Emotional Resilience: Coping with Life, It’s Tragedies and Its Stresses

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I am relatively certain that all of you have heard the saying, "G-d does not give you more of a burden than you are able to hold." I suppose it is a way to assure people that they can handle anything. 

However, all of us know that there are times when it feels like a burden it too heavy to carry. 


The sources of these burdens are such things as the death of a loved one, being caught in a war, earthquake, hurricane or tornado. For others, it may be having a spouse suddenly and unexpectedly decide to move away and end the marriage with no explanation. In fact, there are many scenarios that are traumatic and depressing. Another way of thinking about this is that life tests us and our capacity to cope. 

As a result of these difficult times it is common to think such things as, "This is not what I bargained for. This is beyond me and who I am. This is beyond the emotional resources that I have. No one else goes through this type of thing. I just want to die!"

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In psychology, there is a concept known as "emotional resilience." The following Mental Help.Net article defines emotional resilience. It can be found at this URL:

One aspect of emotional resilience is:

"to be able to spring back after suffering through difficult and stressful times in one's life. Stressed people experience a flood of powerful negative emotions which may include anger, anxiety, and depression. Some people remain trapped in these negative emotions long after the stressful events that have caused them have passed. Emotionally resilient people, on the other hand, are quickly able to bounce back to their normal emotional state. In a way, they have learned to wear a "hard hat," a protective cover that allows them to move on.

Here are some of the characteristics of emotionally resilient people that allows them to bounce back regardless of the level of their stress.

1. Have realistic and attainable expectations and goals.
2. Show good judgment and problem-solving skills.
3. Be persistent and determined.
4. Be responsible and thoughtful rather than impulsive.
5. Be effective communicators with good people skills.
6. Learn from past experience so as to not repeat mistakes.
7. Be empathic toward other people (caring how others around them are feeling).
8. Have a social conscience, (caring about the welfare of others).
9. Feel good about themselves as a person.
10. Feel like they are in control of their lives.
11. Be optimistic rather than pessimistic.

I want to add a 12th item to the above list:

12. Despite everything, be convinced that you will find solutions and that you will emerge from the crisis.

There is research that points to the notion that people can live out self fulfilling prophesies. In other words, if you expect disaster, that is what you will find, but if you expect to find solutions, you will do so. I guess this is part of numbers 3 and 11. Be persistent and determined and, remain optimistic.

I can hear some of you loudly protest that, "You mental health experts don,t know what it is to be so very depressed that you are suicidal, or, what it is like to feel hopeless after having lost a dearly family member." Then, there are those who will insist that there is no way to recover from a terminal illness. Finally, the protests might enter the area of, "You experts know things from books and not our experiences."

I want to assure everyone that mental health experts, such as psychiatrist, psychologists, clinical social worker, family therapists and others, are also human beings. Therefore, we have the same or similar experiences as everyone else in the world.

However, those of us in this and other helping professions, are firmly convinced that people are able to overcome all types of adversities. Often times, it is a matter of learning how to overcome, or how to survive until things improve.

This is why I believe strongly in the beneficial effects of psychotherapy, whether it is psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, group or many other types. Therapy can teach us a lot about how to live and get the most out of our lives, especially when we are at those moments when we feel blocked, depressed, hopeless and frustrated. It also teaches us how to think in more realistic terms, set reachable goals and gain the strength needed to deal with the most awful of circumstances.

We also know and teach our clients the importance of such self help practices as, exercise, meditation, yoga, involvement with other people and, for some people, participating in religious institutions.

In other words, emotional resilience can be learned, acquired, developed and built. Return to the list of twelve suggestions for helping you deal with a crisis and, if those are not enough, please seek the help of a licensed psychotherapist.

Your comments are encouraged and appreciated.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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