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Resilience: Building a Positive Mindset

Resilience: Building a Positive MindsetMental health providers are trained to be problem solvers when conflict, unhappiness and disability become overwhelming. For that matter, parents, teachers, coaches, police officers and employers also are frequently called upon to be problem solvers.

Prevention, of course, is the optimum problem solving strategy. Theories of resilience, aka “positive psychology,” are a strength-based approach to prevention and problem solving.

Resilience is the ability to weather adversity and to bounce back from a negative experience. Some survive and become stronger in the face of adversity and some do not. Personal qualities, family structure and positive social experiences help develop personal resiliency.

Resilience is a personal mindset. Resilient individuals focus their time and energy on those situations over which they can have some impact, rather than on events that are beyond their sphere of influence. Resilient people have a sense of mastery and competence. They have an optimism that they can prevail. They have learned to manage and regulate their emotions. They take responsibility and ownership for their actions. They are not into blaming. They learn from mistakes and setbacks.

Family warmth, cohesion and structure and/a close, trusting bond with at least one caregiver also are critical for developing resilience. Additionally, positive social experiences outside the family such as peer relationships, school and employment success and positive group experiences promote resiliency. And, it appears, a deficit in personal, family or social experiences can be overcome if other positives are present.

Louis Zamperini and Christopher Reeves are well known models of the power of resilience. In the best seller Unbroken, Laura Hildebrand writes about Zamperini who survived unbelievable torture after capture in World War II. And, after spinal cord injury, Christopher Reeves went on to lead a meaningful life. He said, “I believe paralysis is a choice. A lot of people are free of physical limitations, but paralyzed by fear and anxiety, depression, a sense of helplessness.”

Louis Zamperini and Christopher Reeves inspire and instruct about positive attitude in the face of life’s many problems and challenges. Their example may convey, however, an impression that resilience is extraordinary and possessed only by a few.

The opposite appears to be true. Research indicates that resilience can be taught and learned at any age. Personal, family and/or social opportunities that underlie and develop resilience are available each day to all. The New England Centenarian Study, for example, is examining those common characteristics and strengths possessed by folks who are living long lives.

Searching Amazon under “resilience” or “positive psychology” will identify a large selection of literature. The website of Dr. Robert Brooks,, provides monthly articles about raising and educating resilient children. Dr. Brooks’ books, The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life and Raising a Self Disciplined Child: Helping your Child Become More Responsible, Confident and Successful are well researched and have been well received.

“We are the author of our own lives,” is the way Dr. Brooks puts it. “Making lemons out of lemonade” and “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” turn out to be more than inspirational locker room posters. A resilient mindset, assuming personal control and responsibility for one’s life, is empowering and essential for emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

J. Emmet Burke, PhD, JD is an admitting psychologist working in the inpatient unit at Brook Lane. He holds a Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology from The Catholic University of American in Washington, DC and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Maryland School of Law.