Psychological Resilience

Dr. David Fawcett

Why is Resilience Important?

Psychological resilience, also known as emotional resilience, is an individual’s ability to effectively cope with stress and adversity. Much like physical resilience, which helps us fight off infections and avoid becoming ill, psychological resilience helps us cope with adverse circumstances ranging from acute trauma to chronic anxiety.

An individual’s level of psychological resilience will vary depending on their overall health, the number of stressors in their lives, and their self-care practices. A high degree of psychological resilience is available to anyone. Contrary to the popular idea that resilience is a trait that you either have or don’t have, resilience is a process, a set of skills that can be learned and practiced.

Addiction and Resilience

Generally, psychological resilience occurs as a result of cumulative “protective factors,” things like a robust social support network, a sense of belonging, and so on. In childhood and beyond, however, most addicts experience adversity, especially various forms of trauma. This can result in core beliefs that undermine psychological resilience.

Ironically, most addicts are incredibly resilient when it comes to preserving their addictive behaviors – but they are deficient in other basic life skills. This is because the limited range of coping tools available to them as children didn’t promote skills for healthy interaction in a challenging world. Instead, they learned to escape and dissociate.

What is Resilience?

The elements of resilience can be described in many ways. In one study,[i] which found that people who are psychologically resilient tend to live longer than those who aren’t, resilience was defined as an individual’s ability to cope with and bounce back from stress. I believe that is as good a definition as any, and in my years of experience with addiction and recovery, I have observed certain behaviors among individuals who are psychologically resilient. The first and most important of those behaviors is that they live consciously.

Living Consciously

There are many ways to describe living consciously, but it is most simply stated as becoming awake. Addicts, by definition, avoid and deny. They are masters at separating themselves from feelings and awareness of stress, pain, and other forms of discomfort, including the pain that their behaviors are creating for themselves and others.

Sex addicts, porn addicts, and persons who combine drugs and sex spend hour upon hour living in fantasy, not reality. Recovery means staying present and reconnecting with reality, including their feelings. It also means developing empathy for people in their lives. Lastly, it means increasing awareness about their own role in their behavior and in their quality of life.

Staying present in one’s life is easily said but difficult to practice, especially for addicts. Addicts’ minds are often dragged into the past or pulled into the future. The practice of mindfulness, simply watching and observing their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions without judgment, is a powerful tool for staying in the moment. This includes body awareness. By connecting with the information our bodies convey, we can accelerate healing and be present for greater periods of time.

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In my next post to this site, I will discuss other traits and behaviors I observe in psychologically resilient individuals, including releasing shame, developing empathy, and more.

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[i] Zeng, Y, Shen, K. (2010). Resilience Significantly Contributes to Exceptional Longevity. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, 2010: 525693. Published online 2010 Dec 6. doi: 10.1155/2010/525693.