5 Hard Lessons I’ve Learnt About Resilience. By Dr.Linda Berman.

Hokusai. Great Wave Of Kanagawa. 1831.Wikimedia Commons.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
Steve Maraboli

The enormous wave in the Japanese woodcut above, hurling itself over the small fishing boats, has been seen as symbolising the force of nature and the vulnerability of human beings against its potentially destructive power.

However, the boats do still seem to be intact, and the men inside are resiliently braving the might of the huge wave, clinging on for dear life.

We too are currently witnessing the destructive, tidal force of a monstrous, engulfing virus during this pandemic.

Resilience, both in a physical and psychological sense, is becoming crucial to our survival, against this overwhelming tsunami of infection.

What actually is resilience?

  • Resilience is the capacity to withstand trouble and trauma, misfortune and crisis, and to be able to survive and recover from these with fortitude and courage.
  • Being resilient is having the toughness to bounce back after difficult experiences, perhaps gaining more wisdom and strength as a result of surviving all the pain and distress.

I have been thinking about what my own life experience has taught me, and many others, about how to develop and maintain resilience in times of difficulty. The lessons have not always been easy.

Below are some of my conclusions. This is not a definitive list;  you will no doubt have many more to add. 

1. Value Your Scars and Your Strengths.

Hand_Pinted_Kintsugi_Pottery_BowlHand-Painted Kintsugi Pottery Bowl. Wikimedia Commons.

“My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.”  

Steve Goodier

  • There is truth in the notion that, as Hemingway has said, we can be ‘strong at the broken places.’
  • Having others remind us during difficult times that we have already survived all kinds of problems in our lives gives us strength. We have pulled through in the past and we can hopefully do it again.
“I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past.”
  • The book shown above illustrates how sexually abused and traumatised children may be able to grow into strong adults with the right help and care.
  • The writer quotes Robert Louis Stevenson, whose words express to us the central meaning of resilience:

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”

2. Develop Courage.


‘David Slaying Goliath.’ Peter Paul Rubens.

“Freedom lies in being bold.”
Robert Frost

Why resilience needs courage:

  • It takes courage, especially during difficult times, such as this pandemic, to stay with today, to focus on the now.
  • Courage is also needed to hold onto some hope and positivity, whilst simultaneously facing the reality of a situation, without denial. This is a difficult balance to maintain, and it requires a calm resilience.

“Sometimes courage is a quiet fight, a dim softness within you, that flickers even on your darkest days and reminds you that you are strong, that you are growing—that there is hope.”

 Bianca Sparacino

  • Resilience is having the courage to bear one’s problems with stoical acceptance, or to decide to  fight when necessary. Hamlet himself famously wondered….. does he suffer, or attack?

‘Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them’.

  • We need courage to persevere, to stay with problems even when they get really tough:

“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”

Thomas Carlyle

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

  • The courage to continue caring for others is crucial, even in troubled times……especially in troubled times. It takes courage to turn one’s attention outwards, away from one’s own issues, and to empathise with others.

3. Learn To Be Flexible.

Claude_Monet,_Water-Lily_Pond_and_Weeping_WillowWater Lily Pond and Weeping Willow. Monet.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”
 Robert Jordan

  • It is important to become flexible enough to maintain and nurture our relationships with others, for the people around us are important in boosting our morale.
  • Being psychologically flexible means that we can react more healthily when life goes wrong; it allows us to ‘bounce back’ more quickly from difficulties and traumas.

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”
Jodi Picoult

4. Try To Face Reality: Make The Best Of What You Have


“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”

 Mizuta Masahide

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
Elizabeth Edwards

  • We cannot predict what might happen in our lives; if nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that. Are we prepared to try and cope with whatever life might throw at us?
  • When we cannot change what has happened, are there things we can have control over, that might make us feel we still have some control and personal power?
  • Adapting to new circumstances, especially when life throws you curve balls, as in this pandemic, is part of being resilient.

5. Develop The Confidence To Remain True To Yourself.

“He that respects himself is safe from others. He wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Remaining true to oneself is at times not easy, especially when there is pressure to behave otherwise. Understanding the self is crucial here.
By knowing who we are, we can resiliently choose to affirm our beliefs and ideas, even in the face of opposition.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”

e. e. cummings 

Finally, read and ponder Maya Angelou’s wonderfully confident and powerful poem on resistance, personal power and resilience: Still I Rise.


Maya Angelou. Wikimedia Commons.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

©Linda Berman.

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