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Resilience – the Ultimate Survival Tool

Resilience – the Ultimate Survival Tool
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By Steve Nubie

Resilience is the ability to deal with adversity when we’re confronted by loss or tragedy. But some people handle it better than others.

Life is typically a straight line of routine tasks with hills and valleys. Hills of success and enthusiasm defined by the birth of a child or grandchild; a promotion and raise, or simply a great day. But there are also valleys and some of those valleys can be deep. Valleys defined by the loss of a job, one’s personal health, or at its worst -the loss of a loved one. It’s one of the reasons we should appreciate those good times, but when the valleys are dark and deep the times can be both difficult and overwhelming.

Many of us over 50 have seen this pattern. How we manage those hard times is the true measure of who we are now and who we will continue to be. Somehow or another we all get through it. Psychologists call it “resilience.” But while resilience is a noble attribute it is not an instinctive virtue nor is it an automatic defense mechanism. Resilience sometimes has to be pursued and learned to allow us to get through some of the tougher times. Some of us succeed in this pursuit. Some fail. None of us find it easy.

According to the dictionary, the definition is simple:




The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Two key words emerge in that definition. “Capacity and toughness.” There’s also that element of time. Time can heal all wounds, but sometimes, time is not enough.

Some psychologists recommend group therapy as a way to deal with tragic loss. It’s a good idea. It helps to hear others share their feelings and to know that you’re not alone. But you don’t need to shut down your life and sit in a group everyday to manage loss. Sometimes it’s a highly reflective exercise that’s more intrapersonal than interpersonal. This is a highly conditional situation. Losing a job may be easier to deal with than losing a loved one. But regardless of the circumstances every single expert agrees on one thing: “Your support group defined by family and/or friends is your most critical success factor when coping with loss.”

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to pursue resilience to survive or succeed, make sure you look to those around you that you trust and love for support. They may also be feeling the loss or can simply provide you with the empathy and sympathy you need to cope. Stay close to them and let them help you. Resilience is not a solitary act but a shared action. But it’s never easy. In fact, resilience is a path that is often accompanied by stress and struggle. What’s important is to accept the pain and strive to manage the loss.

Numerous studies show that a critical success factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships both inside and outside the family. Relationships that nurture love and trust, offer encouragement and the reassurance that can help bolster a person’s ability to cope. Many factors motivate resilience including:

  • The ability to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Communication and problem solving skills.
  • The ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.

But resilience does not come automatically. It must be built and developed. 10 steps often define this approach.

Building Resilience:

1. Stay connected.

This gets back to your support group. Stay close to friends and family at times of loss whether it’s job loss or the loss of a loved one. Connections allow us to share and exchange ideas and feelings.

2. Understand the true problem.

This is all about getting to acceptance. If you’ve lost your job, focus on finding new employment rather than dwelling on the pain of job loss.

3. Embrace change.

Things are going to be different. The sooner we can come to terms with the changes surrounding us, the sooner we will overcome the deep emotions associated with tragedy and loss.

4. Have a goal.

Goal setting brings further focus to our efforts.

5. Take action.

This may be the one of the most therapeutic steps we can take. Actively addressing a problem or feelings of loss with defined tasks can help us to feel a renewed sense of control. Feeling a loss of control is often the strongest emotion that accompanies tragedy or loss. Even small steps towards actions can give us a renewed feeling of control.

6. Discover yourself.

Find the time to reflect on how you feel about the situation. When my brother passed away I was flooded with thoughts of our lives together. It helped a great deal to reflect on the times we shared and some of the unique things he taught me, and that I taught him as well.

7. Stay positive.

Easier said than done, but a positive attitude is another key to mastering resilience. We have to genuinely believe that things will get better, the situation will improve and some sense of balance and control will be restored.

8. Maintain your perspective.

Life goes on. Stay the course. There will always be setbacks. Remember the big picture and stay close to those whom you count as family and friends

9. Embrace hope.

Hope may be one of our greatest virtues. It keeps us going. Hope is related to goals and actions that we can take. Hope is about faith and the belief that things will get better.

10. Be kind to yourself.

Take it easy. Take a nap or at least get plenty of sleep. The wave of emotions that overwhelms us at times of loss or tragedy can take its toll. Now’s the time to give yourself a break while you cope with the situation and allow resilience to work you through events.

Over time, resilience can be called upon to help us with the continuing challenges we can both expect and anticipate.   Quite simply, it’s not a matter of choice but a fact of life. There will be tough times we have to manage and control. Embracing resilience can make those times easier for us and those who matter most in our lives.



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