Resilience – You Either Got it or You Don’t?

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill

I wanted to talk about resilience, which simply described is whether an individual bends or break when faced with difficulties or challenging times. This topic came to my mind as I was sat in a coffee shop listening to an interesting conversation three individuals were having. They were talking about the mental health services that are available or lack thereof in schools. Being a Child and Adolescent Therapist, you can imagine my ears pricked up at this conversation. One of them said something interesting on the topic of resilience. She stated that resilience is something you are born with. How can you teach resilience? Now I really wanted to jump in to this conversation. I took one look at myself in my dabbing unicorn hoodie that my daughter bought me and insisted I wear, plus my messy ‘just rolled out of bed hair’ on the account of being up all night feeding a five month old and pictured the ‘sure…. you are a Therapist’ look and I hesitated. Besides they might think it rude that I was listening and now butting in to their conversation. So here is what I would have said.

Yes, resilience is like a seed that is planted in you when you are born. Research by Charney and Southwick (2012) suggests that resilient people seem to be better at using the hormone dopamine which helps to keep them positive during stress. The parenting you receive, the environment you grow up and circumstance that occur to you determines how that resilience seed blossoms. Some children are born into an environment where their resilience is allowed to bloom, some not so much. So, does that mean that’s it? You either have it or you don’t, let’s just give up on those children where circumstances didn’t allow for their resilience to be nurtured? No, absolutely no. So whilst resilience is inherent, it can certainly be taught. You could say it is more like teaching a set of skills and tools to use in certain difficult situations.

It is also about adapting and changing one’s perceptions. Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress. For children, particularly young children this source of stress can be simply hearing the word ‘No’. In this case things you might do to nurture resilience is acknowledge their feelings /frustration, explain the reason for the no and offer a distraction. Under ideal circumstances, the child would also have a parent modelling good resilience, not being flustered and frustrated by the strong reactions (read as tantrums) of the child but the real world is not ideal so we teach our children to be resilient how and when we can.

Now when faced with a child, teen or adult who needs to learn resilience, then it is about changing how they see and hear that no. So not seeing that no as an insurmountable problem but as something that requires thinking about on how to resolve, if it can be resolved. If it can’t be resolved, not experiencing that no as a personal attack. Teaching that disappointment can and does happen in life. It is also about teaching them how to set personal goals and achieve it. A trained professional can support with this. Competence also builds resilience, so it is also about creating natural and authentic ways to succeed. This is particularly useful in schools, every child should be given an opportunity to succeed in their way. I am not talking about false praise, but personalised success focusing on their own strengths. The biggest key to teaching and building resilience is having a positive relationship with an individual of good resilience themselves who is guiding you through it. This is my brief thoughts on resilience; however this is something I explore at length and in depth in my one to one sessions, particularly with teenagers. Understanding resilience and how it works can be a significant contribution to their emotional well being.