The word resilience has many definitions. Miriam Webster’s online dictionary defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” When most people think of the word resilience they think of the ability to bounce back from challenge and adversity, or how well someone is able to adapt to adversity or crisis. Some researchers feel that the heart of resilience is the belief in one’s power, whether or not one actually has the power (Bandura, 1995, 1997).
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the “process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” Resilient people still experience a full range of emotions, including sadness and stress. But it is their ability to walk through the process of facing life’s challenges and their own emotions that sets them apart.
For nearly three decades, my professional career has revolved around the topic of resiliency. I’ve led an amazing team of people that developed prevention education based on the latest research on resiliency. I’ve read about resiliency, attended workshops and trainings on it, presented at many, many conferences and even trained thousands of teachers how to build resiliency in their students. Intellectually, I’m considered an expert on the topic. From my head I can rattle off statistics about risk and protective factors, internal and external assets, personal strengths and the different theories underpinning resiliency research.
But what I’ve learned over the years is that there is a tremendous difference in understanding something intellectually and actually experiencing it in your heart.
My “heart” learning about resiliency came after I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus in 1980 and also suffered through infertility. We all have challenges in life. Lupus and infertility happened to be mine. All of that professional learning converged when I realized that I really had only two choices: Give up and give in to the challenges I was facing, or get up and get on with building the life I wanted to live in spite of them. I chose the latter; mine would not be a sad life.
Along the way, I’ve been privileged to share my story and my “head and heart” expertise in resiliency with thousands of patients diagnosed with chronic illnesses and their healthcare providers. This is an honor and a privilege for me. If what I have learned from the challenges I’ve faced in my own life can help others improve the quality of theirs, then it has all been worth it.