Where Does Resilience Come From?

By Gail Wagnild

Time to read:  3 minutes

Most of us have experienced dark nights and adversity. I have known what it is to feel depressed and defeated. I have known sorrow and loss. Sometimes a difficult time lasted for weeks, and there were times it lasted much longer. Although my faith in God told me otherwise, I often felt adrift and alone.  During these times of discouragement, I sometimes wondered where I’d get the will, desire, and support to keep going.

At some time, all of us walk down some dark path and when we’re on it, can’t always see where we’re going for sure. Have you ever said to yourself, “I just want to get to the end of this path and feel normal or at least a little better so I can get on with my life.” We’ve all been there. Think about your own life. Have you ever had difficult experiences that threatened to defeat you and instead you survived and even thrived? What made the difference? What choices did you make that helped you get back on your feet?

All of us have the potential for a resilience response to adversity. In other words, we have the capacity to respond to life’s inevitable difficulties by adapting, becoming wiser, and growing more capable and confident through life’s ups and downs. But where does this resilience capacity come from? This is what I’ve learned.

  1. We are hardwired for resilience. It’s part of who we are. When we’ve been knocked down, we want to get back up. Maybe not right away but most people don’t want to stay down forever and eventually find their way back and begin to move forward again. Think of your favorite stories and most of them probably have a theme of someone facing and overcoming what looks like insurmountable odds and managing to succeed. We are designed with resilience in mind. We have a strong desire to rise up again and continue the fight. It’s who we are.
  2. Our capacity for resilience develops throughout our lifetime with every experience. Each time we fail, and each time we succeed, we learn something about ourselves and this knowledge constitutes an ever deepening and widening repertoire of skills and solutions that work and those that don’t. If that’s true then you would expect resilience to increase over time and as people mature. Thousands of adults from over 100 countries have completed the Resilience Scale and as people age, their resilience scores go up. Our capacity for resilience grows over time.
  3. And finally, resilience comes from observing and imitating others. Sometimes when I’m struggling to find my way back from loss and heartache, or deal with a crisis, I ask what someone I admire would do in my situation. This person might be someone in my family or someone I work with or it might be someone I’ll never meet. We learn our resilience from how others respond to adversity. We, in turn, are role models to others who are observing our response to adversity and imitating us.

The need for resilience is indisputable. A strong resilience capacity promotes positive adaptation no matter our circumstances. Resilience is a capability that each of us has that strengthens over time as we travel through life. And very importantly, our personal example of resilience will positively affect many of those around us.