Psychological Resilience: The Ability to Turn Stressful Life Events Into Personal Growth

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Perceiving life events as opportunities for personal growth rather than limitations or threats to security will make you endure even the most challenging aspects of life.

Resilience characterizes people who are able to interact with their environments in ways that promote growth and well-being, despite they may have been exposed to many challenging life events or psychological risk factors. That said, life is by itself a stressful phenomenon.

First, we undergo a number of developmental stages throughout life, which persistently threatens our psychological well-being, especially if the challenges of each stage are not solved properly.

Secondly, we live in societies that are characterized by fast technological advances, globalization, worldwide competition and economic up and downturns. There has and always will be various stressors in life (Maddi, 2013), so dealing with them is a great human task and challenge, but they also provide opportunities for growth (Antonovsky, 1987).

Psychological research has shown that people who are resilient tend to think in certain (adaptive) ways. This article draws on two related theories: sense of coherence and hardiness, which both have been linked to resilience.

Sense of coherence

Antonovsky’s book “Unraveling the mystery of health” from 1987 describes the concept sense of coherence. People with a high sense of coherence are able to manage stress and stay well, relative to people with a low sense of coherence. The concept has three aspects to it:

  • Sense of comprehensibility: If people have a high sense of comprehensibility, they will perceive stimuli as ordered, consistent, structured, and clear instead of chaotic, random or incomprehensible. People who have a great sense of comprehensibility will expect that the future is predictable, and seemingly incomprehensible events are made comprehensible. Comprehensibility involves cognitive effort, i.e. we actively try to make sense of the world
  • Sense of manageability: If people have a great sense of manageability, they will  perceive stressful life events as challenges instead of obstacles. They will perceive their personal resources as adequate to meet the demands of the situation. People with a high sense of manageability deal effectively with life’s demands and do not perceive themselves as victims
  • Sense of meaningfulness: If people have a high sense of meaningfulness, they will be motivated to engage in problems and demands posed by life. They will perceive life events as meaningful either in an emotional or cognitive sense, and they are therefore seen as worth investing energy in. People with a high sense of meaningfulness are determined or committed to regain meaning and stability in their lives.

Hardiness

The book “Hardiness” by Maddi (2013) describes the concept of hardiness in great detail. The term was coined by Kobasa (1979), and it involves three aspects:

  • Commitment: Committed people will view stressful life events as meaningful, interesting, and worth investing energy in
  • Control: People who have a sense of control believe they can influence events in their lives. Stress is viewed as constantly changeable. They will perceive their personal resources as adequate to meet the demands of the situation
  • Challenge: If people view life events as challenges, they also view them as opportunities for personal growth rather than threats to security. Change is viewed as a normal aspect of life and as something that can turn out to be positive
Photo: Kathryn McCallum
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