Traumatic events come in all shapes and forms. They can be chronic, like enduring the long-term effects of a big breakup. Or they can occur in an instant: abuse, accidents, or the sudden loss of someone dear.
Why is it that some people crumble under life’s pressures, while others who face arguably more trying circumstances find ways to flourish? Why do I have to fight back the tears when I get a parking ticket at the end of a tough day, while other people are out running marathons without legs?
Resilience, our ability to thrive in the face of adversity, is what makes the difference. Maria Konnikova recently took a closer look at resilience and here are three things to know about it.
Resilient People Lack A Victim Mentality
There have been several variations of studies that track the performance of school children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and then examines what the children who thrive are doing differently from those who don’t.
One of the most profound differences is in the kids’ mindset. The most successful kids have a pronounced lack of victim mentality; rather, much the opposite. They have a strong sense personal agency, seeing themselves as influencing outcomes in their lives, and not the other way around. This is known in the literature as having an "internal locus of control."
Resilient People Assign Meaning To Setbacks
Another strategy that research has shown the most resilient people use is to assign meaning to the setbacks they experience. In crafting this narrative, in giving themselves a personal “why,” they are able to transform the mental experience from suffering to growing pains. This might explain why it’s probably not coincidence that resilient people tend to be more spiritual than average, and why spiritual people are happier than most. Spirituality can be a very effective tool for giving meaning to life, but it is not the only tool.
The benefit is more than mental: reframing a stressful event from traumatizing to a challenge to be overcome can sooth the body's fight or flight response, which can make you more effective in dealing with it.
Resilient People Re-frame Experiences
It's important to note that the benefits of doing this can be enjoyed even by people who don't do this naturally: when researchers have taught people to re-frame, (e.g. "This is temporary," or "Not everything about this is bad,") those people experience less anxiety and depression. So the next time you find yourself up against a tough battle, increase your chances of coming out the other side by asking yourself how you can re-frame things.
For more on resilience, see Maria's full article here (newyorker.com).