“Resilience exists when individuals who are exposed to great psychological or physical stress can uphold their mental health or quickly restore it after a brief phase of stress symptoms.” (Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research)
In the last 20 years, resilience research has undergone significant changes. At first, resilience was defined as “trait oriented” and was therefore associated with a person’s specific personality traits. By now resilience is being described more and more as “outcome oriented”, in the sense that mental or psychological health can be maintained or restored in spite of significant stress or strains, be they acute or chronic. From this perspective, stress is the prerequisite for the manifestation of personal resilience (Chmitorz et. al., 2018).
There is also broad consensus that resilience is multifactorial and the result of a dynamic process: Resilience arises from an interplay of many personally protective factors and at least in part from a supportive environment. Resilience factors are the resources that protect people from potential negative effects (stressors) by allowing them to develop the best possible coping strategy for the stressor in question. This means that personal resilience is closely linked to individual stress management. (See the BWI blog on stress competence)
The good news is that resilience can be taught. The image depicts the factors that have been proven to positively influence psychological resilience (a.o. Heller and Gallenmüller 2019; Felder-Fallmann and Hanfstingl 2021).
People need realistic optimism. They mustn’t get lost in utopian fantasies, but instead possess the fundamental conviction that times will get better again and that life can also be beautiful. Acceptance is a part of this: For many, the pandemic posed and still poses an existential threat, jobs were lost, hardships had to be endured. Resilient people can accept the unchangeable, on the one hand by accepting what is happening around them, but also inwardly by accepting their feelings and personal state of mind. Brené Brown (2021) summed it up perfectly:
“For many of us, myself included, it’s easier to live in our heads and be completely disconnected from our bodies. But there’s a cost. Insomnia, injuries, exhaustion, depression, anxiety – the body has powerful ways to get our attention.”
Armed with acceptance and realistic optimism, a resilient person can act as long as they are still capable of acting: Solution-oriented people see problems as challenges and can develop different ways of overcoming a stressor. What’s more, they are convinced of their own self-efficacy: Whatever happens, resilient people don’t assume the role of the victim and instead actively search for coping strategies. These resilience factors are supported by a sense of personal responsibility and thus the conviction that every person is responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and actions. Personal resilience factors are boosted by a focus on the future and the ability to repeatedly set new, positive goals and to be able to perceive the meaning of life as a resource. These factors are embedded in the idea of network orientation. As social beings, humans need a reliable reference person with whom they can feel safe and who can also offer help and support in difficult times. Even in the event that a relationship breaks down, resilient people manage to build new, sustainable relationships.
Of course all of this is easier said than done. The sustainable development of personal resilience factors demands permanent confrontation and is part of each of our personal life journeys.
Resilience will not save you from things happening to you, it will not make you untouchable and let you "tower over life". Resilient people know that there is no light without shadow. They can go along with the dynamics of life. Or, as Brené Brown (2021) writes, “In this life, we will know and bear witness to incredible sorrow and anguish, and we will experience breathless love and joy. There will be boring days and exciting moments, low-grade disappointment and seething anger, wonder and confusion. The wild and ever-changing nature of emotions and experiences leaves our hearts stretch-marked and strong, worn and willing.”
Developing stress competence - strengthening resilience
- Brown, Brené. 2021. Atlas of the Heart. New York: Random House.
- Chmitorz, A., A. Kunzler, I. Helmreich, O. Tüscher, R. Kalisch, T. Kubiak, M. Wessa, und K. Lieb. 2018. „Intervention Studies to Foster Resilience - a Systematic Review and Proposal for a Resilience Framework in Future Intervention Studies“. Clinical Psychology Review, 2018.
- Felder-Fallmann, Claudia, und Barbara Hanfstingl. 2021. Resilienz. Klagenfurt/Celovec: Hermagoras/Mohorjeva.
- Heller, Jutta, und Nina Gallenmüller. 2019. „Resilienz-Coaching: Zwischen ‚Handchenhalten‘ für Einzelne und Kulturentwicklung für Organisationen“. In Resilienz für die VUCA-Welt. Wiesbaden: Springer Nature.