How to Be More Resilient

How to Be More Resilient

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Are You an Orchid? Or a Dandelion?

Do you ever wonder why some people bounce back quickly from anything life throws at them, while others struggle mightily to get back to baseline, even after minor setbacks? The difference is resilience, a trait that every counselor or life coach knows can make a major difference in the trajectory of your life. 

Resilient people have strong internal systems for managing stress. They experience as much hardship as anyone else, but they can remain fundamentally okay in spite of it. When they go through something painful, like a breakup or divorce, a job loss, or the death of a loved one, resilient people can find meaning in their struggles and translate their experiences into personal growth. In the words of Chumbawamba, they get knocked down, but they get up again. 

So, why are some people more resilient than others? The answer is complicated. Resilience is influenced by your personality, your relationships, the skills you’ve had a chance to develop, your style of thinking, and your approach to problem solving, to name just a few factors. It’s also heavily influenced by your genes. One theory we’ll explore places people into two categories — sensitive orchids and hardy dandelions — based on the neurochemical reactions that happen inside their bodies in response to stress. Dandelions will usually do pretty well, no matter what their environment is like. Orchids, on the other hand, need the right conditions to thrive.

No matter what your genetic predisposition is, there are many steps you can take to cultivate greater resilience in your life. In this article, we’ll explore what you can do to improve your ability to recover from setbacks and adapt to change, so you can thrive no matter what. Whether or not you’re currently going through one of life’s rough patches, these are vital skills to learn — because you will need them, at some point. 

I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic, if you prefer to listen. You can find it on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

Why Are Some People More Resilient? Orchids and Dandelions

Stress is a subjective experience that everyone feels differently. 

But it’s more than a feeling. Stress is also a physiological reaction that happens inside of our bodies. When we’re under stress, our hearts beat faster, our breathing speeds up, and the levels of adrenaline and cortisol in our bloodstreams rise. Some people show these measurable changes much more strongly than others, and child development researcher Dr. Thomas Boyce says this is a clue to understanding why resilience varies so much from person to person. 

Boyce studied the physiological responses that children showed when they were exposed to minor stressors. He found that about 20 percent of children were much more sensitive to stress than others, and exhibited bigger changes in their stress hormones, heart rate, and other factors. The remaining 80 percent of kids showed less physiological reactivity when they were exposed to stress. 

Boyce found that there was a connection between these differences and how the children were developing. Among the roughly 20 percent of kids who were more reactive to stress, only the ones from healthy, stable homes in safe, supportive communities were doing well from a medical standpoint. Those from dysfunctional family systems or unsafe neighborhoods were getting sick more often and missing developmental milestones. Like delicate orchids, the more sensitive kids seemed to need ideal conditions to thrive. 

Meanwhile, the hardier children who Boyce described as dandelions seemed to do pretty well in just about any circumstances. Even those from tough backgrounds were, on average, healthy, strong, and happy. It seemed that their mild response to stress offered these dandelion children some protection from less-than-perfect environments. 

Interestingly, the “orchid” kids who had healthy relationships with nurturing family members seemed to be doing even better than their dandelion peers. Their greater sensitivity to their environments meant that they could absorb even more love and support. 

So, what does all of this mean for you? If you struggle to manage stress and recover when things go wrong, you might be an orchid. But that doesn’t mean your personal resilience is set in stone. It just means that it will be even more important for you to figure out what you need to be your happiest and healthiest, and then to cultivate that kind of environment with intention. 

And, whether you’re an orchid or a dandelion, there are a number of skills you can learn that will make you more resilient. 

Skills to Be More Resilient

Resilient people have some traits in common. Working on any of these areas can help you manage your stress and respond to setbacks:

  1. An Internal Locus of Control 

Resilient people know how to harness the power of believing in themselves. They tend to have an “internal locus of control,” which is fancy psychology speak for feeling self-empowered to shape the outcomes that you experience in life. Having an internal locus of control helps you hold onto hope when times are tough, and stay motivated to work toward your goals, even when things don’t go as planned. 

The opposite of an internal locus of control is an external locus of control, or a sense of helplessness or powerlessness. If you have a self-limiting belief that your outcomes in life are shaped by your circumstances, or by the actions of other people, it can feel like there’s no point in getting back up when life knocks you down. 

  1. Self-Esteem 

Having a kind, loving, supportive internal voice makes everything easier. When you have healthy self-esteem, you can persevere through adversity, because you are able to give yourself the self-love and nurturance that you need to recover and move forward. Healthy self-esteem also helps you build healthy relationships with others, so you’re more likely to have a strong circle of support when life gets hard. 

In contrast, if you struggle with low-self esteem, it can be hard to function even when life is going pretty well. You may have a nasty inner critic and spend a lot of time beating yourself up whenever you fall short of perfection. Besides making you feel awful, this is a huge waste of your energy that you could be using to take positive steps toward creating the life you deserve. Building your self-esteem makes it easier to learn from mistakes and grow from difficult experiences.   

  1. Emotional Intelligence

People who have high emotional intelligence are aware of their own feelings, able to manage them effectively, and able to understand other people’s feelings and respond to them in ways that strengthen relationships. 

Being able to manage your feelings is crucial to performing well under stress. But emotional intelligence also helps you form a good support system of positive, supportive relationships to help you through hard times. 

  1. Psychological Flexibility 

Another trait of resilient people is psychological flexibility. Being able to see every situation from multiple perspectives, and find creative, outside-the-box solutions to problems is a huge asset. People who are more psychologically rigid can have trouble changing their minds, adapting to change, or remaining open to new ideas. They can also experience a lot of stress around uncertainty, and can be prone to black-and-white thinking.  

  1. A Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset helps you turn life’s challenges into opportunities. When you have a growth mindset, you interpret your experiences as a chance to learn more about the world, yourself, and what’s working for you (or isn’t). When something bad happens, someone with a growth mindset may still feel hurt or disappointed, but they’ll reliably be able to find the lessons in their hardship and begin putting them into action. 

Someone with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, believes that bad things that happen in life are a reflection of who they are and what they’re capable of, an orientation that can be pretty demoralizing. If this sounds like you, then changing your mindset to one of continuous growth can help you become more resilient. 

  1. Optimism 

Some people have a great talent for maintaining a hopeful mindset, no matter what. People who are higher in optimism can deal with difficult emotions more easily, because they believe things will get ultimately better. They also tend to set goals for the future, always giving themselves something to continue striving towards. 

  1. A Sense of Meaning and Purpose

The ability to make meaning out of your experiences, especially your most difficult experiences, is a vital life skill. Some people find meaning in caring for others, or in developing into the best version of themselves, or in creating works of art that touch and inspire others. Wherever you find it, having a sense of meaning makes it easier to persist. 

  1. Grit

Finally, resilient people know the secret to success: grit. 

“Gritty” people are simply able to keep working toward the things they want in life, even when it doesn’t feel good. They can tolerate unpleasant emotions — like anxiety, frustration, and uncertainty — which helps them stick with their long-term goals rather than giving up. People with grit aren’t just tough, they know when to push themselves and when to give themselves a break, how to respond to setbacks, and how to manage their time and their willpower to accomplish goals that take months or years of work. 

Support for Increasing Your Resilience

Many people get into therapy when they experience a crisis, like a devastating breakup, job loss, or a scary diagnosis. But you don’t have to wait until something bad happens to begin thinking about your vulnerabilities and your resilience skills, and managing them with intention. 

And you shouldn’t wait! We’ll all need to draw upon our personal resilience eventually. It’s not a matter of if you’ll need these skills, it’s a matter of when.  

Working with an experienced therapist who understands psychological resilience can be especially important for the “orchids” among us, who need to construct their lives with intention and care. If you’re interested in doing this work with an expert on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more tips on becoming more resilient, check out our “emotional wellness” collection of articles and podcasts. 

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Be More Resilient

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Music

Music in this episode is by Death with their song “Keep on Knocking.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://deathfromdetroit.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby:  Hi, this is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Today, what do you do when something goes wrong — as it inevitably does? You know, some people bounce back fairly quickly, while others tend to struggle sometimes for quite a while. The difference is resilience, which is what we’re talking about on today’s episode. You’ll learn why you react to setbacks in the way you do, and how you can develop the tools you need to survive and thrive, no matter what.

Lisa: Friends, we’re listening to a band called “Death”. The song is, “Keep on Knocking” from their 1976 album. I chose this song for us today because to me, this is kind of exemplifies resilience, grit, and that will to keep on going, keep on trying, even in the face of adversity and feeling strengthened because of it. We don’t get stronger, despite adversity. We get stronger because we experience adversity and we use it in order to grow.

That’s really the theme of our show today, how we can all cultivate this kind of energy, that makes such a huge difference in not just the way we feel day to day, but even in the trajectory of your life. That is your personal resilience.

I mean, have you ever wondered why some people seem like they can adjust, you know? They have just as terrible things happening in their lives as anybody else but they can kind of write themselves, you know, they’re like a weeble-wobble, those old punching bags, I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember these. But like these inflatable punching bags they had when I was a kid that had, you know, like sand at the bottom, and the whole idea was to smack them and knock them down and boop! They come back up again.

Some people kind of psychologically and emotionally are like that, whereas other people go down and stay down or get back up with great difficulty and feel forever changed because of whatever it was that they had experienced. There is a lot of variability in the resilience that we all carry inside of us. I’ve seen this for years, but in my own life — certainly with people that I know — but also in my work as a counselor and a coach.

For those of you maybe who haven’t listened to this program before, by background, I’m a licensed psychologist, I am also a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’m a board certified coach. I founded a private practice, Growing Self Counseling and Coaching a while ago, where I have had the great opportunity for many years to work with people in their relationships, their careers, their personal lives. I’m now in a very rewarding position of being able to supervise and mentor therapists and coaches who are developing their own skills.

A frequent topic of focus in my work and also with my supervisees is around cultivating people’s sense of internal resilience and ability to learn, grow — thrive, even — in the face of stress setbacks, so that they can feel generally okay, on the inside. You know, ups and downs, good days and bad, certainly just as much emotion as anybody else, right? But that the outcome of difficult life experiences is ultimately one of positive change.

That is frequently the real work of being a therapist or coach is, you know, people come in and like there’s stuff going on, what do I do, and we use these opportunities in order to help people become stronger on the inside and learn and grow because of it. So that on the other side, they feel that they have been fundamentally strengthened in a lot of ways. They feel more competent, more confident, and better than they had.

There’s a lot that can go into this. There’s also a lot that I think we can all learn by studying the science of resilience, the nature of resilience, because even though some of us have different advantages when it comes to intrinsic resilience, which we’ll be discussing in a little bit. There are also so many things that we can do to cultivate and foster our own resilience and also resilience of the people that we love and care about the most: your partners, friends, children.

This is, I think, a very meaningful and important thing for us to all be doing both for ourselves and for others. There’s a lot to discuss here. To give you an example of resilience in action, I think that we all had an opportunity to see variabilities in resilience playing out over the last few years, and for a variety of different reasons. But you know, the pandemic experience was not easy for anyone. Some of us experienced a lot more stress and adversity than others lost a million people in the United States. I mean, that’s a lot of heartbroken loved ones right there.

Certainly, we’ve all seen in the news, the impact that pandemic life had, particularly on children, vulnerable people who maybe struggled to stay connected, to get access to school, to supports that were really their lifelines. And were quite traumatized as a result of it. So you know, there was a lot here.

It is also true, that even if we take into consideration the variability of privilege — which is huge — and even when you take into consideration the variability of trauma, which is also huge, there are still a lot of differences in the way that people experienced the situation.

I’m sure in your own life, you know, people who found ways to adapt and even thrive throughout that extremely difficult time, and other people who floundered mentally and emotionally, even if they had fairly similar life circumstances and levels of trauma. There are different responses to the same stressors. Why is that? What makes some people more resilient than others? What can we learn from that? How can we apply that to our own well being?

The answer to that is complicated, because resilience is influenced by many things, including your genetics, the way that you come out when you’re born, your personality, your temperament, but also things like your relationships, your life experiences so far.

Especially as adults, the skills that you’ve had a chance to develop — or not — related to your style of thinking, your approach to problem solving, your ability to regulate yourself to shift into a better story. These are just a few of the factors but they all come together to create really big differences in how resilient we are, which then translates into not just how well we function in the face of adversity, but how we respond to it, how we adapt, how we grow, or whether or not we feel damaged and we can’t overcome the challenges that we face.

This can play out in very big ways in somebody’s life so I’m glad that we can be talking about this today. Just so you know, this podcast, like so many others that I do, is really created in response to the things that I’m hearing from you. I often invite you guys to get in touch with me, can email me hello@growing self.com, get in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram, all the usual places. But what I have been hearing from you are sometimes stories about having gone through something hard. You know, a divorce, a breakup, a job loss, a health loss, a death, a disappointment, even a life transition that feels very difficult.

The crux of the question is always like, “I’m having such a hard time, what do I do to feel better, to feel like myself again, feel like I’m really floundering, please advise”. The specifics of everybody’s situation are obviously so different. There are variables that are unique just to you. I think by talking about the nature of resilience, and understanding it and being able to apply it, you now have a roadmap for whatever it is that you’re facing, to be okay on the inside and grow in response to difficult stuff going on, as opposed to feeling like it’s overwhelming. It’s untenable. It is not, not not solvable.

Resilience isn’t set in stone, even though we all have a natural, kind of, dispositions and advantages or you know, in the case of people who have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives, it can be a heavier lift. Knowing that, I think it’s very empowering because it creates a path forward. It illuminates the things that we can do and that we need to do in order to cultivate resilience to life’s ups and downs, and increase your ability to adapt to change and feel fundamentally, like it’s gonna be okay, no matter what is going on.

First of all, you know, I’ve been tossing around this word, a lot resilience without properly defining it. What is resilience? When I think of resilience, it refers to the ability to cope with, and then also recover from stress, difficult life situations, even to a degree trauma, hard things, life challenges;and our capacity to do this, it does vary a lot from person to person.

How do you bounce back, right? We all experience difficult things, and none of us is getting out of this unscathed. Over the course of any of our lives, provided that we live long enough, you are going to experience loss, you know, the people that we love, leave for a variety of reasons through death, certainly, and relationships, and we can lose friends, partners, divorces, breakups, our health and wellness is not guaranteed, you know, getting a hard diagnosis can be incredibly difficult life situation.

We can experience stress with our careers: a job loss, financial stress, but also with all of these things, you know, our the need for resilience isn’t just coming up when like, the worst possible thing happens, like you get laid off, or you go through a divorce, or God forbid, lose a loved one.

Resilience also comes into play with the day to day ups and downs of the things that just happen. I mean, going through a very stressful chapter with your job, or running a business takes an enormous amount of personal resilience and fortitude. Parenting a child — so many ups and downs, and particularly if your kid is struggling, like that takes so much. I mean, even just navigating the world in the face of scary situations going on, globally, or you know, financial stuff, like having $100 now buys half as much groceries as it used to. Of course, certainly going through very difficult chapters in a relationship or in your family or in your marriage. I mean, these are all the stressors that every single one of us faces.

We can also experience a lot of stress through life transitions, that on the surface may appear to be positive. Moving into a new role in your career, maybe you’ve gotten a professional advancement but now you have more responsibility, you have to do more kind of independent problem solving or work more independently, you have other people counting on you. That in itself can be enormously stressful. Or making the transition to parenthood can be a very difficult life chapter. Moving away in pursuit of another opportunity can be wonderful long term, but in the short term, it presents a lot of different challenges.

The point being to kind of go through all of these is that in every direction, all of the time, we are encountering situations that are not necessarily easy. They require attention, even something like getting married or moving in with a partner — so many different things that need to be learned, all these different life transitions, like the way that we had been living kind of gets ripped up into little pieces and it takes a while for those pieces to come back together again, and we have to create a new normal, and any one of these things can be just intrinsically extremely stressful.

Of course, we haven’t even addressed you know, the presence of very real and very significant trauma, small t or capital T trauma of being in an accident, being the victim of a crime, being assaulted. I mean, there are so many different things. Again, not to make anybody feel unsafe, but to illustrate the fact that being able to develop resiliency skills within ourselves is so profoundly important because we are going to need them if you don’t need them.

If you don’t need them right this very second, — looking at my watch — just wait a few minutes, and you will, because when you have these things, all of the stuff feels much easier. It’s not going to feel pleasant, it’s not going to feel fun, but it’s not going to feel devastating. It’s not going to feel catastrophic. It’s going to feel like, “Oof, this is hard. And I’m gonna get through this, what do I need to do? What am I learning?”

Or if you went through something hard, it turns into, you know, instead of “I’m damaged, and now I will never recover,” into, “That was terrible. Here’s what I learned. Here’s how it changed me in, you know, maybe some ways that I would prefer it hadn’t. But here’s also how it changed me in positive ways. And here’s how it increased my confidence in myself, my confidence in my ability to solve problems and navigate difficult situations. It also created more of a roadmap around, not if but when I go through something hard again, I will be better able to get through it because of what I have experienced.”

I think that’s the best that any of us can really hope for — for ourselves, for our kids, right? How do we keep going? How do we keep on knocking? How do we stay fundamentally okay, in the face of what this life is, which is a mixed bag. Yes, wonderful, positive, joyful things happen. That is not the whole story.

An interesting piece of this resiliency conversation, I think, and what is very important for all of us to understand respect and use to our advantage is research that indicates that there are actually biologically based differences in how we all experience the world.

Dr. Thomas Boyce was one of the big name researchers on this, he began, you know, longitudinal studies starting in the 1970s. He and you know, a slew of other researchers, it wasn’t just him. But taking a look at the physiological differences in the way that people, even very young children, responded to stressors. What he found is that some of us actually, the majority 80% of us are what he characterized as dandelions, and about 20% of us are what he characterized as orchids.

Meaning that when faced with a stressful situation, a dandelion with, you know, electrodes and temperature readings, and cortisol tests, and all the things exhibited a much lower physiological stress response, even in four year olds to small stressors. Whereas orchids, who are much more sensitive to the environment, when exposed to stressors had a much higher physiological response to even mild things. They felt things differently, they experienced much higher levels of stress, elevation and escalation.

This is true, both for children who had lived through adversity and trauma — more so in those cases — but even in children who have had perfectly fine life experiences, no trauma, no adversity, calm families, everything’s fine, would still exhibit these differences in physiological responses. It’s measurable because stress, the experience of stress creates physiological changes in our bodies.

The point of his research, the fact that people are experiencing stress differently, gives us a lot of information to understand some of these resilience differences and what we can do. The 80% of dandelions, what he found, is that they were more sort of resistant or tolerant of stressors. Interestingly, this even has health outcomes. You put a dandelion kid into a fairly, you know, stressful and adverse family system or you know, moving a lot, parents getting divorced, difficult things happening, having trouble in school, and a dandelion kid in a family or life situation where those things aren’t happening, and about the same in terms of like, how often they would get sick.

That was one of the markers, because our immune response is one of the ways we can understand the physiological stress that our bodies are under. When we are under more stress, physiologically, we will get sicker and we will have more chronic, even, health problems. In contrast to this, the 20% of the orchid kids. If you put an orchid kid in a difficult patently stressful family experience, life experience, you know, hard stuff going on, much higher levels of colds, flu, you know, immune disorders, all kinds of different illnesses.

Interestingly, you know, the same subset of kids who had a higher physiological response to stressors, when those children were in safer environments — you know, low conflict, families, things were stable, things were fine — these kids actually had much, much lower rates of illness, then not only orchids in a difficult life situation, but also dandelions, that they were actually much stronger, much healthier, doing much better on really like all kinds of different metrics than dandelion kids who are also in safe and nice environments.

The point of this, the big takeaway is that some people — 20% of the population — are essentially more intrinsically sensitive to the things going on around them. If there are stressful, difficult circumstances, they will be more rattled, more physiologically impacted, more stressed, more anxious. The same subset of people in healthy, nice, calm, safe environments, because they are more sensitive and more influenced by what’s happening around them will be stronger, happier, healthier, and really more well, because they are responsive to what’s going. It’s like they can take more nourishment and nurturing from their environment compared to dandelions.

You put a dandelion in a meadow, you put a dandelion in the crack of a sidewalk, dandelion doesn’t experience that much difference, because they’re sort of more impervious to environmental stressors. They’re kind of like middle of the road, when good things happen. They’re fine. When bad things happen. They’re fine. In contrast to more sensitive people, when good things happen, they’re great. When bad things happen. They’re not. They’re bad. It’s hard.

Understanding some of these genetic predispositions, and how to understand them in your own life, but like effect with your partner, can be very instructive. Because when you get a sense of who you are, how you respond to adversity, and what you need, then you can develop systems and do things really intentionally, to cultivate your own wellness.

Now just kind of shift into when we look at — physiological differences aside — if you speak to people who are not just self-reported as resilient, but who, you know, you can see they go through stuff, they bounce back up, they’re okay, they’re learning and growing, they have a number of traits in common. Some of these are based on personality, but they’re also things that they’ve learned how to do a lot along the way.

Because remember, I mean, the orchid and dandelion differences, when, for young children like they are in the environment that they were planted by, you know, luck, privilege, the way that that things, the hand they got dealt. As we grow into adulthood, we have the opportunity to work on ourselves, to grow, to figure things out, saying, “How could I do this differently next time?”

When people have have done this kind of work and really gotten good at resilience, or when we take looks at studies of people who are naturally more resilient, they have common kind of cognitive signatures, you know, ways of thinking, ways of managing emotion, ways of behaving in response to adversity that tend to work really well. So that’s why this is instructive.

Some of the traits: self-efficacy is one of them. Self-efficacy is tied to something that we’ve talked about in previous podcasts, this concept of internal locus of control. What that ties to is a sense of “I have agency here, I can do something that will change my circumstances, change my outcome. I can take some action and behave in a certain way in order to change my circumstances.”

That is essentially the opposite of feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, being stuck, being victimized, you know, by circumstances or by other people. Self-efficacy is one thing that’s very important to cultivate. “What do I have control over? What can I do? What can I try?” That kind of mindset can be really helpful.

Additionally, people who experience themselves as more resilient, tend to have higher levels of self esteem and self confidence. These are things that we’ve talked about a lot on previous podcasts and in other writing. Developing self esteem and self confidence can be, you know, a major focus of personal growth work on its own. As you develop a healthier relationship with yourself, and develop the ability to appreciate yourself, cultivate your strengths, develop confidence in your own abilities, trust in your own judgment, develop the ability to be more self supported, and self directed, self validating, rather than outsourcing all of those things to other people.

As we work on those set of skills, we become more resilient because of it. And it makes a lot of sense when you can trust yourself, when you are confident in yourself. When you are self-directed when you trust yourself, all of these things will help you navigate difficult life chapters much more easily than then you would be able to, if you fundamentally didn’t have an emotionally safe relationship with yourself or if you experienced a lot of shame and self doubt. That’s kind of the opposite of the energy that resilience requires.

Additionally, emotional intelligence is a huge piece of resilience. Emotional intelligence as you may remember, from past podcasts on the subject is broken down into four different components. Emotional Intelligence is our ability to be aware of and have empathy for our own emotions. The second piece is having the ability to regulate our own emotions. We can come back to baseline. If we feel upset, we can soothe ourselves. If we feel irrationally optimistic about something we can say maybe I should back that down a little bit. It’s just the way we can self regulate.

The third piece of emotional intelligence is our ability to be aware of and have empathy for the feelings and emotional reality of other people. The fourth component of emotional intelligence is the ability to behave in such a way that we are able to effectively manage and strengthen our relationships with other people. Emotional intelligence, there’s a lot there. But it also makes sense why emotional intelligence is so strongly linked to intrinsic resilience. It goes to understanding and managing our own emotions. But also, one of the things that is linked to resilience is having a strong support system, having close personal relationships with people that care about us our ability to understand the needs, rights, and feelings of other people and behave in ways that build positive relationships.

It’s kind of like our ability to invest. We’re putting energy into savings accounts that when we go through difficult things, we have a reservoir of positive supportive relationships with the people around us who really can come in and act as buffers to be supporting and kind and helpful to us when we’re going through a hard time.

Other things that are strongly associated with resilience: psychological flexibility is one of them. Being able to tolerate some ambiguity, to accept the fact that you know, a lot of different things can be fine, can be okay, you know, there’s not always a one right and one wrong is part of psychological flexibility. Creativity, being able to think in new and different ways, creative problem solving. But also creativity as self expression can be a real asset to resilience. Resourcefulness can be tied to creativity, and also the ability to take action.

A very important aspect of resilience is to cultivate a growth mindset. To be interpreting the things that you’re experiencing as opportunities to learn, to grow: “What can I take from this? What can I learn from this? What would I do differently next time?” It can be extremely protective to cultivate that kind of mindset.

Other things, optimism, you know, having hope, looking into the future. Goal setting can be part of this to thinking about, I am not happy with what is happening right now, what do I want this to look like a year from now, like really having something to connect yourself to that you can move towards is very, very protective.

A good sense of humor never hurts, even in the darkest situations, to find the humor in situations, but then also to a sense of meaning of purpose, particularly when it comes to adversity can be so protective and helpful for people. Many people can find this through spirituality, You know, how does this make sense in the cosmic scheme of things can be very protective.

For other people, that kind of meaning can be found more in humanitarian reasons, you know, what can I take from this that maybe I could use to teach somebody else or help somebody else? How could my life experience wind up being of benefit in the lives of others? And also, a lot of meaning can be found within the growth process that we all can enjoy. I mean, to go through something difficult, and to understand that it changed you in not just negative ways, but also potentially very positive ways, taught you something about yourself, other people. Having to go through that life experience required you to get better at emotional regulation, and emotional intelligence skills, you know, those are yours to keep.

Even though maybe you set about doing that work, because you had to, necessity to get through a difficult life chapter, that was the catalyst for growth. You’re putting in that time and energy and hard work and learning how to do those things will benefit so many different parts of your life forevermore, and they are yours now.

For many people I’ve worked with who have gone through very difficult things, they had no choice but to grow, if they wanted to be okay. They did that, then because of that, they were able to thrive in the future, because not just did they get back to baseline, they developed skills and strategies and relationships and ways of being that allowed them to create life experiences that were, you know, in their view, much better than anything that they would have been capable of prior to having gone through that challenging situation. There’s a lot here.

Because of the differences that people bring to the table, in their physiological and genetic makeup, one of the things that is very helpful and instructive, I think, is to do a little bit of self-assessment. Or if you’re a parent, like thinking about who your kids are fundamentally, people who tend to have a more sensitive orientation to the world will frequently feel more stressed, more anxious, more depressed, more overwhelmed, they will feel more inhibited, in some ways, more paralyzed in the face of stress.

Although interestingly, going back to studies about small children, you may be familiar with an old study that’s colloquially called the marshmallow test. This study was actually framed as a study of grit, self discipline that was found to be correlated with strongly positive outcomes. decades down the road.

This study involves taking a small child and putting them in a room with one marshmallow. Saying “If you don’t eat this marshmallow, for five minutes, I’m gonna come back, and I’m gonna give you two marshmallows, but you have to wait.” Then the researcher would leave the room.

Kids, as you can imagine, were quite variable in their ability to avoid eating the marshmallow, and have the self discipline required to wait so that they would have two marshmallows down the road. What is really fascinating is when you look at the outcomes of this study, and correlate it with that orchid and dandelion idea, the dandelion kids basically pounce on that marshmallow and tear it up without even thinking about it.

Whereas the orchid kids, more sensitive ones, displayed much more restraint, self control, ability to moderate themselves, much more sensitive to those environmental factors.

I don’t want you to think for a second that being a more sensitive person is anything but highly positive. There are so many strengths and benefits that come from being the kind of person who is more influenced by the world, and who is more intrinsically aware of potentially dangerous versus potentially positive things. There’s a lot of good that can come of this.

But coming back to the study of resilience, what it requires is the ability to work with what you have, and who you are in a very intentional way. If you are more sensitive, while you will feel more stressed and overwhelmed in response to stressful situations, when you know this about yourself and can say, “Because of this, I need to handle myself differently in stressful situations than all the dandelions around me who do not seem to be bothered by the same thing for mysterious reasons.”

Then what it turns into is this ability to stop judging yourself for being stressed or overwhelmed, first of all, and putting into place very active practices that help you calm yourself down physiologically, find different cognitive strategies that you will need to practice with intention. Also be finding environments that support what you need in order to be well.

The first and most important environment that any of us have is our internal environment. That is created by the relationship that we have with ourselves. How do we talk to ourselves? How do we support ourselves? How do we nurture ourselves? How do we take care of ourselves? And doubling down on that, particularly if you know that you are a sensitive person, or if you’re a parent of a sensitive child, it is vitally important that you are teaching and modeling those kinds of internal relationship skills to your child. Those are developed through the quality of your parenting relationship. So to be doing that on purpose. That’s right.

Other strategies here, creating safety in your own life through things like routines, planning, habits, can be very important, particularly for people who have a more sensitive orientation to the world to be making as much in your environment as predictable as possible can be very helpful and that is not true for everybody. People with strong dandelion orientations don’t need to do that in the same way.

I also don’t want us to, like over index, dandelion people because like that, also, there are two sides of every coin, right? While maybe dandelion, people are sort of more unflappable, less bothered, don’t get stressed out as easily. There’s also a difference in their ability to be taking information from their environment. Dandelion people can miss things. Dandelion people can also lose out on growth opportunities, because they aren’t required to learn and grow in the same way so they can kind of stay sort of flat developmentally, which in the big scheme of things, is kind of them missing out on some important growth opportunities if they’re not feeling motivated to work on themselves, if it’s all kind of good enough.

You know, pros and cons on each side of this scale here, and I don’t want to have anybody leave this conversation in such a way that feels like, a certain way of being in the world is better than a different way of being in the world. Because that is not true, that is not true.

Other things that more sensitive people need to do is intentionally cultivating a strong social support network, and close secure attachments. That means putting energy into just first of all, understanding that in order to be okay, I need my people that I can trust, who are responsive to me, that are emotionally safe, that I can love and be loved by in return.

It is also sometimes helpful for more sensitive people to have at least a few dandelions in their lives because one of the things that dandelions can be really good at are the cognitive strategies, the ways of looking at things, the kind of, “it’s going to be okay, and here’s why.” Dandelions can be sort of intrinsically more comfortable with taking action of one kind or another. To be in a relationship with a dandelion, who is able to say, “It’s going to be okay, here’s what we can do. Think about it this way.”

There’s always, there’s always a risk of feeling invalidated by a dandelion, particularly if the dandelion in your life is like, “It’s no big deal. Don’t make such a big thing out of this.” You know, you don’t need that either. But to have somebody with a different perspective, who is maybe a good problem solver, a good strategic thinker who can look at things and just a more, you know, do this then that kind of way, can be comforting to a more sensitive person who may be just feeling more flooded or overwhelmed or catastrophizing, things. There’s a nice balance there in relationships.

Also just to say, you know, also don’t take this too, there are dandelions and orchids that are sort of binary, you know, nobody is 100%, dandelion, 100%, orchid, we all have a mixture of blend of these different qualities inside of us. Also, you know, I mean, somebody can be fundamentally kind of a dandelion, and have lived through traumatic life experiences that have overwhelmed anybody’s ability to be able to cope with them well. I also don’t want to make it seem like the dandelion is impervious to any adversity, because that’s not true. They just have a different orientation to it.

But in many relationships, there will be differences between people’s sensitivity levels and capacities to deal with stress. and understanding that this is a thing will also help you have a stronger relationship. If you understand that maybe your partner is more of a dandelion than you are, it stops hurting your feelings as much if they’re not sort of seeing what you’re going through as being quite as stressful or terrible as the way that you are perceiving it, because they really, literally don’t.

You can have conversations about that and help them understand what you need in order to feel emotionally connected to them. Maybe this is an opportunity to work on their empathy and sensitivity skills that comes naturally to you. But in order for them to be a better partner for you as a sensitive person.

On the other side of this, if you have a more dandelion-ish orientation to the world, and you are partnered with a more sensitive person, knowing this can really help you understand them in a different way and have respect for the fact that they are actually experiencing the stressors of the world in a very real and very legitimate, different way than you are and this will keep you from judging them, from patronizing them, for giving them advice that they are not interested in hearing because, they are really needing things that are different than what you would need. Needing emotional sensitivity, needing to be able to, you know, kind of just feel safe in the world, self regulate.

They are also much more receptive to what other people do. Their experiences with other people, their environmental experiences, so that you as a dandelion when you turn the nurturing knob up to 11 and be intentionally, kind, supportive, empathetic, responsive, available, helpful in practical ways. If you work with them to create a safe and predictable environment, they will benefit and thrive much more than you would if somebody did those things for you. Because it’s not really that important for you, but it’s really important for them to be well.

Knowing these things about your partner helps you know what to do in order to not just be a better partner for them, but fundamentally support their ability to be resilient, to be okay in the face of life challenges. Because the danger here, particularly in relationships, is when we get very, very judgy and superior about our way of being, and forget to respect and appreciate the differences and the strengths that our partner are bringing into this equation. There’s really a lot here that can be of so much benefit in developing your own inner resilience, and also in developing the strength of your relationships and the quality of your life. 

Other things that I think we can all due to cultivate resilience in our own lives. First of all, not waiting for something bad to happen before you are thinking about your resilience factors and also your vulnerabilities. Understanding yourself and understanding how you tend to respond to different things and proactively deciding to do some work around that will prepare you — again, for not if but when weird things come down the pipeline that you have to deal with — that time and energy that we can spend on our cognitive skills.

Learning how to cultivate a mindset, a story that is empowering and self strengthening and self supportive, more accepting, and also more growth promoting will help all of us all of the time in every situation. Practicing this skill day to day, no matter what’s going on, will be also strengthening that muscle so that it will be much easier to do that when you have crap blow up in your face.

Waiting until something bad happens then trying to figure out how to learn how to do that is in nobody’s best interest. That will make it harder than it needs to be. Just because you don’t have anything going on in your life right now doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be focusing on self development, personal growth and, and strengthening yourself. We all need to do that.

Additionally, as part of this developing emotional self care skills, emotional regulation, skills. These are all so much easier to learn when our lives are fairly calm. Then we will have those skills and abilities in place when the poop hits the fan. Additionally, cultivating a growth mindset in every situation you can — on your job, as a parent, as a partner — I mean, I know that you have a growth mindset already, because that’s what this podcast is all about. I don’t think that you would be interested in listening to anything that I had to say, if you weren’t already on a path of growth.

Reading books, listening to podcasts, thinking, you know, read reflectively about who you are, where you’re going, what you’re learning, where you’re developing, having appreciation for your strengths, and also thinking about, you know, “What’s next for me? How do I support myself in moving forward there?”

Additionally, practicing problem solving strategies and personal empowerment, if you tend to be the kind of person who looks to others for what to do, or is not always trusting of your own decisions, your own actions, wants to have a lot of confirmation, practice asking yourself the same questions that you would ask other people and practice being very thoughtful in your responses to yourself.

Don’t reflexively think that somebody else knows better than you do. Sit with yourself, do some journaling, small things, small things. This is how we practice, we scaffold. Do the easy things first. I have a small problem and I would like this to be different, so what are the things that I could do to begin moving in the direction that I would like to move to. Just practice this over and over. This is strengthening your self efficacy muscle, which is one of the most protective things that any of us have, in times of strength or times of adversity, rather, is this ability to think, “Okay, what am I going to do to change this to get out of this to make this better?” So, to practice that.

Of course, too, strengthening your relationships, the more positive relationships that you have in your life, the more buffered you will be from difficult life circumstances. You may have material assistance and your time of need, emotional support, people around you to help you create a better mindset or to develop a plan forward, and just people to provide comfort then to be with you while you’re going through something hard. Because that’s often the most important thing of all.

Those are all skills and strategies that can be very beneficial. This is a starting point. I mentioned all of these things casually, like they’re easy to do. But learning new cognitive skills is a process, learning new lifestyles, and cultivating new habits that are focused on your wellness takes time to do.

Building strong and positive relationships is a project of its own, and certainly developing a more positive relationship with yourself that is emotionally supportive, that allows you to have higher self esteem, more confidence is its own thing. Being able to get comfortable with your ability to regulate your own emotions can be its own endeavor. Similarly, getting getting more and more comfortable and competent with your ability to plan action and follow through and trust yourself to do that.

There’s a lot here. But one final takeaway, it’s very important for you to understand and develop appreciation for your nature, and your predisposition towards stress and towards resilience. Being a more sensitive person in the world is fantastic, and your job is to know that and to work with it. Working on self regulation skills, working on self parenting, making darn sure you are in the very best environment you can be in because of knowing that you are environmentally sensitive, and that you deserve to be in the most nurturing, supportive best place possible based on your needs. That is fantastic.

Also, being a more shielded person is fantastic and your job is to work with that in productive ways. That means being also open to experience and making sure that you learn and grow, not just survive, that you’re also developing, and being careful to cultivate empathy and appreciation for the differences and sensitivity of other people. Also benefiting from that. More sensitive people are kind of like the canary in the coal mine, and can understand things about other people or about the world that you might not see at first. There’s a lot of wisdom and guidance that can come from those relationships.

I hope that this conversation about resilience was helpful to you, I hope that you got some actionable takeaways, and just know that this is a growth opportunity for everybody. You can do personal growth work, you can read books, you can do journaling, and of course you can do this work with a really good therapist or coach who is here to help you grow in this way.  Again, just that advice, the more you can do this work before something difficult inevitably happens, the better able you will be to cope with this when it does. Don’t wait. Alright, you guys. Keep on knocking. And I’ll talk to you next week.


Growing Self Counseling and Coaching

Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation

If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.

Therapy Questions, Answered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *