How to Become More Resilient

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” – Pema Chodron

Resilience is thought of as the ability to withstand and bounce back from difficult and painful circumstances.  It is what makes the difference between a person who gives up or shuts down in the face of adversity and the person who somehow someway makes it through to the other side intact.  Sometimes, we may not even realize how resilient we truly are until something unbelievably devastating happens in our lives.  How do we handle things when “the worst thing we can imagine” comes true?

Sometimes, when the worst happens, it causes us to fall apart at the seams, blaming everyone and everything around us – but ourselves – for our misfortune.  Other times, the worst happens, and we come out on the other side realizing that, “Hey, if I can get through that.  I can get through anything.”  When this realization occurs, there is an accompanying deep-seated and quiet sense of strength that comes along with it.  We realize that we are, in fact, stronger than we even knew.  When devastation happens in our lives, it behooves us to allow ourselves to recognize and feel the emotional pain that accompanies loss or devastation without allowing it to swallow us up whole.

When emotional pain and devastation permeate the soul fully, we run the risk of this pain becoming a long-term aspect of our identities.  When we internalize pain in this way, we begin to see it as part of “who we are” not something that we experienced or went through.  We are not the pain or the loss – we experience pain and loss.  The beginning of the path towards building and increasing emotional resilience lies in separating devastation and pain from who you are into something that you have witnessed, experienced, and ultimately – learned valuable lessons from.

Ways to Build Emotional Resilience

The therapeutic workbook 86 TIPS for the Therapeutic Toolbox (Belmont, 2006) has some excellent strategies for how to build emotional resilience:

(1) Focus on what you can control, not what’s out of your control.

(2) Use events as learning experiences.

(3) Alter your perceptions.

(4) Limit your hostility.

(5) Strive for goodness rather than perfection.

(6) Develop compassion.

(7) Develop good self-care habits.

(8) Don’t isolate yourself – connect with others.

(9) Look for the humor in things.

(10) Develop mindfulness.

(11) Don’t ruminate on events that cannot be changed.

12. Accept the good as well as the bad; neither will last forever.

Research indicates that positive emotions predict increases in both resilience and life satisfaction.  It was also indicated that “happy people become more satisfied not simply because they feel better but because they develop resources for living well.”  How can we take this knowledge and use it to increase emotional resilience in our own lives?  If we are able to learn more effective strategies for living a healthy balanced life, then positive emotions and resilience – the ability to withstand and bounce back from adversity – follow naturally.

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Belmont, J.A. (2006). 86 Treatment ideas and practical strategies for the therapeutic toolbox. Eau Claire, Wisconsin: PESI.

Cohn, M.A., Fredrickson, B.L., Brown, S.L., Mikels, J.A., & Conway, A.M. (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion, 9 (3), 361-368.

Featured image: spring has sprung! by vvaldzen / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Elise on May 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    So true! Too many times people start internalizing past events into part of their being and identity, I know I’m guilty of it too. 😉 I really like point 5 about striving for goodness instead of perfection. It’s something that’s helped me find more balance in life. Another great article Laura! Thanks so much 🙂

    • Laura on May 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      Elise – It’s such a natural tendency to internalize things that have happened to us in the past as part of “who we are.” I find it helpful to reflect on why we choose to “hold on” to some events from the past and let go of others. What is it about certain events that we feel so attached to? The more that we recognize our own patterns, the more choice we have in creating new ones. I’m really glad that you enjoyed this article!

      • Elise on May 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm

        Thanks Laura! 🙂

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