Resilience, Chapter 3

Charlottesville, Virginia

May 5, 2020



Pillar 1: Life Change Is Possible

People can change their lives. This is a powerful concept, but it is a modern one. The notion that humans are not bound and gagged by the fallout of their early childhoods, that they can change their behavior at any time in their lives, seems such a truism to some today. But, historically, people have believed that lasting change was not possible.

We are not fatalistic victims of our ancestries or of our pasts. We are free to change our lives at any point -- if we have the motive and the drive, and if we are equipped with the appropriate skills. We are the masters of our own destinies.

Thoughts and emotions power behavior.

Pillar 2: Thinking Is the Key to Boosting Resilience

Cognitions cause emotions, and emotions matter in determining who remains resilient and who succumbs.

Cognitive therapy takes the form of a dialogue between and therapist and a client. They tackle the client’s inaccurate belief systems and thoughts -- cognitions. It equips patients with skills to get them back to normal as soon as possible. It is optimistic about people’s ability to radically alter their lives for the better. It holds that real, lasting change can be effected.

People can bring about real change in their lives if they use the right tools.

Our thoughts and emotions are the very core of who we are.

Pillar 3: Accurate Thinking Is the Key

When it comes to appraising ourselves, others, and situations, we are downright shoddy scientists. We collect incomplete data, we use shortcuts to process it that lead to biased appraisals, and we make errors in interpretation that often support our favored hypothesis.

As two psychologists described it, “instead of a naïve scientist entering the environment in search of the truth, we find the rather unflattering picture of a charlatan trying to make the data come out in a manner most advantageous to his or her already-held beliefs.”

People process the world in a way that often leads to positive illusions -- general, enduring patterns of error and bias that lead to unrealistically positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control, and unrealistic optimism. Far from being balanced in their evaluation of positive and negative, most people have perceptions of themselves that are heavily weighted toward the positive side of the scale. What’s more these illusions actually may improve mental health. Healthier people tend to overestimate the degree of control they have on the environment, tend to see themselves in an overly positive light, and tend to be unrealistically optimistic about the future.

There are clear dangers to optimistic illusions and clear advantages to what we call “realistic optimism.”

Unrealistic optimism also has been found to decrease resistance to stress. People who are unrealistically optimistic about the state of their health are less resistant to stress as measured by physiological symptoms such as accelerated heart rate and elevated diastolic blood pressure than either people who were truly healthy or, more important, people who were openly distressed about their health problems. Similarly, people who repress their negative emotions and try to focus only on their positive feelings have stronger physiological reactions to stress than people who are more realistic and accepting of their negative emotions.

Realistic optimism is the ability to maintain a positive outlook without denying reality, actively appreciating the positive aspects of a situation without ignoring the negative aspects. It means aspiring and hoping for positive outcomes, and working toward those outcomes, without assuming that those outcomes are a foregone conclusion. Realistic optimism does not assume that good things will happen automatically. It is the belief that good things may happen and are worth pursuing but that effort, problem solving, and planning are necessary to bring them about.

Positive psychology is a new social science aimed to create an empirical body of knowledge of optimal human functioning. The positive psychology movement has two basic goals: To increase understanding of the human strengths through the development of classification systems and methods to measure those strengths; To infuse this knowledge into effective programs and interventions designed to build participants’ strengths rather than remediate their weaknesses.

How well we are functioning in the world can be thought of as a dial, with numbers in the negatives and the positives. It takes “reaching out” resilience to dial us well into the positives.

Resilience is the basic strength, underpinning all the positive characteristics in a person’s emotional and psychological makeup. A lack of resilience is the major cause of negative functioning. Without resilience there is no courage, no rationality, no insight. It is the bedrock on which all else is built. Some of us need more resilience just to get us out of the negatives.

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