4 essential reframes for true well-being.
- Resilience resentment is a common reaction to being pressured to “just be strong” in the face of hardship.
- To become truly resilient, people need to see themselves in context and apply new discoveries of science.
- Resilience is best built within candid, caring communities and relationships.
For many, resilience has been pitched as the hero’s journey in overcoming stress in one fell swoop, bouncing back with great velocity due to unparalleled bootstrap-pulling abilities—all while completely ignoring the conditions that cause us to need to be resilient to begin with. When resilience is pitched old-school style—that it’s just a matter of sheer will or the lack of it that makes us adaptable, admirable humans—it’s no wonder we’ve become bitter.
Resilience resentment—pushback to trite, toxically positive nudges to disguise and conquer emotions and “just be strong” as if we’re grit-bots—is growing, and for good reason. Connotations of resilience like this deserve to be challenged. Not only are they off the mark, but they can get in the way of understanding how true resilience can be cultivated.
To start, resilience must be contextualized. None of us lives in a vacuum. When we experience distress, it’s a proportionate reaction to our environment, not a moral failing. A systems view of resilience—one that accounts for the conditions being faced—is essential.
Resilience must also be considered according to the latest discoveries in brain science. Gone are the days when we evaluate it as a matter of character or toughness.
Despite popularized sentiments, we don’t need to be unwavering under stress in order to be resilient. In fact, research shows that we are capable of becoming more resilient when we acknowledge challenges and remain open to asking for help.
Reframing resilience based on the science of what helps us do well can better position us to grow it. Consider these essential reframes:
1. Resilience is a process, not a trait.
The belief that some people are just born with or without resilience is antiquated. The literature is clear—resilience takes time. Experience with suffering can help us build empathy, adaptability, and resourcefulness—but not in the flip of a switch. Our ability to integrate the learning from difficult experiences can be nurtured over time, with intention, rather than thinking we have an unlucky gene pool or somehow missed the memo on how to keep calm and carry on.
2. Resilience isn’t bouncing back and ignoring dark emotions.
Pretending we are fine when we’re not is a hindrance, not a supporter of well-being. We are not rubber balls. Getting up after we’ve been knocked down without examining the lessons and nurturing ourselves can create unintended consequences. Research shows that practices such as mindfulness that focus on acceptance of difficult emotions can serve to help us own and move through them in a way that’s more effective than blatantly ignoring them.
3. Resilience involves leveraging protective factors, not having the perfect life.
We are incredibly hard on ourselves. Social media feeds make it seem like we’re hot messes if we haven’t slayed all day to meet our life goals by age 20. It’s easy to feel underaccomplished and unsuccessful when ideals of having an Insta-perfect life are seen at every turn.
Yet research overwhelmingly cites the power of protective factors in our lives. These include caring relationships, living out our values, practicing awe and gratitude, time spent immersed in relaxing and fun activities, a sense of humor, and the ability to draw upon past experiences to solve current problems. There’s no such thing as a perfect life, but we can focus on building protective factors that provide needed buffers to life’s inevitable blows.
4. Resilience happens in a community.
Staunch individualism can impede resilience. Relationships and a sense of belonging are associated with helping create the conditions of psychological safety—a sense of belonging without fear of being belittled or scrutinized. Knowing we’re not alone and having people who support us in living out values helps generate momentum and a sense of shared purpose. Resilience is built when we join forces to identify what helps sustain us. Candid, caring relationships are vital aspects of true resilience.
RESILIENCE ESSENTIAL READS
Resilience resentment is warranted when it’s based on old-school definitions laden with shame and outdated slogans. Yet, when we reframe resilience based on science, we can harness our adaptive potential without ignoring the complexities we’re trying to navigate. Rather than pressuring ourselves to be perfect or trying to hide difficult emotions, we can leverage protective factors, including relationships where we feel safe and seen.
Lee, K. (2022). Worth the Risk: Learn How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World. Sounds True: Boulder.