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What is Resilience?

Eric Dean

Having worked with many clients who are struggling with addiction and decide to enter treatment, I have seen numerous examples of remarkable courage, strength, and resilience. When I talk with others about how they define resilience, I often hear a similar response: “the ability to bounce back.” This is partially correct. Absolutely, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adverse situations and experiences. But resilience has another component in addition to the ability to bounce back: the ability to be positively transformed by the adversity. 

One example of resilience would be conquering an addiction and living a happy and fulfilling life. Not only did that person overcome a powerful and fatal disease (addiction), but they were able to positively transform their lives as a result of the disease. In other words, they were able to use addiction as a catalyst for positive change. 

Every time you resolve and/or successfully cope with a difficult situation, you are becoming a little bit stronger, building up your resilience. Over time you will build up a vast bank of past experiences that can guide you on how to handle misfortune and hardship in the future.

So how do I become resilient?

How to cultivate resilience is not an easy question to answer. But I can tell you this much, the answer lies within you. Operating from a strengths-based approach I believe that my clients already possess much of what they need to be happy and healthy. Then, it is my job to help them identify and apply their strengths in a way that is consistent with their values and supportive of their goals. 

There are some common traits that I see in resilient people. First, resilient people are able to find the silver lining even when they are in dire straits. This doesn’t mean adopting an unrealistically positive view of their situation. It means that they can recognize that rarely is something all bad or that the situation in which they find themselves may be temporary. Recognizing the ephemeral nature of a difficult situation can go a long way towards reducing the intensity of the symptoms associated with it. 

Another common characteristic is that resilient people tend to have a strong social support network. This does not necessarily mean that they have a lot of close friends, for even having a few acquaintances is better than isolating or disconnecting. Just knowing that they have someone to talk to should the need arise can be protective during hardship, whether or not they actually reach out to that person.

Lastly, resilient people are able to accept their situation as it is. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) we teach two kinds of acceptance: Everyday Acceptance (EA) and Radical Acceptance (RA). Everyday acceptance involves acknowledging the irritations and inconveniences we encounter on a regular basis, such as traffic or our transportation arriving late. Radical Acceptance, on the other hand, involves tolerance of major life events including a relationship break up or that you or your loved one may have a substance abuse problem. The opposite of acceptance is resistance. Resilience oftentimes involves recognizing that we have limited control over the vast majority of events that transpire in the world. By focusing on what we cannot control we are wasting valuable energy and resources. Resilient people focus on what they can control and respond to situations as they arise. 

Everything I just talked about is highly learnable. With the right motivation and attitude, you can build up your resilience to help you cope with situations that will arise and are out of your control. By adopting a positive mentality, building a support system, and practicing acceptance you can accomplish anything. If you’re looking for a therapist in Chicago who can help you develop resilience, contact our therapy practice

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