Imagine a child tugging at your arm and asking “what is resilience and how do you get it?” Our reply expresses our ‘story of resilience’, our inner understanding of what resilience is and what it is based on. Because that story powerfully shapes our response to adversity, reviewing it and identifying ways we can develop or strengthen it is one of the keys to becoming more resilient.
When I worked for many years in the addictions treatment service, my clients would often describe how, as children, they’d watched family members use alcohol or drugs as a way of dealing with stress. We learn by watching others, and the story they took in was that resilience is based on chemical props. A big part of my work involved teaching ways of dealing with crisis and adversity that didn’t involve alcohol or drugs.
When our story includes a good understanding of how we can develop resilience, then we carry this into every situation we face. A strong story of resilience is more than the sum of its parts; it can become a source of strength within us. So what I teach is how we get to know this story, have a clear sense of the shape of it, so that whatever we face, we can ask ‘what would a story of resilience look like here, and how can I play my part in it?’
There is good research evidence that teaching resilience skills to adults and children reduces their risk of depression. Strengthening our capacity to cope with adversity also liberates us to pursue more exciting goals, because we’re less likely to be put off by the inevitable bumpiness that journeys of significant change involve. That’s why I love teaching resilience. It is a life skill that brings us more to life.
Dr Chris Johnstone is author of 'Find Your Power' – A Toolkit For Resilience and Positive Change' (2nd ed, Permanent Publications, 2010). He is teaching this week at our Summer School and will be running the Resilience One Day Workshop at The School of Life on Saturday 24 September.