Resilience: what is it and how can it be improved?

Published 25 Dec 2022 • By Candice Salomé

Resilience is originally a physics term that defines the capacity of a body or material to resist a shock or deformation. Since then, the lexical field has been extended to other fields such as biology, psychology, economics, sociology and ecology. 

In psychology, resilience is defined as a phenomenon that involves, for an individual affected by a trauma, in becoming aware of this event so as to no longer live in misfortune and to rebuild himself in a more or less acceptable way. 

But then, what is resilience? Can it be improved? And how can it help patients with chronic diseases? 

We tell you everything in our article! 

Resilience: what is it and how can it be improved?

What is resilience?

The term "resilience" was widely publicized by Boris Cyrulnik's book 'Un Merveilleux Malheur (A Marvellous Misfortune)' and is now widely used in everyday language. 

According to the Larousse definition, resilience is "the ability of an individual to build and live satisfactorily despite traumatic circumstances". According to the Robert, in psychology, resilience is "the ability to overcome traumatic shocks". 

Thus, resilience can be defined as the ability to regain a balance after being stressed or shaken by a shock or trauma. This notion means being able to heal the wounds of the past in order to alleviate them and to live them differently, whether they are wounds from childhood, adolescence or adult life. 

Resilience is not an innate phenomenon. It is a quality that individuals tend to develop throughout their lives. Some people are better at it than others. Those who grew up in a secure and supportive family and social environment are more likely to be resilient. Again, this is not an absolute truth. 

Thus, resilience: 

  • Is never absolute, total, or earned: This ability to overcome hardship is the result of a dynamic and evolving process in which the magnitude of a trauma can be overcome by the resources of the individual, 
  • Varies according to circumstances: the nature of the trauma, contexts and life stages

Can we learn to become more resilient?

As we have seen, resilience is not innate. It is a capacity of the brain that can be modified but, above all, it can be trained!  

Experts explain resilience through a concept called "locus of control". Individuals can have an internal locus of control, an external locus of control or a locus of control that is somewhere in between. 

So there are two types of locus: 

  • Internal locus of control: Individuals who have a developed internal locus of control are convinced that their performance and fate depend mainly on themselves, 
  • The external locus of control: These people believe, on the contrary, that the events that affect them depend above all on external factors, which are beyond their control. 

More concretely, the locus of control, whether internal or external, indicates the way in which an individual perceives him/herself as having an influence on the events of his/her life and on their outcome. A person with an external locus of control will attribute control over the events of his or her life to chance, luck or the world. As for people with an internal locus of control, they will think that their actions determine what happens in their life. 

But then, is it possible to increase your resilience and shift your locus of control inward when it is more outward looking? 

Here are some steps that can help you build resilience: 

Set realistic, achievable goals and make them happen 

To do this, you can use the SMART technique: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Relevant. By setting goals that meet this technique, they become easier to achieve. 

trust yourself and gain self-esteem. 

The more you achieve your goals and objectives, the more you learn to trust yourself and gain self-esteem. 

Cultivate a positive self-image and have confidence in your own abilities 

Individuals tend to be harder on themselves than on those around them. It is essential not to be self-critical. Would you tell someone close to you that he or she is not good at anything? So practice self-encouragement and have confidence in your abilities! 

Understand and manage your emotions 

It is true that emotions are complex, but there is no need to make them more complex than they are. It is essential to take a step back and learn to analyze your emotions. Why does sadness appear in this situation? By developing a better understanding of yourself, you become more in control of yourself and can escape the grip of emotions that you cannot identify. 

Adopt an honest and calm dialogue with yourself 

Talking with others is just as important as talking to yourself. Trying to have a calm and gentle dialogue with yourself will make it easier for you to accept your emotions. It will also be easier to do the same with those around you, without trying to hide your intentions, resentments or expectations. 

Increase your problem-solving ability 

When you are faced with a new challenge, it is essential to accept it and do your best to solve it. By dedicating time and energy to solving a challenge, you develop your ability to overcome life's challenges. By succeeding in even small challenges, you will regain confidence in your abilities. 

Maintain strong ties with those around you 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just need support. So cultivating strong relationships with those around us helps us feel good and safe. A strong connection with others can have enormous benefits in terms of our ability to recover from difficult events. 

Can the concept of resilience be applied to patients with chronic illnesses? 

When you have a chronic illness, it is essential to distinguish between dealing with the illness in synchronicity, i.e. the announcement of the diagnosis, the treatments... and resilience. After this announcement, one must rebuild oneself. Life will no longer be the same, the patient will have to deal with the disease. 

To do this, they must feel safe. Patients who have felt secure in the past will be more resistant to pain. The reverse is also true. 

It is therefore important to identify the place in which one feels most secure. 

For some patients, the hospital can be a source of anxiety, so they will be better off at home if possible. For others, the medical environment may be more secure because they feel more cared for and supported. 

In the same way, it is necessary to choose the people with whom you feel most comfortable. For some patients, it will be the psychiatrist, for others the partner... It is up to the patient to decide. There are no absolute answers. 

A patient who does not allow himself to be invaded by the disease, by the distress it can cause, and who mobilizes strategies to regulate his negative emotions, to solve the problems that the disease can pose in the management of his daily life, in his family, social or professional life, or who correctly follows the treatments that are proposed to him, will show himself to be more resilient and therefore, will accept the disease more easily. 

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Click on "Like" or share your feelings and questions with the community in the comments below!    

Take care of yourself! 

avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialises in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sport. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more


lesmal • Ambassador
on 02/01/2023

Thank you for an interesting article giving many tips.

Setting goals, understanding one's emotions and having confidence in oneself and what one can achieve definitely do count. My mother was very wise, and gave me the advice and strength to do the above.

on 07/01/2023

There's a lot written about resilience these days and I am beginning to feel some concern: what happens if someone is not coping? It's always ok to have "bad days" with chronic illness and " not being resilient enough" simply gives some people something else to feel guilty about. I'm anxious that there is a danger of people becoming reluctant to raise their concerns for fear of being judged " not resilient enough." This could ( of course) be dangerous under certain circumstances - especially in a health service that is very pressured at the moment. I must say that I maintain a low threshold of suspicion for myself for further neurological symptoms, but I am relatively laid back with respiratory issues or with my spinal stenosis - but I have done the research and know where the risks are. Also, I do not believe that people should have to be "resilient" when it comes to chronic pain and it's management: there are so many options available now that will at least help. Lastly, nobody should have to be resilient with everyone in their lives - it's hugely important to have people we can be totally honest with. I'm not arguing that resilience is in any way a bad quality to develop ( far from it - I am now three years beyond my life expectancy and still working, studying and enjoying life) but that an over emphasis upon it can be a two edged sword.

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