INTERNAL MARKS OF STRENGTH
Recover, Restructure and Rebuild are among some of the most repeated catch words heard in reference to rebuilding the flood ravaged Kerala. The world media flashed across the globe the vastness and depth of devastation that the flood had brought onto Kerala. Later, during the rescue and evacuation stage, the media also highlighted the spontaneous and admirable cooperation and generous efforts of the people, especially the youth of Kerala. These attempts to save lives, move people to safer grounds and to provide them with the essentials for survival were indeed a Herculean task accomplished with bravery and great generosity. In those critical and chaotic days, the media took note of the admirable emotional resilience of the people of Kerala. This emotional resilience is the main component of survival, not only during natural disasters such as the great flood, but also during our daily living.
Stories of resilience
Seema, a fourteen- year- old student preparing to appear in the forthcoming S.S.C. Board Examinations, was found to be depressed and anxious. On inquiry, she explained how she got into the plight. Seema was studious, attentive and regular in studies, performing well above average. It all started with her Mathematics teacher, as she recalled. One day, the teacher scolded Seema for her inattention in doing her home-work. The unexpected rebuke in public triggered an avalanche of feelings inside the young girl’s mind. She started brooding on the negative experience on and off, and slowly became less attentive to class work and group studies. Sure enough, Seema did poorly in Mathematics examination and was quite upset with her poor result. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back! Seema’s case is an example of how a fragile emotional resilience can lead one to total failure and utter emotional imbroglio.
The story of Thomas and Mary who lost their two children in a tragic accident, shares a different and positive message. The couple was devastated at the accidental death of their children, a son (26 years) and a daughter (23 years). At the funeral, the parents were so shattered and their heart-wrenching cries made all those attending the ceremonies, teary eyed. However, the bereaved parents recovered from their initial shock and untold misery, sooner than everyone expected. The amazing feat was achieved by being connected with their faith and family, friends and neighbours. Back on their feet, they were able to pick up the broken pieces of life’s shattered dreams. These parents are amazing examples of emotional resilience and how it helps to rebuild and re-orient one’s life.
Emotional resilience is reflected when you are able to calm your frantic mind after encountering a negative experience. It is intrinsic motivation, an inner force by which we can hold ourselves through all the downsides of life. Just like the aspects of our persona such as intelligence quotient, emotional intelligence and social intelligence, emotional resilience is a trait prevalent from birth and continues to develop throughout life. Resilience is the capacity to maintain competent functioning in the face of major life ‘stressors’ (Kaplan, et al.1996).
Emotional resilience varies from person to person and can strengthen the power to bounce back from adversities. Getting tied down with the daily stressors of life can be a big reason behind the loss of our emotional resilience. We become more sensitive, over-reactive, and emotionally unbalanced. Even a little change of plans can leave us in a state of anxiety and panic. In the case of Seema, it was the unexpected scolding from her favourite teacher that triggered the emotional slippery slope that landed her in the failure in the examination and the consequent emotional vortex.
Studies have indicated that resilient individuals can deal with stress more effectively. They can bounce back from any stressful situation with positive energy and confidence, and they are more likely to learn lessons from traumatic encounters rather than get overwhelmed by them (Fredrickson, 1998). Emotional resilience is related to some factors that aren't under your control, such as age, gender, and exposure to trauma. However, resilience can be developed with a little effort.
There are certain characteristics that resilient people tend to possess. Some of the main characteristics are:
- Emotional awareness: People with emotional awareness understand what they’re feeling and why. They also understand the feelings of others better because they are more in touch with their own inner life.
- Perseverance: Whether they are working toward outward goals or on inner coping strategies, they are action-oriented; they trust in the process and don’t give up.
- Internal locus of control: They believe that they, rather than outside forces, are in control of their own lives. This trait is associated with less stress because people with an internal locus of control and a realistic view of the world can be more pro-active in dealing with stressors in their lives. They are more solution-oriented, and feel a greater sense of control, which brings less stress.
- Optimism: They see the positives in most situations and believe in their own strength. They handle problems from a victim mentality to an empowered one, and more choices open up.
- Support: While they tend to be strong individuals, they know the value of social support and are able to surround themselves with supportive friends and family.
- Sense of humour: People strong in emotional resilience are able to laugh at life’s difficulties. This can be a huge asset, as it shifts one's perspective from seeing things as a threat to seeing them as a challenge, and this alters how the body reacts to stress. They also get a good laugh more often, and this brings benefits as well.
- Perspective: Resilient people are able to learn from their mistakes (rather than deny them), see obstacles as challenges, and allow adversity to make them stronger. They can also find meaning in life’s challenges rather than seeing themselves as victims.
- Spirituality: Being connected to your spiritual side has been connected with stronger emotional resilience, especially if you are internally connected and not just going through the motions of attending services. (This doesn't mean that people who aren't spiritual can't be resilient).
Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions that we are capable of developing. When we learn to appreciate what we have, rather than complaining and stressing about what we don’t have or what we lost, we are already more resilient than before. Maintaining a Gratitude Journal is an effective way of developing Emotional Resilience.