Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Building Emotional Resilience

“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life”
Albert Bandura

Emotional resilience seems to be a buzzword nowadays- whether in education, work or our personal life, we are told we need to be more resilient, to ‘bounce back’, to be more successful in life.  We all require some resilience in order to sustain ourselves through life’s challenges and survive.  

What makes us more resilient is something I’d like to begin to explore; are some people just more resilient than others? There are two characteristics that resilient people tend to display, whether in reaction to stress or trauma. These are:

  1. Emotional Control:  The ability to stay calm is one of the key factors in dealing with an emergency or a crisis situation.  Managing our emotions also enables us to build healthy relationships and feel a sense of empowerment in being able to regulate our experiences.  Expressing what you feel without acting out is also important.  A client of mine, Francine discovered this when she was dealing with being bullied at work.  Rather than going into ‘victim’ mode and not saying anything or attacking back, she confronted her line manager about it as soon as it became an issue and it got resolved by being assertive. 
  2. Openness to new Experiences: The second trait displayed by resilient people is openness to new experiences and managing change.  Although staying in our comfort zone may seem safe, it is through doing something new or in a different way that we expand our comfort zone and strengthen our resilience.   We also develop our character and become more interesting and self aware individuals.  For a start, try meeting new people, experiment with a new activity or improve on an existing skill.
It is easy allow ourselves to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty; it can feel as if we are trapped in a long dark tunnel, without an end in sight. Life disruptions are not necessarily a bad thing though as they enable us grow and meet future challenges in our lives. It’s a lot like a muscle that was weak and is now getting stronger from being used.   As Bandura says, it also helps us to learn self efficacy or self reliance in the face of subsequent uncertainty and difficulties, rather than going into old patterns of dependency or learned helplessness.  

Charlie, who came to see me following a period of depression and work absence described his recovery as feeling like I was pulling myself out of the hole, rather than wallowing in it, and then learning to go around it rather than falling straight back in.  Although we may need the support of family or friends or a therapist to cope better with a crisis, we need to be able to do it for ourselves. Emotional resilience is also about being self aware and learning to reset our internal compass to adapt to change and act on our own inner resources.  

Seven Steps to Bouncing Back:

1.    Keep things in Perspective. As in ‘this is just hassle with my car insurance, inconvenience with being late. It isn’t a matter of life and death’. 

2.    Focus on the Positive ‘Three months from now I’ll be laughing about this meeting and it won’t matter!’

3.    View life’s challenges as an opportunity to build resilience. Learn to handle obstacles such as rudeness, being delayed, being kept waiting and feeling let down.

4.    Manage your emotions. Throwing a tantrum is not a solution.  Problems are challenges, not impossibilities. 

5.    Ask yourself, ‘what is the first step towards a solution?  Then do it!  Repeat as necessary and don’t allow change to overwhelm you. 

6.    Imagine telling the story of your mishap to your friends.  The narrative demonstrates your resourcefulness, your sense of humour and your calmness under pressure. 

7.    Take time to reflect and learn from difficulties.  Ask ‘knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?’

When unexpected events turn life upside down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these “make-or-break” situations an opportunity for growth. It is all a matter of perception.  Although resiliency is something that is learned through experience, each of us has the capacity to reorganize our life after a disruption and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness.

Check out my website: www.lotusheal.co.uk for more details.

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