The Face of Resilience

This post is part of an ongoing series on ministering to people in pain. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

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I remember the laughter. The precious children and young women entrusted to me for a year’s time had been through so much. Many of them had been to hell and back again. Some of them were still too young to realize it. But what I remember most wasn’t the tears or the anger. I remember the laughter ringing down the hallway, filtering through my door. I remember the sparkle of excitement on their faces as they shared dreams for the future. I remember their creativity. I remember how, for the most part, they looked forward to the future not as something to be feared but as something to be anticipated for its opportunity. For the vast majority of these kiddos, there was a sense that though the past had been difficult, and the present might still not be the best, the future could be good. I marveled. 

Resilience. It’s the word we use for the ability of the human spirit to bounce back and continue to thrive after hardship, heartache, and trauma. I believe it’s a mysterious and precious gift of God’s grace to us. 

Resilience  gives us hope that pain, though present and unavoidable, is what we make it. We can choose how to respond to our painful circumstances. We can grow and thrive in the face of pain.

Some of us may be more naturally resilient due to temperament, life experiences, relationships, etc., but researchers are finding that resilience can be cultivated. This gives us a great deal of hope. 

As we walk with someone through pain, as we come to the place when it is appropriate to be a “challenger," we can look to resilience in two ways: We can celebrate resilience as we “catch them in the act of coping," and we can encourage resilience’s development. 

Researchers have found common patterns of behavior and attitudes amongst resilience people. As you read the list below, remember these are trends. One person may not have all of these qualities, but these patterns are strong indicators of a person’s resilience and their ability to rebound from hardship. Some of these qualities are innate, but all, with a bit of effort in some cases, can be cultivated.

The Resilient…

  • Are realistic optimists. They do not live in whitewashing denial but neither do they live in despair. They recognize the negative but don’t remain fixated on it. They do not exaggerate their pain, trauma, or stress - or mull over it endlessly. They do not catastrophize. They are pragmatic about both pain and happiness.
     
  • Allow themselves to feel both good and bad emotions at the same time. They feel sorrow and joy, loss and gratitude. They relish positive experiences as they come, even if small. They take time to notice the good moments.
     
  • Approach all of life, including pain, as a learner. Pain is not a threat to be feared but an opportunity to be explored. They look at painful circumstances as a chance to grow and become stronger. They ask, “What is this teaching me?”
     
  • Refuse to be passive, helpless, victims. They actively take responsibility to do what they can with what they have. They are not obsessed, however, with control or perfection. They do what they can and move on. They are flexible in the ways they respond, react, and think.
     
  • Aren’t narcissistic or self-preoccupied. They know their life and their pain is only a part of the story. They are aware of both their strengths and weakness. They seek to serve others and embrace what they have to give, whether a smile, tutoring, cooking, a kind words, etc. They are generous givers, not hoarders.
     
  • Practice gratitude intentionally. They focus on what they have to be grateful for and deliberately bring those things to mind. They know how to be grateful for the “half loaf” or the second choice, for these are better than nothing.
     
  • Practice good self-care. They allow themselves to sleep and rest. They eat properly. They exercise. They manage their stress levels. They get outside and spend time in nature.
     
  • Have friendships and other meaningful relationships that provide support and help them know they aren’t alone.
     
  • Laugh and foster a good sense of humor. They can laugh at themselves, their mistakes, and their circumstances.
     
  • Hold onto hope. They believe "it's not over 'til it's over." From a Christian perspective, they cling to the hope of God's promise to make all things new and ultimately triumph over all pain, brokenness, and sorrow.

What Do We Do With This?

  1. When you see these qualities, point them out and celebrate them. Hold up a mirror so the person can see his or her own strength.
     
  2. Encourage the development of resilience-building skills, behaviors, and attitudes, such as those above. 
     
  3. Recognize that not everyone wants to (or is ready to) be resilient or to grow through pain. Graciously work with them through this.

Sources

10 Ways to Boost Your Emotional Resilience, Backed by Research” by Eric Barker for Time

The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency” by Jessie Sholl on ExperienceLife.com

The Secret Formula for Resilience” by Maria Konnikova for The New Yorker