Resilience – learning to roll with the punches

Content provided by a guest contributor.

It may seem as though some of us get more knocks in life than others. The truth is that some people can ride with what life gives them, whereas others have difficulty doing so. The difference is what is referred to as “emotional resilience”. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from all kinds of experiences and feelings: grief, depression, humiliation, depression, fear, etc.

Resilience gives us the opportunity to recover from what we “perceived” as a disaster or failure and to try again. The degree of resilience we have developed is determined by the following factors:

  • Partly our genetics; how our families taught us to handle hurt or trying situations
  • How much trust we place in the world
  • The degree of confidence our caretakers instilled in us
  • How our own individual experience (i.e. our perception) of success and failure affected us
  • The timing of difficult events (sometimes we can handle it, but other times we feel more vulnerable)

When we're feeling low, our ability to fight back is also at a low. Research has found that resilient people:

  • Have a strong commitment to themselves; they will make decisions or act in a way that is to their advantage
  • Believe they have control over every situation in some way. They have a rigorous attitude toward the world around them – they bounce back – “I don’t know how I will deal with this, but I know I can”. So they will remain positive despite the challenges
  • Look for the reason behind the event, i.e. try to work out what they can learn from what has happened
  • Are stimulated by challenge and see stress as a motivator rather than seeing it as threat
  • They accept change: pick themselves up quickly and move into action

On the other hand, people who have difficulty dealing with challenges tend to:

  • Feel powerless
  • Believe they have no control
  • Resist change

Resilience can be learned and developed

Resilience is part of our emotional intelligence. When faced with a problem, resilient people focus on finding a solution rather than getting depressed and feeling like victims. Resilience is another name to emotional strength.

Since we cannot control many of our life experiences, we can only control our response to them. If we for whatever reason were short on resilience as children here are some guidelines on how we can increase this attitude within ourselves.

Some guidelines to develop resilience

One major obstacle to forming resilience is negativity. Negative thinking makes people look badly at people, actions and behaviours and attracts the wrong experiences. What kind of self talk do you use?

  • Learn to trust your instincts (gut feelings). What is your inner voice trying to say to you? What is that nagging feeling or message that you keep on ignoring or trying to argue away?
  • Learn flexibility. Adjust to different ideas and changing situations. Try different kinds of food, listen to different kinds of music and expose yourself to different cultures, different social groups and different hobbies.
  • Learn responsibility. When you blame someone else or circumstances for poor outcomes, be aware that you give the other person or the circumstances the power over your life. When you feel bad about something, ask yourself, “What can I do to feel better?” and “What can I learn from this?”
  • Identify and get in touch with emotions. Learn to express your emotions, to say “I don’t like it”, “I’m not happy”, “I want”, “I prefer”, “I will be happy if”, “I’m upset” and “I was sad”. Increase your emotional vocabulary.
  • Develop a positive focus. Find good in every situation. Make a habit of saying one good thing about every bad situation. Seeing good/opportunities in everything will help you respond better to loss, change, major illnesses or any other challenge.
  • Level your expectations of yourself. When your expectations are too high, you experiences less success, feel more out of control and may give up. 
  • Master a new skill. Being good at something gives you a very good feeling and confidence. Find something you like. When you are good at something, you know the making of success. You also learn that being a success is a process of trying and effort to get to where you want to be.  
  • Expose yourself to inspiring people who have won against all odds. If you have such people around you, make sure you spend time with them. Read the biographies or autobiographies of good role models and see how they handled adversity.
  • Know that you always have a choice. In every situation, every person has a choice about what to do, how to respond and how to feel. Make a conscious effort to choose your attitude in all situations.
  • Learn gratitude. Grateful people are more positive. If they appreciate what they have and focus on it rather than what they do not have, they will not treat not getting what they want as “the end of the world”.
  • Learn to reward yourself. Unfortunately, we live in a society in which rewards are external. Learn to give yourself recognition e.g. say, “I did well”, “I was great” or “I’m a good friend”, this will give you a lot of strength.
  • Focus on the next task that is required, as opposed to fretting about the end goal. Having a purpose is an important factor of resilience. Volunteer time, skills or money (if applicable) to what you consider a good cause and use the good feeling as the reward.
  • Differentiate between what you can control and what you have no control over. Take your attention off those issues that fall in the latter category.

For many of us building resilience is a lifelong process. Every day we have a choice to make a further step toward our personal growth. What choice are you going to make today?


The content in this article was provided by Linda Germishuizen - Clinical and Industrial Psychologist, and founder of PsychMastery.

For more information, contact:


Tel: 082 467 3214



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