Is resilience overrated?

12th July 2020

Everyone talks about resilience like it’s one of the most glorious abilities you can possess. Is it the end all be all of existence, the answer to all your problems, a skill you can learn, a natural talent you can nurture in time?

Southwest Passage, Photo by Lillian Bassman, 1951

Whilst I don’t hold all the answers to these questions, I’m someone who’s life was shaped drastically by my ability to be resilient and I want to share some of the most important things I’ve learnt about it.

Resilience is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s something I can observe, feel and appreciate both in myself, and in everyone around me. It’s the mental reservoir of strength that I tap into during stressful, trying times in order not to fall apart. Romanticizing this concept can even go as far as comparing it to an acquired skill or a craft that we keep perfecting our entire lives. There is no limit to how resilient you can become! And it’s also not limited to bad times - if you have an ounce of resilience in your body, you’ll naturally use it on a daily basis.

When I’m going through tough times, I often think about the fact that becoming resilient wasn’t ever a choice for me. Knowing that I have to tap into my stash of mental strength to face adversity yet again frustrates and annoys me and I hate it. And just because I am a very resilient person, it doesn’t mean that it ever gets easier. I still go through lots of pain and suffering just like everyone else. I still still crumble under pressure, stress and anxiety -  rocking one meltdown after another. Life events forced me to become resilient in order to survive. I had no say in most of the horrible things, tragedies and situations I witnessed or experienced. But because I wanted to live, pushing through was the only option available to me.

People admire me a lot for my resilience. But the truth is, I have mixed feelings about it. Should I be proud about having developed an ability I actually didn’t want or thought I needed in the first place? I mean there are people out there who live a chill life with low resilience and they’re doing fine or better than I’ll ever do 😂. Whenever someone tells me “I just don’t know how you do it! You’re so strong! I could never face all these obstacles” - should I just take it as a compliment? Because when I hear that, I usually tell people that I learnt to handle/face those things because I have no other choice - and that they could do it too if they would be in my shoes. Of course, maybe that’s not true, and maybe I dismiss my resilience too easily instead of celebrating it.

Anyone can be resilient?

he human race and biodiversity on Earth are two great examples of evolution achieved thanks to the ability of being resilient, wouldn’t you say? In my opinion, the most obvious ways we develop this skill are:

I think anyone inevitably develops resilience over the course of their life. Perhaps the only factors that make a difference are the scale of resilience one possesses - low, medium, high (or anything in between) and the source of their resilience. These things can end up dictating our perspective on life, our choices, the paths we choose.

Is it a skill you can learn? Something you develop if you don’t have it?

Studies on resilience have been conducted by psychologists for decades. Some of the discoveries include the fact that whether you possess this ability or not mainly depends on how your life unravels. The intensity or duration of adversity can influence the impact and consequences these have on you. Another interesting thing studies found was that resilience can change in time - it’s possible to be more resilient when young and be less resilient when older or vice versa.

I believe that you can learn to be resilient and develop it as a skill based on the choices you make in life and the way you react in the face of adversity. If we look for example at drawing as a skill - almost anyone can become good at drawing with guidance and lots of practice. But at a certain level, those who also possess talent in this area will stand-out in terms of technique, creativity and skill range etc. From my experience, I’m inclined to think that those who’s resilience resulted from dealing with “lighter” portions of adversity might find it harder to deal with “heavier” amounts of difficulties. But I also think we shouldn’t rush to conclusions nor underestimate our ability to overcome hardships.

Becoming more resilient can be a matter of the way you perceive adversity: you can see it as a disaster that ruined your life and you are constantly trying to fight it and inevitably make it worse for yourself. Or you can see it as a challenge that you need to overcome - which can make it easier for you to deal with it, learn from it and move forward as a better person.

Can you be too resilient for your own good?

Everything is good in moderation, and sometimes being too resilient can backfire. I can’t fit in this article a list of on how many occasions my own resilience made me blind to the severity and toxicity of the situations I was in whether it was in friendships, relationships, projects, jobs etc. This is why I think it’s important to check-in with yourself as often as possible and be on the lookout for signs that indicate you should remove yourself from certain situations for good. Aside from your own instincts and thoughts (that you might dismiss), if people you care about start pointing out that you are in a toxic situation - I strongly encourage you to take a step back and analyse the situation because most of the time, they will be right.

Main takeaways

Confucius famously said that “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm”. I heard this quote when I was younger and it didn’t make sense to me how reed could be stronger than oak [insert math lady meme here]. But after life bent me to hell and back several times 😂,  I discovered that I’m a green reed and oaks have nothing on me.

What does resilience mean to you?