Types of resilience

Types of resilience

We all think about something different when we hear the word ‘resilience.’ If you’re an entrepreneur, you might think about your company’s resilience in the face of uncertain economic environments. If you’re an athlete, you might think of the endurance you put your body through, and sometimes you might think of the people who have inspired you, because they have overcome difficult circumstances in their lives. I used to hate the word resilience but as I get older, the word means more and more to me. Resilience is a word I hear a lot and get called a lot. One day, many years ago, after being called resilient one too many times, I undeservingly lost it at someone who called me that and said “this is not what resilience feels like,” and began to sob uncontrollably at that person for the next half an hour (much to my shame).

I was wrong.

Sobbing uncontrollably on the floor of someone’s office and then walking out and moving on with life is exactly what resilience feels like. It’s not the best feeling in the world.

Resilience is best described as bounce-back-ability. It is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, adapt to life’s adversities and cope with the mundane stresses of everyday living. There are four types of resilience: physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience and social resilience. These types arise when we face major life problems, situational problems and daily problems.

Major life problems are what most people think of when they think of resilience. Death of a loved one. A major personal health crisis. Homelessness. Tales of survival. These problems are most often traumatic and can scar people for years. They are not problems you can simply ‘get over.’ When we hear inspiring stories of people overcoming adversity, these are the types of problems that are often referred to.

Situational problems are not as serious as major problems, but they can still cause considerable anxiety and can impact upon work, relationships and the way people enjoy life. This may include: working for an unpleasant boss, a rift with your spouse, online bullying or temporary unemployment. These problems often last from weeks to months, and eventually, we get over them with time. I believe nurturing resilience can greatly benefit situational problems the most.

The last type of problem is what I call daily problems. These occur daily, many times a day, and can lead to a negative attitude and further problems if not handled well. Daily problems include traffic congestion, working with rude colleagues, tight deadlines, or just simply burning yourself whilst cooking.

I’m going to apply major, situational and daily problems to physical, mental, emotional and social resilience. In my next blog post, I’ll share some tips for building resilience.

Physical resilience

Physical resilience refers to our body’s capacity to arise to physical challenges and maintain stamina, and recover efficiently and effectively when damaged.

  • Physical resilience + major life problem: I’ve had spinal surgery twice and in both cases, I had to learn to walk again. It took a long time and I’m pretty sure I screamed Brisbane to deafness in the process. It took me 6 months to walk 100 metres, and years to run again. The ability to keep moving, one tiny step at a time, especially when you don’t feel like it or are in excruciating pain, is an example of physical resilience.
  • Physical resilience + situational problem: This may include finding stamina in unexpected and expected situations. Marathons. Hiking. Sports competitions. One of my friends recently found herself in a situational problem that required physical resilience. She experienced a serious case of domestic violence and somehow found the physical resilience to get away from her attacker and run away from the situation.
  • Physical resilience + daily problems: I think physical resilience is most important for daily problems. This means eating a healthy diet, doing daily exercise, managing your weight, getting regular health checks, getting a good night’s sleep and really understanding what your body needs. We need to do these things because they have meaning and purpose for us, not merely because a white coat prescribed them. Each day we require physical resilience for sitting or standing for long periods at work. As a result, exercise is a daily non-negotiable for me. I always make time for it, no matter how I’m feeling. Good health is something you should never take for granted.

Mental resilience

Mental resilience is all about thinking flexibly, being able to weigh your options, considering alternatives, conceptualising step-by-step means to a reach a goal, understanding different perspectives and creatively problem-solving.

  • Mental resilience + major life problem: My parents were both paramedics, so I partially grew up in an ambulance station and got to hear about mental resilience in the face of major life problems. This includes making quick and vital decisions when someone is dying or injured in front of you.
  • Mental resilience + situational problem: I’ve had a decent amount of health problems and at times they have hindered my ability to learn and keep up with my peers at school. During these times, mental resilience has pushed me to continue studying and to keep trying, despite the situation I was experiencing.
  • Mental resilience + daily problems: You are nurturing your mental resilience on a daily basis if you continue to stay challenged. This might mean doing puzzles, playing games, trying new hobbies, learning new languages, reading new books, and staying engaged and inspired by the work you do.

Emotional resilience

I am most intrigued by emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is connected to emotional intelligence, emotional awareness, perseverance, acceptance and optimism. Emotional resilient people tend to accept adversities with flexibility and the attitude that – times are tough, but they will get better. Emotional resilience allows people to find positive things when circumstances seem grim.

  • Emotional resilience + major life problem: Every time something doesn’t go to plan with my health, I am not as upset about it as much as I think I’ll be. This is because of emotional resilience. Sure, it sucks…but my attitude is more “oh, it’s great I know about this [medical issue] so I can get it fixed, get better and get on with my life,” or “Hopefully, I’ll make new friends in hospital,” or “I wonder what new technologies my doctors have discovered.” Emotional resilience allows you to see a million silver linings to major problems, and at the end of the day, it makes you grateful for the experience, no matter how bad it is.
  • Emotional resilience + situational problem: I struggle with emotional resilience in situational problems more than I do for major problems. This is because situational problems usually involve other people, whose actions I have no control over, whilst major problems often occur just to one’s self. I think I find it difficult due to my personality. I am a massive introvert. My Myer-Briggs labels me as severely introverted, falling within the 85-90% range. Paradoxically, I also have high feelings and high intuition both in the 95%-100% range. This means my need to be around people often outweighs my introversion, and leaves me incredibly susceptible to feeling the emotions of others almost as if they were my own. My MBTI is INFJ (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling and Judgment). It’s the rarest MBTI type (1% of the world population) and has been credited as the only type that can truly walk in the other people’s shoes and feel other people’s emotions the exact same moment they are feeling it. INFJs are also the only MBTI type that can use the right and left side of their brain equally. Combining over-sensitivity, rationality and creativity has its pros and cons when facing a situational problem. On a positive side, I find it easy to solve conflict. There are many times I’ve had clients or people in general swear or cry at me, and my empathy has always come to my rescue and  somehow turned a bad situation into an incredibly positive one. However, I struggle with longer situational problems that I cannot fix myself. For example, working in a negative team culture or working for a difficult boss has detrimental effects on me due to my high levels of feeling and intuition. I find it draining and stressful.
  • Emotional resilience + daily problems: Daily emotional resilience is found in our ability to imagine, dream, plan and create. It allows you to regularly reflect and to highlight the positives in your life. This may be done by writing, singing, making art, mediating or simply going for a walk and reflecting.

Social resilience

Social resilience stems from connecting with others socially. It may include catching up with a friend, working in a team, networking or getting involved with your community. Social resilience is built on trust, diversity, tolerance and respect.

  • Social resilience + major problem: Countries and cities are often said to be socially resilient in the aftermath of natural disasters. The way communities and people come together to support each other in times of need is an example of major social resilience.
  • Social resilience + situational problem: Workplace organisational restructures call upon social resilience. It involves learning to work with new people, new teams, creating new processes and establishing a positive workplace culture. Although, it may seem muddled and confusing at first, social resilience pulls people together and allows them to learn to work together in the most effective and efficient way.
  • Social resilience + daily problems: Social resilience involves taking the initiative to stay engaged with people in conversations, to reach out and shake a hand of someone you don’t know, to get up and front of your colleagues and do a speech even though you hate public speaking, to say hello to your colleagues when you come to work in the morning. Social resilience is a simple ‘how are you?’ It involves reaching out to others socially, which we all need to live a fulfilling life.

So, there you have it – the four types of resilience, with examples as major, situational and daily problems. Resilience is not easy. Resilient people are made from the hardest moments of their lives.

In my next blog post, I’ll be looking at ways you can build your resilience.

Til then, be kind to one another.


6 thoughts on “Types of resilience

  1. This is really great thanks for sharing! You changed my perspective on the word completely. I love the line “resilient people are made from the hardest moments of their lives”.

    Liked by 1 person

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