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Promoting Resilience amongst Women

by Tony de Gouveia

“The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places”
(Ernest Hemmingway)

Understanding the Importance of Resilience for Women
As mentioned in my previous article, it is a known fact in the Psychology literature that Women, because of their role and position in society often experience higher levels of Stress than men. This puts them at higher risk for many stress ailments than their male counterparts. Resilience has been defined as the ability to “bounce back” from adversity. thrive on challenges, reach our full potential and have a positive impact on others. It suggests emerging from the adversity stronger and more resourceful. Interestingly, research conducted by the American Psychological Association(APA) into gender differences in men and women in the US Armed Forces have found that men and women do not differ when it comes to Resilience.

Resilience is linked to the ability to learn to live with ongoing fear and uncertainty, namely, the ability to show positive adaptation in spite of significant life adversities and the ability to adapt to difficult and challenging life experiences. So what are the characteristics of the Resilient person? According to the Resilience Solutions Group at the Arizona State University, Resilience comprises the following characteristics: optimism, flexibility, determination, connectedness, balance, diversity and sustainability.

Enhancing your Resilience Core
According to Gail Wagnild, Phd, there are a number of actions one can take to strengthen what she terms your “resilience core”, which is made up a number of characteristics of resilience:
1. A meaningful life (your purpose)
2. Perseverance
3. Self Reliance
4. Equanimity (Balance)
5. Acceptance of Existential Aloneness

1. Meaning in Life
Having a sense of meaning in life is seen as one of the most important component of resilience. Purpose provides the driving force to get up in the morning for resilient women. Despite the popular self-help literature, our purpose typically finds us rather than the other way round. We need to pay attention to what we are called to do every day and our purpose will soon manifest itself. We need to ask ourselves these questions:
1. In what ways am I needed every day, and by whom?
2. What do I do that others value?

2. Perseverance
Perseverance refers to the ability to keep going despite difficulties, disappointment and discouragement. Winston Churchill’s famous comment “…never, never, never, never give in…” comes to mind. Repeated failure or rejection can lead us to what is known as “learnt helplessness” and can knock us down unless we master perseverance. Resilience (bounce-back-ability) requires perseverance which in turn needs courage and emotional stamina. Resilient women are good at overcoming roadblocks. In determining your level of perseverance we need to ask ourselves these questions:
1. How often am I defeated before I try?
2. Am I able to stay focussed on my goals or am I easily distracted?

3. Balance and Harmony (Equanimity)
Life is neither all good or all bad; resilient women avoid a skew, “ out of balance”view of life. They are described as optimistic(optimism is a key feature) and are open to possibilities. Even when the situation looks doubtful, they are on the lookout for the potential upside. Humour is also important; resilient women can laugh at themselves and their situation. Do you have a balanced view?
Ask yourselves these questions:
1. Do I look back on my life with so many regrets that I find it difficult to move on?
2. Would my family and close friends describe me as an optimist or a pessimist?

4. Self Reliance
Self Reliance is the similar to positive self-belief and self-esteem. It refers to a clear understanding of your capabilities and limitations. Resilient women develop confidence in their abilities through practice. They have learnt through their experiences , developing problem solving skills in the process. They further adapt and refine these skills throughout life. In order to assess your own self-reliance, answer the following questions:
1. Am I aware of all the things that I do well?
2. Can I usually think through a problem and work out a good solution?

5. Accepting ones aloneness
While we all live in a social world, resilient women learn to live with themselves and their own company. “Coming home to yourself” means getting to know oneself well and being self-content. This does not meaning denying the importance of relationships with others but rather coming to a higher level of self-acceptance, “being comfortable in your own skin”. Resilient women recognise their own worth. To determine whether you are comfortable in your own skin, ask yourselves these questions:
1. As I look back on my life, what sets me apart from everyone else?
2. Am I comfortable with whom I have become?

Each of us has extraordinary possibilities and capabilities to get up and carry on ie resilience, whether we use it or not. Resilience is very important to a person’s physical and mental health. Resilience can protect against negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, fear, helplessness and so also their associated negative physiological effects. Being more resilient improves your quality of life. By strengthening your resilience core, you can become more resilient! If you do not achieve success on your own, then you should consider the assistance of a professional Psychologist, Therapist, Counsellor or Coach.

Tony de Gouveia is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice at the
Akeso Clinic in Alberton
(011) 907-2811/ 082 4565046

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