Full Mettle Jacket – How To Build Resilience Part One

One of the most straightforward ways you can begin building
resilience is by looking at what you already have available to you.
Right at the top of my list are close relationships. This is for the
simple reason that the people around you are highly likely to share
your outlook, focus, values and beliefs. They also see beneath the
surface of who you are, rather than just seeing the tip of the
iceberg that is revealed to the rest of the world.

All of this means that the people you choose to have close
relationships with are really well placed to support you on your

No matter how resilient you are, you’re always going to be human,
you’ll always have the emotions that come from adversity, and so
there will always be times when you question yourself and struggle
to move past the pain. This means you will always need to seek out coping strategies – both cognitive and behavioural. Having people around you to
bounce your ideas off when exploring the best ways to develop
those strategies can help to give you far greater clarity.
The belief in the importance of close personal relationships in
developing resilience is supported by Ozbay et al, who concluded
that social support is one of the most influential variables in
predicting positive coping and adaptation [1].

A fundamental and almost universal truth is that adversity creates
agitation. Therefore, part of building resilience is developing the
understanding that experiencing agitation is normal. This leads
directly on to the other key relationship in your life that is crucial to
building resilience. That is the relationship you have with yourself.
It is so important to develop a view of yourself that is
compassionate and caring. We all suffer at different times and in

different ways, but how you process your experiences plays a
huge part in the impact they have on your life.
When it comes to your relationships, with yourself, with those close
to you, and with the wider world, it is interesting to note that
humour also actively contributes to the development of resilience.
Humour is viewed by Vaillant as a fourth level mature defense,
serving not only to combat stress, but also to attract social support
[2]. This means that allowing yourself to be playful is not only ok,
it’s a really great coping strategy. There’s nothing wrong with
breaking out the super-soakers every now and then.

As is the case for far too many people, not all of my formative
relationships were healthy. I grew up with a physically and
emotionally abusive father, who constantly rejected me and told
me I wasn’t good enough. He would tell me that I was too stupid to
be his son, and over time I internalised that message.
For many years I believed that I was stupid – a belief that was
compounded by my dyslexia. In spite of the negative messages I
received, I had inherent traits that allowed me to develop coping
strategies and overcome the agitation early in my life. I fought
against the negative input and sought to validate myself.
I recognised that in order to achieve this validation, I needed to
find something that I was good at in an area where I wasn’t being
targeted and attacked. For me, this was sport. My success in sport
allowed me to develop the confidence and belief that I could
achieve. This formed the foundation of my resilience. Once the
foundations were in place, I was able to start building.
Fast-forwarding a few years, I went back to university to study for
my MBA, to prove to myself that I wasn’t stupid. My first two or
three subjects were credits. I was really happy with that. I had
never imagined I could get a credit at an MBA level.
It didn’t take long before I was asking myself how I could achieve
more and get better results. I began to recognise that I wasn’t
stupid, and to reverse the early beliefs I’d had as a kid.

I realised that if I applied myself I could achieve a distinction
average. Since that realisation, I have never had anything less
than a distinction, and have even had three high distinctions.
When I sat back and absorbed what I had achieved, I realised that
this put me in the top ten percent. So I then began to wonder what
else I could do.
The message here is that you build resilience from your own
actions and results, because you come to understand that it is
possible to move above and beyond your expectations of yourself.
The positive outcomes that you get are strength, learning, and the
motivation to help others. In fact, a number of studies show that
altruism is closely associated with resilience in both adults and
children [3].

You also develop perspective and a method of improvement,
because you have benchmarks to work from.
This is the pipeline for how you build resilience. Adversity kicks in,
you become agitated, which combines unpleasant emotions,
questioning, and mental struggles. At this point your cognitive and
behavioural coping mechanisms come into play. This then leads to
all of the positive outcomes that result from building resilience.
The positive outcomes are the motivation to keep moving through
the pipeline, and as long as you keep pushing forward and
developing your personal resources, you will keep being rewarded
with more positive outcomes.

Part One References:

  1. Ozbay F, Fitterling H, Charney D, Southwick S
    (2008). Social support and resilience to stress across the life
    span: a neurobiologic framework. Current Psychiatry
  2. Vaillant G. E. (1992). The historical origins and future
    potential of Sigmund Freud’s concept of the mechanisms of
    defence. International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
  3. Southwick SM, Vythilingam M, Charney DS. (2005). The
    psychobiology of depression and resilience to stress:
    implications for prevention and treatment. Annual Review of
    Clinical Psychology.