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A Look at Becoming More Resilient

All of us will face challenges in our lives, like financial problems, physical or emotional illnesses, natural disasters, relationship problems, even job loss. Regardless of what they are, our ability to overcome them depends on how resilient we are.

What exactly is resilience? Amit Sood, MD, creator of Mayo Clinic Resilient Mind, compares it to body strength: “Resilience is the core strength you use to lift the load of life, it’s your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow, despite life’s downturns”. Many people have the misconception that being resilient means that one is so strong, or tough, that they do not face any challenges. This could not be further from the truth, resilient people are still affected by their problems, and feel deep sorrow, pain or grief. Being resilient means you can recover from those problems, and grow from the experience.

Let’s examine the concept of resilience in greater detail. Resilience is not a skill that people develop or use only when going through times of extreme crisis. Rather, it is built, or strengthened, as one goes through all kinds of stressors in everyday life. A smorgasbord of internal and external factors affects how resilient we are. In children, factors such as cognitive, social and emotional skills, positive relationships with caregivers, a supportive home environment, and academic engagement facilitate the development of resilience. However, even in adulthood, people are capable of developing the skills and qualities needed for resilience.

Three elements for building resilience

 

Suzanne C. Kobasa, a leading psychologist, delineated three essential elements for building resilience:

  1. Challenge: Resilient people perceive obstacles as a challenge they can overcome and grow from. This active approach to obstacles enables them to address their obstacles head on, instead of becoming defeated and overwhelmed. Neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner found that teaching people to reframe stimuli in positive terms when their initial response was negative changed how they experienced and reacted to the stimulus. Training people to better regulate their perception and emotional response can change how they overcome obstacles. 
  2. Commitment: A popular phrase is “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. What sets resilient people apart from others is their ability to continue working towards their goals even when things get more challenging. 
  3. Control: Having a high internal locus of control – where one believes their own actions and behaviour influence their life circumstances – increases one’s resilience. Take the example of an individual that has just been made redundant. If they have an internal locus of control, they are likely to look for other employment, retraining or educational opportunities, and find success. Conversely, those who have an external locus of control are often stuck in a state of ‘learned helplessness’ as they do not believe they have the power to change their circumstances. Changing your locus from external to internal leads to positive changes in both psychological well-being and objective work performance.

A great example of resilience

 

One person who personifies resilience is Dr Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who was the first African-American woman to become a doctor of medicine in the United States. Born in 1831 in Delaware, she was raised by her aunt, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbours, likely influencing Rebecca’s career choice. “Having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others,” she wrote. In 1852 Dr. Crumpler moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for 8 years. The physicians she worked with noted her skill and outstanding work ethic and encouraged her to attend medical school. She was admitted to the New England Female Medical College in 1860, when only 300 of the over 54,000 doctors in the United States were women, and all of them were white.

Her years in medical school were hardly smooth sailing, and once she became a doctor she faced many adversities. While she was loved by her patients, she was scorned by the medical community who discriminated against her harshly. The treatment she received was described in the book Outstanding Women Doctors: “Men doctors snubbed her, druggists balked at filling her prescriptions, and some people wisecracked that the M.D. behind her name stood for nothing more than Mule Driver”. Nevertheless, Dr Crumpler rose above the adversity, and continued to care for her patients. In 1883, she published a book titled A Book of Medical Discourses that was among the first to focus on child and women’s health. The resilience and tenacity Dr Crumpler displayed by overcoming many obstacles, breaking down barriers her community faced in practicing medicine is nothing short of fantastic.  

Dr. Crumpler was met with countless challenges, but remained committed to her goals and her desire to help people, which is how she likely helped to maintain her internal locus of control. 

Additional resources

Below are some helpful links to continue to build your resilience:
Build Your Resilience 
Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience
The 3 Secrets of Resilient People

This blog is intended for learning purposes only, and is not a study guide for the CASPer test. For tips on how to prepare for the CASPer test please see our FAQ page.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash