It stuns people when I tell them I was a custodial kidnapping victim and then left with my grandparents after that custodial battle, only to be later reunited with my mother in witness protection. I have recounted what that reunion was like in several stories, and people have questioned if I am telling the truth.
It seems like they cannot fathom that this ever happened to someone, or that I can write about it so cogently. Things like this, and so much worse, happen every day to people. What is it about some people that helps them get through troubling times? The answer is resiliency. There are seven core qualities that resilient people share.
These characteristics include their ability to set goals and be self-aware. They also understand boundaries and have an internal locus of control. These things help them in their quest to find acceptance while remaining hopeful, optimistic, and positive. They also make sure a healthy tribe surrounds them; a tribe that encourages their growth and goals.
1. They set SMART goals
Part of having a resilient spirit means that you can maintain hope. Having a goal and working towards the outcome you desire is a critical component of resilience. S.M.A.R.T. goals are some of the best types of goals you can set because they help people set clear and attainable goals. They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Taking care to structure your goals this way will keep you working on the right track. By meeting the smaller, measurable goals, you can celebrate milestone achievements along the way. These minor victories help resilient people keep going, even when the process seems daunting. That builds confidence in their abilities and encourages them to be self-aware. Self-awareness is an important part of goal setting, and the ability to remain resilient.
2. They focus on self-awareness
Resilient people possess self-awareness of their strengths and limitations. They are also empathetic to the plights of others. Psychologist and author Daniel Coleman explains that self-awareness is “a demonstration of one’s ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values along with the ability to understand how they impact their own behavior.”
Using mindfulness and other tools resilient people learn to find their triggers, choose their reactions, and develop their belief systems. They can then use this knowledge to determine how they will behave, including what boundaries they set.
3. The ability to set and understand boundaries
Boundaries are a skill that resilient people work every day to master. Setting boundaries is something that doesn’t happen quickly and can be a challenging process. Boundaries are important in our lives because they help us preserve our finite resources. There is only so much time in our day, and boundaries give us the ability to decide what we allow into our lives.
Resilient people recognize that having boundaries enables them to control how they are treated by others, and how they treat themselves. People who struggle to be resilient in the face of trauma often have trouble setting boundaries. Marquita Herald lays out the signs that you have unhealthy (or no boundaries):
- Say yes, even when you really want to say no.
- Never take the time to become clear about your values or priorities.
- Do things you don’t want to or that feel wrong just to keep the peace.
- Have no clear boundaries for inappropriate physical contact.
- Need the validation of others when making choices about your life.
- Frequently experience feelings of overwhelm from too many commitments.
- Expect those closest to you to know when they’ve upset you without you saying anything.
Boundaries are about preserving your mental health and safeguarding your sanity. It is essential that we have boundaries that leave us time for self-care, and that we minimize the time we spend with people who cause us angst. Without them you end up overextending yourself, accepting things you should not, and wielding your power to external locusts of control.
4. The ability to find an internal locus of control
Locus of control, a concept developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, refers to the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence). There are two types of locusts of control: internal and external.
Resilient people have a higher internal locus of control. Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts, and they have control over those things they can change. Having an internal locus of control is linked to self-efficacy, the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011).
When I was a young girl, struggling with being abandoned by both parents because of drugs and illegal activities, I made a promise to myself. I vowed to not end up like statistics showed I would. At 12, I didn’t understand that this was an internal locus of control. A few years later, when I was a freshman in high school, my mother entered witness protection. I had a few months where I struggled. Life had been cruel and unfair, and I was angry about why these terrible things kept happening to me.
Did God hate me? Was it my fate or destiny to have the people who I loved leave? I felt like the universe’s personal punching bag, but I eventually reminded myself that I had a plan. I was going to take college classes at night, graduate early, and ensure my life was different. Bad things will happen to us that are no one’s fault, but how resilient people respond is based on what efforts they can take to change their situation.
5. They focus on practicing acceptance
Being a victim of trauma does not mean you have to have a victim mentality. We live in a world where people perpetrate traumas on other people. We are not at fault for those things and should not shoulder things like blame and judgment. Resilient people take that energy and focus it on finding acceptance. According to Foundations Recovery Network, these four steps can help you move toward acceptance:
- Accepting and finding comfort in their actions during the crisis
- Creating a coping strategy to get through the event and its after-effects
- Finding social support from friends, family, or a support group
- Realizing that they acted in a crisis situation despite being afraid
Will acceptance help you heal from trauma? Is healing a real possibility? People who show resiliency can work through the stages of recovery. Brains list these stages as:
- Stage One: Safety, Stabilization, and Overcoming Dysregulation
- Stage Two: Remembrance, Mourning, and Coming to Terms with Traumatic Memories
- Stage Three: Reconnection and Integration
- Stage Four: Posttraumatic Growth (PTG)
Stage four comprises people who have made their way to the other side of their trauma. This stage is where you realize that the things you have lived through have in fact made you who you are today. Without what you have gone through, you wouldn’t be able to inspire and motivate others who are struggling right now. This is the step where acceptance, changes of thinking, and positive psychological changes within one individual, can give a voice to people who need one.
6. They cultivate optimism, hope, and positivity
Resilient people become beacons of optimism, hope, and positivity by modeling that behavior. Despite whatever traumatic thing they experienced, they hope things will be better. They often know that others have experienced worse things, and while that doesn’t negate their trauma, it keeps them searching for the positives in even the worse situations.
Chakell Wardleigh offers several tips that resilient people do in order to maintain this sense of positivity. She says that replacing the word “to” with the word “for,” will go a long way in changing the way you think. Ask yourself, “Why did this happen for me,” instead of “Why did this happen to me.”
Another way to create positive thoughts is to keep a gratitude journal. Another important way to achieve these positive vibes is to surround yourself with people that you love and care about. The type of people you surround yourself with matters.
7. They build healthy tribes
A critical aspect of humanity is the need we have for connection. Resilient people are strong, but they don’t survive traumatic things on their own. The people that they surround themselves with encourage their energy, vision, and successes.
Resilient people know this matters and limit the time that they spend with those who hinder their goals and positive mindset. It can be draining when we surround ourselves with people who do not encourage us to grow and can hold us back.
Don’t let the traumas of your past hold you back from reaching your potential in this life. A therapist, or life coach, can help you develop these characteristics so you can be more resilient and carry on in times of strife.
We have each walked through a unique personal hell in order to get where we are today, and it is no small feat. You never know who needs to hear your story, or what other things you still have to contribute. So keep putting one foot in front of the other, one word on the page after the next, and give it everything you have.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” ― Dieter F. Uchtdorf