If you weren’t affected directly, by now you’ve seen pictures of the damage that Hurricane Sandy inflicted on portions of the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States last month. My heart goes out to everyone affected and I wish you peace and comfort.
You’ve also likely heard the countless stories of strength, kindness & selflessness; stories that leave me in awe of the human spirit’s ability to recover and remind me why I chose the career path I did.
Traumatic events, whether a personal set back, loss of a loved one, a terrorist attack or natural disaster, challenge and shape who we are. Responses to difficult events range enormously and I have always been curious why some of us are paralyzed in the face of adversity while others seem to flourish and bounce back more easily. What is it that makes someone resilient? And is it a quality we can develop?
Resiliency is defined as the ability to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed or stretched; the ability to readily recover from illness, depression, adversity or the like.
Research suggests that we can, in fact, build our resilience and knowing the characteristics of resilient people can help you do just that. Resilient people are:
Accepting and have an internal sense of control: They recognized that the proverbial bell “has rung” and wishing that it didn’t won’t change anything. They believe they can influence the outcomes of whatever happens to them by redirecting their energy and attention away from what they cannot control, to what they can.
Flexible and problem solve: They look for new solutions to problems, recognizing that what worked in the past might not in the current situation. They identify clear action steps, regardless of how small, and then take action.
Invested in social connections: They have strong connections with others and value and nurture their relationships.
Optimistic and hopeful: They believe that the world is generally a good and safe place. They are not immune to sadness and despair. Rather, they recognize that misfortune, sadness and loss will always be a part of life and actively choose to focus on the positive.
Insightful and have perspective: These are the people who say “it could have been worse.” They do not see themselves as victims and can focus on the bigger picture.
Spiritual: They have a sense of meaning and purpose to their life and believe others do too.
Able to keep their sense of humor: They look for the comic relief in the face of challenge
I have learned a lot about resilience from friends and patients in these weeks. A friend who just returned to her home found a boat in her kitchen. Her response: “Do I get to keep the boat?” That same kitchen had been damaged in Hurricane Irene and was just rebuilt.
Another friend and her daughter were saved by a neighbor after water suddenly flooded into her building. She lost her home and belongs. Her response: “At least I put a bra on that morning.”
A man on television whose property was damaged and was going on his 5th day without electricity. His response: “What’s happening to me is inconvenient, not tragic.”
Although I hope your need to demonstrate resiliency is few and far between, the more we engage in behaviors and in a mindset that foster resiliency, the better equipped we will be when confronted with the next challenge.