I contemplate emotional resilience, at least two well-known movies come into mind, Erin Brockovich and Joy. Erin, a single mother, despite all odds finds a job as a legal assistant. When she accidentally discovers that Pacific Gas and Electric are poisoning city’s water supply, her life gains a whole new meaning as she starts the fight for justice. Woman who has been thwarted by life suddenly finds something bigger than her own suffering. Joy’s story is even more dramatic. She looks not only after her children but also after her parents and an ex-husband, she is the only one keeping the house together that they all live in. Exhausted and overworked she is trying to juggle life when everything starts rapidly falling apart. However, she has an idea, big bold idea that she truly believes in. Is it an immediate success? No! She has to go to the hell and back facing betrayals, criticism, financial debt and a death of a loved one. However, she rises against all odds and sets up a successful business empire.
Why are Erin’s and Joy’s stories so inspiring? Because their emotional resilience is rather heroic – most of us crumble in the face of a much smaller adversity.
What is emotional resilience?
It is our ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life, solve problems, manage strong feelings in a healthy way, speak our truth – share our thoughts and feelings with family and friends, demonstrate empathy for others, have a positive and hopeful outlook on life, develop and maintain supportive relationships, ask for help when we need to, feel good about ourselves and have confidence in our abilities. Essentially, it is what we need in order to succeed in life.
We all are different people and we have different stories. Some of us are more resilient innately, others are more fragile. The good news is that emotional resilience is a trait that we can develop.
4 key steps to developing emotional resilience.
Alter the perception. Perception is at the forefront of resilience. It is all about the meaning we give to events in our lives that are happening right now or happened in the past. Whether we fall victim to our experience or view it as an opportunity to learn and grow bouncing back from it with greater understanding is completely up to us. Start challenging your perceptions, start seeing those experiences as building blocks to who you are today. Perhaps you are stronger, you have more compassion and humility towards others or solely because of the experience you’ve gone through you are a much better parent, spouse, friend. When faced with adversity, many of us make beautiful promises to be better than…, to never abandon, to never take for granted, to never harm with our words or actions. We don’t want others to go through the same pain we went through.
Change the language. The language we speak to ourselves matters. There are certain communication patterns that can soften the blow and make us more hopeful when something bad happens. Switching your explanatory style from internal to external (understanding bad things happen to good people instead of ferociously blaming yourself), from global to specific (your life isn’t ruined because you lost a job, it is just this part of your life that is facing a challenge right now, you still have friends and family who love and support you) and from permanent to impermanent (seeing challenges as temporary – “This too shall pass” rather than “It will always be this way”) will help you to feel more hopeful in any situation.
Find a hero in you. In adversity we feel as if we are naked – our weaknesses are completely exposed. However, we forget about the strengths that help us endure. We forget to appreciate ourselves for the heroic qualities we possess. In any event you can change the way you view yourself from a victim to a hero. Most of us learn to internalise failure as children and carry that through into our adult lives. Instead, we need to learn to internalise the success – the strengths that we have, the amazing qualities, the things that we do for others and for the world. Perhaps you demonstrated heroic patience, vulnerability, understanding or a sense of responsibility in a very difficult situation, you changed somebody’s life with your honesty and kindness, you cared for somebody deeply… Find that hero in you.
Practice gratitude. We can’t feel grateful and fearful or angry at the same time. It is also impossible to see the cup half-empty when our heart is bursting with appreciation. Gratitude is an antidote to suffering. Make it a habit either by daily practice or by applying an acute awareness. As soon as you start seeing life from ‘a cup is half-empty’ perspective find things to appreciate. What if you really wanted to feel grateful, is there anything you can appreciate right now?
There is a potential in all of us to thrive despite adversity, to nurture hope and resolve.