Resilience (re-ZIL-yens) is the ability to overcome difficulty or negative experiences and to rebound or recover quickly from adversity, change, or challenge.
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Abraham Lincoln experienced a number of failures that could have left him feeling sorely defeated. He failed in business as a storekeeper. He failed when he farmed. He lost his sweetheart and his first bid for political office. Running for Congress the first time, he lost. He also lost his bid for the United States Senate. He failed to win the vice presidential nomination in 1856. Despite these striking failures, Lincoln became the sixteenth president of the United States, and many people consider him to be the greatest president in history.
What Is Resilience?
While Lincoln may be one of the most famous examples of a resilient person, millions of people regularly demonstrate resilience within their lives. Resilience reflects an individual's coping skills, which are the qualities within an individual that allow him or her to recover from difficulty. While research about resiliency is ongoing, scientists have found that strong coping skills most often develop within individuals during their first ten years of life. Positive parenting during a child's first three years of life contributes to resilience in important ways. However, the need for the ability to bring about change and to find strength for one's life exists at all times.
Setbacks are temporary
A key element of human resilience is an individual's ability to see a difficult situation as temporary and passing. The expression "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade" refers to resilience; a resilient person takes something sour and makes it into something positive. Resilient individuals focus on the future and take steps to bring about changes to improve their situations. They have upbeat beliefs and faith in a brighter future. Such positive beliefs include:
- that negative past events do not necessarily predict or determine the future
- that challenges or tragedies are not a constant part of life
- that setbacks are situations that people can overcome
- that setting goals and planning for the future can help in achieving success
- that something good can come from bad
Resilient individuals manage their stress largely by managing themselves and their beliefs. Viewing difficult circumstances as temporary, they hold the view that humans are capable of rising above adversity.
When faced with overwhelming situations, resilient children find a way to stay cool and find a place of safety. Children who are considered resilient seem to bounce back from their difficulties and remain optimistic about the future. However, difficult life events, family stress, illness, and accidents still affect resilient children. No matter how resilient they are, children still need the safety provided by responsible adults.
Frequently, resilient individuals place a high value on education. They view achievement in school as a way to rise out of and above difficulties that might hold others back. One study found that the ability to read at grade level by age ten predicted resilience into adulthood. Often resilient people find something they can do well and then practice doing it so they can enjoy ongoing success.
Another characteristic commonly exhibited by resilient individuals is the ability to enlist support, either from a single individual or from a group. Support prevents a person who is going through tough times from feeling overwhelmingly alone and helps the person understand that difficult circumstances will not last forever. Two important sources of support are religious organizations and therapeutic groups and professionals. Participation in community or religious groups increases resilience by providing connections with others who may have similar beliefs and perspectives for coping with life stresses. A study of 1,500 people in North Carolina over a six-year period found that regular churchgoers had stronger immune systems * than did non-churchgoers. Research also indicates that cognitive-behavioral therapy * and other forms of psychological treatment can help trauma * survivors regain resilience and recover from post-traumatic stress disorder * .
* immune system fights germs and other foreign substances that enter the body.
* cognitive-behavioral therapy is counseling that helps people make changes in thinking and behavior that can bring about emotional healing and improve problem solving.
* trauma (TRAW-muh), in the broadest sense, refers to a wound or injury, whether psychological or physical. It occurs when a person experiences a sudden or violent injury (physical trauma) or encounters a situation that involves intense fear and loss of control (psychological trauma).
* post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder in which people who have survived a terrifying event relive their terror in nightmares, memories, and feelings of fear, It is severe enough to interfere with everyday living and can occur after a natural disaster, military combat, rape, mugging, or other violence,
Desetta, Al, and Sybil Wolin, eds. The Struggle to be Strong: True Stories by Teens About Overcoming Tough Times. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2000. Thirty stories by teens tell how they overcame difficult challenges.
ResilienceNet is a website that provides information for helping
children and families overcome adversities.