by Brad Waters

May 21, 2013

from PsychologyToday Website

Spanish version







Resilience is defined as an individual's ability

to properly adapt to stress and adversity.

Stress and adversity can come in the shape of

family or relationship problems,

health problems, or workplace and financial stressors,

among others.

Individuals demonstrate resilience

when they can face difficult experiences

and rise above them with ease.

Resilience is not a rare ability;

in reality, it is found in the average individual

and it can be learned and developed by virtually anyone.

Resilience should be considered a process,

rather than a trait to be had.










Part 1

10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People



Ten years ago this month, Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in her article "The Art of Resilience":

"At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself - yet also a belief in something larger than oneself.

Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs…


It's possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It's possible to fortify your psyche. It's possible to develop a sense of mastery."


  • How do we fortify our psyche to ride the waves of adversity rather than being pulled under by the torrent?

  • How is it that some people handle incredible amounts of stress while others quickly fall apart?

Those who master resilience tend to be skilled in preparing for emotional emergencies and adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity - times are tough but I know they will get better.


The old metaphor applies:

'Resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane - they bend rather than break.'

Or, even if they feel like they're broken for a time, there's still a part of them deep inside that knows they won't be broken forever.


Here's how they do it... 


  1. They know their boundaries - Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story but it does not overtake their permanent identity.



  2. They keep good company - Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people, whether just for fun or when there's a need for support.


    Supportive people give us the space to grieve and work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all of our problems with their advice.


    Good supporters know how to just be with adversity - calming us rather than frustrating us.



  3. They cultivate self-awareness - Being ‘blissfully unaware' can get us through a bad day but it's not a very wise long-term strategy.


    Self-awareness helps us get in touch with our psychological/physiological needs - knowing what we need, what we don't need, and when it's time to reach out for some extra help. The self-aware are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mood are sending.


    On the other hand, a prideful stubbornness without emotional flexibility or self-awareness can make us emotional glaciers: Always trying to be strong in order to stay afloat, yet prone to massive stress fractures when we experience an unexpected change in our environment.



  4. They practice acceptance - Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and healing takes time.


    When we're in it, we want the pain to go away. When we're outside it, we want to take away the pain of those who we see suffering. Yet resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows. As hard as it is in the moment, it's better to come to terms with the truth of the pain than to ignore it, repress it, or deny it.


    Acceptance is not about giving up and letting the stress take over, it's about leaning in to experience the full range of emotions and trusting that we will bounce back.



  5. They're willing to sit in silence - We are masters of distraction: T.V., overeating, abusing drugs, risky behavior, gossip, etc.


    We all react differently to stress and trauma. Some of us shut down and some of us ramp up. Somewhere in the middle there is mindfulness - being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance.


    It takes practice, but it's one of the purest and most ancient forms of healing and resilience-building.



  6. They don't have to have all the answers - The psyche has its own built-in protective mechanisms that help us regulate stress.


    When we try hard to find the answers to difficult questions in the face to traumatic events, that trying too hard can block the answers from arising naturally in their own due time.


    We can find strength in knowing that it's okay to not have it all figured out right now and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when our mind-body-soul is ready.



  7. They have a menu of self-care habits - They have a mental list (perhaps even a physical list) of good habits that support them when they need it most.


    We can all become self-care spotters in our life - noticing those things that recharge our batteries and fill our cup.


    In part two of this resilience blog series, my guest Karen Horneffer-Ginter, author of Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life's Just Too Much, shares her 25 ideas for cultivating resilience. Her blog just might inspire you to create your own self-care menu.


    Karen has taken the menu idea a step further by designing a self-care poster that serves as visual inspiration to nourish the soul when life's just too much.



  8. They enlist their team - The most resilient among us know how to reach out for help.


    They know who will serve as a listening ear and, let's be honest, who won't! Our team of supporters helps us reflect back what they see when we're too immersed in overwhelm to witness our own coping.


    We can all learn how to be better supporters on other people's team.


    In this L.A. Times article, "How not to say the wrong thing", psychologist Susan Silk and co-author Barry Goldman help readers develop a strategy for effectively supporting others and proactively seeking the support we need for ourselves.


    Remember, it's okay to communicate to our supporters what is and isn't helpful feedback/support for our needs.



  9. They consider the possibilities - We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which can possibly change.


    Can this situation be looked at in a different way that I haven't been considering? This helps us maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being colored by our current interpretation.


    Our interpretations of our stories will always change as we grow and mature. Knowing that today's interpretation can and will change, gives us the faith and hope that things can feel better tomorrow.



  10. They get out of their head - When we're in the midst of stress and overwhelm, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We can find reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head and onto our paper.


    As Dr. James Pennebaker wrote in his book Writing to Heal,

"People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing.


Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals."

Writing is one resilience strategy we can literally keep in our back pocket.


But there are other ways to get out of our head. Looking back at #5, it's actually okay to distract ourselves sometimes. That is, it's okay when the distraction serves to get us out of rumination mode and bring us back to the present moment.


Healthy distractions include going to the gym or going for a walk, cooking & baking, volunteering, or any of the self-care items on your self-care menu from #7.



Note: For another perspective on resilience - from a psychological research perspective rather than a self-care focus strategy - read the following article by Dr. Paul Wong, "The Positive Psychology of Persistence and Flexibility".








Part 2

25 Ways to Boost Resilience


Guest author Karen Horneffer-Ginter is a psychologist and author of the new book "Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life's Just Too Much".


She writes with humor and honesty about how we can move from lives of disconnectedness and overwhelm toward lives of more fulfillment.


"Karen's 25 Ways To Boost Resilience"


Resilience in the moment:

  1. Seek sources of inspiring news - Check out sites like or as a way of taking in quick doses of positivity and inspiration.

  2. Allow yourself to feel your emotions - Sometimes having a good cry or fully feeling our emotions in some other way can help us re-find our center and feel less overwhelmed by our feelings.

  3. Take a run - It can help to get moving - in whatever way we choose - to let go of stress, increase our energy level, and release endorphins into our system.

  4. Remember a time of resiliency in your past - What allowed you to find a sense of courage, strength, and hardiness in the past? By remembering such life moments, we can create a metaphoric trail of breadcrumbs back to this place within ourselves.

  5. Lift some weights - Engaging our physical strength can allow us to feel stronger emotionally. Free weights, squats, and empowering yoga poses can all help us reconnect with the hardiness in our body.

  6. Talk with someone you trust. Having meaningful and honest conversation can help us feel less alone and allow us to gain clarity about what we most need.

  7. Take a morning off to recharge - Unplugging and stepping off the wheel of our doing can offer just the reset we need to re-find our center.

  8. Take a time-out bath - Either in its simple form (or with the additional of candles, bubbles, and a relaxing scent) unwinding with a bath can help us decompress and relax back into our resiliency.

  9. Think of someone you know who exudes resiliency - It can help to pull up an example of embodied resiliency as we attempt to reconnect with our own version of inner-strength.

  10. Connect with your sense of source through meditation or prayer - By taking time to be quiet and turn our attention within, we can reconnect with what feels sacred and grounding.

  11. Go about the ordinary tasks of the day - Sometimes it helps to simply get back into our routine, even if we don't feel up for it. Returning to the familiar can help re-settle things within.

  12. Take a walk in nature - It can feel refreshing to get outside, clear our mind, and invigorate our senses. Sometimes this offers just the recharge we need.

  13. Write in a journal - Writing down our thoughts and feelings can help us make sense of what's going on and appreciate that life's challenges are also opportunities for growth and learning.

  14. Boost the resiliency of someone else - Sometimes, the best way to reconnect with our resiliency is to support someone else by offering our encouragement and kindness.

  15. Notice your feet making contact with the floor - Simple as this reminder might sound, it can help us feel more grounded to notice the soles of our feet. You can also visualize roots extending down into the earth and imagine that with each in-breath, you're drawing up nourishment and strength into the core of your body.

  16. Have compassion for yourself and your humanness - Sometimes the quickest route to reconnecting with our resiliency is easing up around our expectations that we should always be strong and invulnerable.

  17. Listen to empowering music - Put on some songs that help re-ignite your courage and strength.

  18. Take several intentional breaths. Breathing in and out in an invigorating way can help recharge our sense of vitality and hardiness. It can be useful to forcefully exhale, and then allow a natural inhalation (known in yoga as the "skull cleansing" breath).

  19. Take action - When we're feeling overwhelmed and helpless, it can help to identify a concrete step we can take to improve our situation.

  20. Remember you're not alone in your experience - It can be helpful to recognize the universality of our human emotions, remembering that others also feel vulnerable and overwhelmed from time-to-time. As we aspire for greater levels of resiliency, we can wish the same for all others.


Resilience over time:

  1. Form a resiliency support group - Identify a handful of like-minded people who can offer support and inspiration. A group of two also works!

  2. Keep a collection of inspiring quotes - Seek out phrases and quotes that help connect you with your deepest truth and resiliency. It's great to have these handy when you're in need of inspiration.

  3. Create a mantra - Come up with a slogan or a brief statement of your intentions, so that you can come back to this when needed (e.g., "Even in the face of uncertainty, I move forward with strength and love").

  4. Carve out a daily self-care routine - Identify activities that support you to feel your best - these may include exercise, meditation/prayer, adequate rest, and healthy eating. Experiment to see what works best for you.

  5. Practice mindfulness in day-to-day life - The more we practice being in the moment across all sorts of moments, the better able we are to show up fully for whatever life brings our way.