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How To Be Resilient. Five Common Traits In Resilient People.

Everyone on the planet goes through tough situations during their lifetime. There is not one person who can remain unscathed in their existence. You may be racking your brain to think of a person who has no difficulty; The people you are thinking of have had toughness too. Despair doesn’t need to be compared because it is something everyone experiences, so it is a matter of how you take care of yourself through it.

The Oxford dictionary defines resilience as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Resiliency is the way we bounce back from the hardest challenges in our lives to transform surviving into thriving. It is the acceptance that tough things will happen in life, but you don’t have to give up when they do. Instead, you can build your resilience to recover more quickly from difficult situations. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

This doesn’t mean you minimize grief, loneliness, sadness, and hardship. In fact, honor your wounds with all of those feelings. Resilience means that you come to a place of acceptance and focus on what you can do to help yourself heal.

According to Steve Southwick Professor of Psychiatry and the Yale School of Medicine, the most resilient people have these 5 traits in common: optimism, a moral compass, religious or spiritual beliefs, cognitive and emotional flexibility, and social connectedness.

1.     Optimism.

Negativity is inevitable. Optimism doesn’t mean you minimize things that happen to you. If you are having a terrible day, you can acknowledge that you are having an awful day. Optimism means that you commit to looking for things that are going well and seeing the bright spots. You can have a bad day and still see that not everything is terrible.

It’s difficult to have this outlook with depression and anxiety. That makes it more important to reach for the good whenever you can. Your life can depend on practicing optimism. Toxic positivity gives a bad reputation to optimism because it asks the person to have a sunny outlook and ignore the pain.

Let feelings surface as needed. Feel emotions in your body instead of stuffing them. Optimism is seeing the good and acknowledging that bad still happens. That’s why realistic optimism is a crucial trait in resilient people because they are able to see that bad things happen and life can still be good. 

2.     A moral compass.

Resilient people have a strong understanding of what they consider right and wrong. They stand firm in their values and beliefs and show integrity in situations. Their moral compass guides their decision making. They rely on their integrity to do what is right no matter if they are getting credit for it or not. They don’t betray themselves by going against what they believe to be honest and true for them. Morality without superiority over others is a common characteristic within resilient people.

3.     Spiritual or religious beliefs.

It is much easier to practice resilience when you don’t have to rely only on yourself. The burden is heavy when you believe that the only way through a tough situation is suffering by yourself rather than seeking a power or idea that is greater than you. Religion can be a contentious topic, but when you allow yourself to listen to what beliefs work best for you, it can be lifechanging.

Leaning into faith rather than fear is a way to bounce back from a difficult circumstance. There is community support within spiritual or religious groups, which also increases resilience. Connection with universe, higher power, entity, a God or gods can be as simple as a pause so that you can listen to your deepest self.

Connection to a power greater than yourself can allow for more possibilities than you could have imagined because it is beyond humanity. It can be unique to you. You have the power to reinvent what feels safe, loving, and stable. Sometimes, people will project god-like qualities onto other humans, but that is bound to fail when the human isn’t able to uphold that unspoken deal.

God, the universe, an entity of your choice can be a safe place to go when you feel most alone. Allowing yourself to build a relationship with something greater than yourself will take pressure off and build resilience.

4.     Cognitive and emotional flexibility.

Cognitive flexibility means that you can switch coping mechanisms and think about different situations at the same time. It is relief from the doomsday scenario that nothing can go right or that everything will fail. Lack of cognitive flexibility means that you are stuck in all or nothing thinking. In recovery this is known as “stinking thinking.” Resilient people have the flexibility to say:

“Okay, I have handled this before in a previous situation, and I can do it again.”

“Okay, I haven’t handled this exact circumstance, but I know I have the tools from another situation to be successful here too.” 

Emotional flexibility requires regulation of emotions even when they are hard to feel or bursting out of you. It is creating inner peace during the most difficult times. Ways to help improve emotional flexibility are creating self-awareness, knowing you don’t have all the answers, and taking care of yourself. Support is available through therapy to help develop these skills.

5.     Social connectedness.

Surrounding yourself with people who are good company is one of the most important parts of building resilience. Your social life should include people who are both fun and supportive. If you are struggling with forming healthy connections, a great place to start is with a quality therapist. With this connection, many more opportunities can arise. If you’re a runner, look for running groups to join (Colorado has a few!). If you enjoy books and reading, finding a book club through Meetup might be a place to start. Recovery and support groups can also be a way to connect with others.

Not only do these types of groups help you develop social connectedness but also calming practices like meditation. Social connectivity is not exclusively friendships, relationships, and partnerships that you maintain but also your level of altruism. Giving back to the world with a higher sense of purpose can be just as beneficial as taking in love from relationships. Both are equally important. In Colorado, there are several organizations to volunteer with inside or outdoors. It helps to know that you aren’t alone, and we truly are in this together.

Resiliency can be developed over time in order to have quicker comebacks from hardships. Everyone has experienced grief, collectively with the pandemic and individually with their own challenges. Resilience is what helps you to know that everything will be okay and exactly how it needs to be for you to succeed. Resiliency isn’t pretending things are okay and shoving grief and hardships under the rug. Resiliency is learning to accept these struggles, acknowledge them, and learn how to manage life with all of life’s experiences.

Signs of resiliency during the pandemic include starting a free online class, learning a new skill, and developing a meditation practice. These are activities that can exercise the 5 common traits of resilient people. You can build your resiliency by asking yourself what you can change and what you can’t. Then, focus on what you can shift.

Overwhelm is prevalent during times of struggle, but one step at a time can help you to break down the hard things into the present moment. Reflect on what resilient traits you notice about yourself, and what you could do more of to help yourself. This isn’t the answer to every problem, but building resilience can help you to recover quickly after you experience obstacles and loss.


Denver Metro Counseling was founded in the principle of resilience with the belief that people can learn to live a rich and meaningful life by building skills of resilience. DMC is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. 

Click on the links below for more information:
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Our Clinician’s Bios:
Audrey Bristol, LSW
Molly Ward, LCSW
Karan Steuart, LCSW, LAC
Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACC, ACS

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