Resilience Tip - Staying Up in Down Times

Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.
While some people are naturally more resilient than others,resiliency can also be intentionally developed.

Staying Up in Down Times - Explanatory Styles

These are tough times, financially, job-wise, and otherwise. Stress from finances and job worries can roll over into other areas, making us snappy at perhaps undeserving targets, or leading us to the "throwing-up-of-hands" syndrome. Working toward high-level resilience includes taking time to explore why. We humans often ask why: "Why me?!" "Why this?" when faced with an adversity. This is a good tendency, those who figure out "why" can presumably prevent or allay similar adversities in the future. Problems arise because we are not always such great problem solvers. We may not take the time to really explore and understand "why", and we may be stuck in a particular and non-helpful pattern for how we explain "why".

Research suggests three main factors in our explanatory styles, that is, in how we explain what happens to us: Personal, Permanent, and Pervasive. Personal is our tendency to explain things as related to "me" or "not me". Permanent is our tendency to explain things as related to "always" or "not always". Pervasive is our tendency to explain things as related to "everything" and "not everything". People tend to have explanatory styles that are higher or lower on each of these three factors.

A non-reslient explanatory response to, say, losing one's job due to downsizing might be: It's all my fault (Personal - me), I will never find a long-term job (Permanent - always), I'm just not very successful at anything (Pervasive - everything). This is not a very resilient response as it leaves a sense of there being nowhere to go and nothing to do to change the situation, pure pessimism. Consider another possible response to the same situation: It's only due to these tough economic times (Personal - not me), these times will pass (Permanent - not always), I'll just focus on something else I feel good at for now (Pervasive - not everything). This person will likely feel much more optimistic; and, this also may not be a highly resilient response because the person may not be looking at facts necessary to change the situation for the future.

Highly-resilient explanatory responses strive toward flexibility and accuracy. In losing our job to down-sizing, how much is due to us and how much to the situation (Personal)? Was it last one in, first one out? Then about all we can do is to look for another job. Did the company make a strategic decision to cancel the large project we were hired for? Then we may want to reconsider our specialty; if this change in direction is widespread in today's economy then we may want to re-package our skills for a more marketable specialty. Were the top people in our department kept, implying that we were not considered to be in the top group? Then we need to see how to improve our performance, or perhaps improve our communication so that decision-makers in the company are aware of our top performance. And then do similar exploration on the other two factors of Permanence and Pervasivenes.

So when faced with tough events during these tough times, look at your gut response in terms of Personal, Permanent, and Pervasive explanations. Then re-consider the accuracy of your response for each of these factors - What else might be involved here? What are some other potential ways of understanding this? Armed with additional information, choose what now seems to be the most likely explanation for the event, and - use this same information to look for constructive actions in moving forward. This more resilient response style during down times can help keep us "up" by cautioning against unnecessary blame, and by focusing on realistic positive actions.

Carolyn S. Tal, PhDPsychologist and ConsultantWorking with individuals and partners in  developing resilience and related