ASK THE DOC: Life is tough — but how we bounce back is what matters

Dr Eddie Murphy gives his expert advice

Dr Eddie Murphy


Dr Eddie Murphy


ASK THE DOC: Life is tough — but how we bounce back is what matters

Resillience is a skill that can be learned

I believe no one can be protected from adversity all their lives. In fact, over-protection can result in poor problem solving and later poor coping skills in the face of adversity.

Recently, I planted a Tree of Hope in the People’s Park in Limerick as a symbol of how hope and brighter days will come after the storms pass.

Indeed some people are like trees, in that having survived the most challenging weather conditions and having been tested by adversity, they will grow and endure.

In reality, sh**t happens. All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives.

But how we respond to these has a big impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle we can choose our own attitude to what happens.

In practice it's not always easy, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.

What is resilience?

Resilience comes from the Latin word resilio — to jump back — and is increasingly used in everyday language to describe our ability to cope with and bounce back from adversity.

Some people describe it as the ability to bend instead of breaking when under pressure or difficulty, or the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with challenges.

The same abilities also help to make us more open to and willing to take on new opportunities, ie if Plan A isn’t working we move to Plan B. In this way being resilient is more than just survival, it includes letting go, learning and growing as well as finding healthy ways to cope.

It’s not Rare.

Research shows that resilience isn't a rare quality found in a few, extraordinary people. One expert in the subject, Dr Ann Masten, describes it as 'ordinary magic' noting that it comes from our normal, everyday capabilities, relationships and resources.

She argues that resilience is dynamic and that we can be naturally resilient in some situations or at sometimes in our lives and not others. Each person and each situation is different.

Good News — We can all learn resilience skills

I like the fact that we can all work on our resilience. We can't always predict or control what life throws at us, but we can build a range of skills and nurture our resources to help us respond flexibly, effectively deal with challenges, recover more quickly and even learn and grow as a result.

It can even lower our risk of depression and anxiety and enable us to age successfully. What's more, the same skills can help us manage fear of taking on new opportunities and so help us develop in other ways too.

Three Areas That Influence Resilience

Our resilience is influenced by three areas:

l Our development as a child and as a teenager;

l External factors such as our relationships with others or having a faith;

l Internal factors such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.

As parents or those that work with children, we can do much to help build resilience of kids and teenagers.

Whilst as adults we can't change our childhoods, there is plenty we can do to build our resilience within the second and third sets of factors, and indeed research is showing that resilience is developable in adults as well as in children.

Building Resilience skills

The saying goes ‘What doesn't kill us makes us stronger’ and science has shown that it does have some truth in it.

Experiencing some adversity during our lives does increase our resilience by enabling us to learn ways of coping and identify and engage our support network.

It also gives us a sense of mastery over past adversities, which helps us to feel we will be able to cope in the future. We have probably all experienced things as stressful initially (for example starting a family or a new job) but later find we are no longer phased by similar activities.

Importantly though, for us to learn through such struggles our coping skills and resources can be taxed but not overwhelmed.

Some psychologists argue that most of us aren't as prepared as we might be to face adversity and so we run the risk of giving up or feeling helpless in the face of difficulty.

But, by changing the way we think about adversity, we can boost how resilient we are. Based on extensive research, they believe that our capacity for resilience is not fixed or in our genes, nor are there limits on how resilient we are able to be. I like this it allows for hope that we can change.

Resilience and Relationships

One of the key external sources of resilience is our network of relationships with other people such as family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. Taking time to nurture our relationships is a vital part of resilience building.

Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an important part of resilience. In this era of mental health awareness, reaching out and offering support is critical to building resilience.

Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist