Dylan still recalls the bleak and dark days when his father would return home drunk and ready to beat him up at the slightest provocation. He always felt like he was walking on eggshells in the house. But 15 years after he abandoned his father and the house he grew up, Dylan became Officer Dylan – sworn to protect citizens in less privileged neighborhoods like the one he lived in.
Most people believe that children who’ve had rough childhoods are bound to become mentally ill adults. But that isn’t the case. In fact, many people who face traumas, abuse, natural disasters and neglect often rise above it and become mentally healthy individuals with stable families.
So this begs the question: What makes some people more resilient than others? Is resilience linked to genes or can it be cultivated?
The short answer is: Yes, the ability to bounce back from adversity can be cultivated. Although more research is required in this area of study, evidence points to five characteristics that make a person resilient:
Strong Inter-Personal Relationships
People who have a strong support system – friends, family members, a kind neighbor, a teacher or spouse – are more likely to overcome adversity than others who are lonely. Moreover, they aren’t afraid to talk about their traumatic experiences with those who care about them.
Interestingly, resilient individuals don’t just lean on friends and family for support. Being a part of a community helps too. Which is why many former alcoholics benefit immensely from joining a local alcoholics anonymous community.
Strong Sense of Purpose
Many people racked with a troubled past undergo a process of recovery that forces them to relive difficult events. During this recovery process, troubled teens and adults reflect and reinterpret traumatic events. This reflection helps them draw strength from it and emerge with a new sense of purpose. In fact, people with a strong sense of purpose have greater well-being, less mental health problems, and better disposition.
Dylan, in the above example, found a strong sense of purpose after reflecting on his past that involved his alcoholic father. As an adult, his purpose included protecting children in less privileged neighborhoods as a police officer.
Maintain Self-Esteem and Optimism
Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kinda person? Do you have low self-esteem? Resilience also involves being able to maintain your self-esteem and sense of optimism despite being faced with hardships. Sometimes, parents who are alcoholics or abusers can make children feel powerless or ashamed of themselves. Children who can maintain their self-esteem and have a sunny outlook on life rise from the ashes of a troubled childhood.
Yes, resilient people regulate their emotions and control their impulses. One way to do this is through mindfulness. Being present in the moment completely helps you respond rather than react to situations and people.
Taking Responsibility of One’s Life
Raise your hand if you’ve ever met someone who constantly plays the role of a victim and seeks sympathy from others. Well, resilient people aren’t like that. See, talking about how someone traumatized you all the time takes away the obligation to change yourself and your life. It makes you unable to take control of your own life. It inhibits you from taking responsibility of your own actions and life. People that bounce back from suffering take charge of their life.
Developing resilience isn’t rocket science. After life knocks you down, you can get up by having a strong support system, practicing mindfulness, taking responsibility for your life, maintaining your self-esteem and having a strong sense of purpose.
Note: It is imperative to report a case of domestic violence, child and sex abuse to the relevant authorities. Victims of abuse can use resources such as counseling to deal with the trauma.
Need help developing resilience? Do you or your loved ones need assistance in overcoming adversity? Feel free to contact Orly Gueron a Licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship specialist in Aventura, FL!