By , On 1st July 2020 Comments Off on Resilience -what it is and how to become better at it

What is resilience?

There are a few givens in life that no one can escape. We will all be tested by external forces outside our control and by internal challenges that may make us feel vulnerable. Will we find the resilience to move through our situation and thrive?

Resilience is not the absence of distress, difficulty, or traumatic experiences. Resilience is the ability to adapt and grow because of adversity. This gives you the capacity to overcome challenges and setbacks.

How do you feel?

A person who feels no emotional distress when difficulty arises, is not showing resilience. Because the person who fails miserably, feels intense negative emotions, and has the strength to try another day who is displaying resilience.

Because resilience is not necessarily always just about surviving misfortune.

Experiences help our resilience

Every experience changes us, and, through resilience, challenging experiences may present opportunities for growth. We may use obstacles and failures to learn more effective coping techniques. Due to this, we may become more skilled at managing obstacles through experience, becoming more tolerant of difficulties. These are not uncommon outcomes resulting from learning and they important lessons to help us navigate the day-to-day.

How to become more resilient

“Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well, in the face of adversity — these could be family problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” (APA, 2020)

We all demonstrate resilience throughout our lives. However some people may be more resilient than others. This is often not a characteristic that you either have or don’t have. There is a tendency to consider resilience as the special faculty certain individuals were born with, a trait. It is not true, resilience is a learned ability and we all have the capacity to develop it.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are 10 ways to build resilience:

  1. Making connections and building your social support network.
  2. Avoiding the tendency to view crises as insurmountable challenges. I can.
  3. Accepting that change is a natural and unavoidable part of life.
  4. Moving towards your realistic goals. Take control and responsibility.
  5. Take decisive actions to help you face your challenges.
  6. Looking for opportunities for self-discovery. Personal development.
  7. Nurturing a positive view of yourself and your abilities. Have the courage to be imperfect and aim for your best.
  8. Keeping things in perspective and in context.
  9. Maintaining a hopeful look in life.
  10. Taking care of yourself. Rechange- resilience is not all about enduring.

How do we not let losses and adversity bring us down?
How do we not succumb to our fears?

Loss and uncertainty are part of life. we feel sad, frustrated, and angry when we experience loss. As a result we may feel anxious when faced with the unknown. When we live through change, and take risks. These are normal feelings arising from some events at various times in our lives and if we are true to ourselves, we will not deny how we feel. These feelings are not pleasant, but they can be tolerated, and do not remain forever. Change is constant and it is important to embrace it and be confident on our capacity to adapt successfully.

How to cultivate resilience

Individuals demonstrate resilience when, they draw on inner strengths, skills, and supports to keep adverse events from defeating them. It is well documented that social support is essential for maintaining physical and emotional health. From birth we need others to survive, and, although as we grow we rely more on personal resourcefulness, as social beings, it is important that we reach out for help when needed.

How do you stay resilient when you feel like quitting?

Experience disappointment but do not wallow in it

Of course, it hurts when our dreams get derailed. Allow yourself to experience the frustration and disappointment that comes with failure, then gather your energy and get going again. It is no good denying your emotions, they are there, but make sure you look for another option to pursue rather than getting stuck in despairing.

Be true to yourself

What is it that is driving you toward your desired goal? What are your needs, wishes and values? They tell you the direction of your actions. What are the steps you need to take towards those goals in line with your needs and values? When your actions are aligned with your needs and values towards a goal, your achievements will feel worthwhile and your life will be more meaningful. This is fertile ground for resilience.

Try again

Sometimes we become so attached to a particular outcome that we become devastated when we do not achieve it. If there is only one way to succeed, then disappointment will probably be a constant in our lives.

One step at a time

We may get frustrated with the lack of progress. However, small steps are sometimes better than a big jump that may be too challenging to take. Just a little step forward on the very day when you had a difficult experience can help you to move through the fears and pain

Adapting may require letting go

Resilience is not an exclusive trait some people are born with nor is it being free of distress. We can all develop resilience and mange life challenges when we have access to sufficient resources. These resources may be internal or external, like inner strength and appropriate skills or the necessary supports to face obstacles. Inner strength and support from others will come to our aid well when we feel like giving up and, instead, we will be able to persist on reaching our goals.


Acceptance of an imperfect life, self-awareness, and knowledge about what our emotions are communicating to us, are important conditions for the development of resilience and adaptation. This awareness will lead us and keep us balance without pushing ourselves beyond our individual limitations and nurture the natural human capacity for growth.

Need help now? Book as session with our online psychologists now.

Written by Dr. Beatriz Gil Perez
BA.Hons Psych, Mphil., MLitt., DCouns Psych.
Counselling Psychologist


American Psychological Association (2020). Building your resilience. Last updated 1st February, 2020. Accessed 15.06.20

American Psychological Association. Building your resilience. Retrieved on 10.02.2020 from

American Psychological Association. Ten ways to build resilience.  Retrieved on 14.11.2019 from

Bonanno, G. A. (2008). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, practice, and Policy, S1), 101-113. DOI: 10.1037/1942-9681.S.1.10

Johnson, J. L. & Wiechelt, S. A. (2004). Introduction to the special issue on resilience. Substance Use and Misuse, 39(5), 657-670.

Neenan, M. (2018). Developing resilience. A cognitive-behavioural approach. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge.

Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C. & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives. European Journal of Psychotraumatology 5, 25338.

Tugade, M. M. & Fredrickson, B. l. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320-333. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.320

Zimmerman, M. A. (2013). Resiliency theory: A strengths-based approach to research and practice for adolescent health. Health Education & Behaviour, 40(4), 381-383. doi/10.1177/1090198113493782

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