What is Resilience? It May Not Be What You Think!

Resilience is a big buzzword these days. From first responder, such as fire-rescue, EMS, law enforcement, and other fields, to business leaders, managers, and stay at home Moms and Dads, most of us nowadays, are recognized for the need to be resilient in the face of the unrelenting stress of jobs and life. Some equate it to “mental toughness” or the ability to suck it up and drive on in the face of adversity. Others see resilience in light of being able to bounce back from tough events and circumstances.

In the literature about resilience, there’s almost always a sociological and relational context for how responses to adversity play out. The more resources we are able to tap into in the face of challenges, the better. Dr. Michael Ungar, Director of the Resilience Research Centre, has suggested that resilience is better understood as follows: “In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”

Disaster reporters, sports announcers, and even financial fund managers tout resilience almost daily, though what is meant by the word is rarely discussed. Remember the George Patton quote? “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”   All of us, at some point in our lives, will hit bottom, sometimes when we least expect it. What that means and how it plays out will vary widely from person to person.

We all experience trauma in our lives, from the loss of loved ones to war to natural or unnatural disasters. The esteemed neurologist, Dr. Robert Scaer, has posited that our “little traumas” – bullying, discrimination, legal issues, financial hardships, and many others – often aggregate into a form of helplessness that challenges our resilience. Layer a few of these together, and add in seriously adverse or volatile events, and there’s a formula for what is often referred to as complex trauma. Complex trauma can be particularly difficult for certain populations, such as first responders, who experience many things that most people do not. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that we all have stress, we all have trauma, and we all need resilience.

Since human beings experience various forms of large to small traumas, we already are disposed to developing resilience and learning to handle adversity of all kinds – or, by the same token, collapsing under the pressure. A key to recovery from life’s challenges is developing a sense of mastery within ourselves by gaining a strong locus of control. When we can’t respond to something awful and there’s nothing we can do about it (think 9-11), “learned helplessness” kicks in.  

Learned helplessness is a key ingredient to trauma. And the antidote? Empowerment, self-regulation, and social connection. By recognizing what is within your control, you find the way out of helplessness. Learning how to regulate your internal stress response, and thereby developing self-mastery, IS the way toward the resolution of traumatic events. Engaging in social support IS the way to reconnecting after extremely disconnecting events. Simply put, empowerment is the antidote to helplessness – which by definition IS trauma.

The upcoming EVENPULSE training course for “Universal Stress” – lauching January 1, 2018 – is focused on stress regulation, human performance, and resilience in order to empower people in the face of life experiences. We teach people how to navigate the human condition – mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual – and how to relate to each other from that space and draw on resources within and without. EVENPULSE is pursuing a nationwide and international resilience and well-being effort that truly sets the standard for how to support people in navigating the stressors of their lives and to come out strong and empowered.   Find out more about how to join us and build your team and ours.