Are you naturally resilient to personal challenges? If not, can you learn to be?

by Howard M. Cohen, LMHC

As a mental health counselor, I have observed that certain people have an innate ability to overcome adversity. Some people go through one personal challenge after another and have the ability to pick themselves up and keep on going with the business of life. They seem to possess a wonderful and special gift to be *resilient, the ability to bounce back from difficulty or even a tragedy, and not have the effects or after-effects of the episode faze them much. defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens; the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.”


Of course, I am not talking about working with playdough or stretching a rubber band here. We are talking about human beings and their capacity to return to an original emotional state, which means to me that their original self was fairly secure and strong before the event occurred. I believe that some individuals possess an inborn adeptness to keep moving forward, but oftentimes, I’ve seen it develop through strong relationships with family members, close friendships, and within therapeutic alliances.

Can you really learn to be resilient from others or is it already predetermined for you? Interesting question, right? According to, “Some individuals come by these abilities naturally, with personality traits that help them remain unflappable in the face of challenge. However, these behaviors are not simply an inborn trait found in a select few individuals. According to many experts, resilience is actually quite common and people are very capable of learning the skills that it takes to become more resilient.” So, it appears that resilience can also be acquired and can positively affect a person’s outlook and their ability to cope with crisis situations.

The title of this article “Boston Strong” is referencing the bombing tragedy which occurred a little more than a year ago at the Boston marathon. After watching the events unfold and tracking a few of the victims’ healing journeys, I noticed that the community rallied around them and provided a “strong” and united circle of support. I also noticed that many of the people affected by the tragedy were very hardy and resilient and that their injuries did not deter them from going on with their plans and dreams.

I was taken by the way the citizens of Boston seemed to take a vow of solidarity towards bringing the terrorists to justice, and not allow the negative outcome of one marathon to influence the staging of the next one. It also seemed like the victims became warriors and tough on their own, but it made me wonder if the support of the community, and the country, bolstered their confidence to conquer their wounds and go on with their lives.

I have never before witnessed private citizens in our country under the duress of massive explosions, with amputated arms and legs, rebound so fully and robustly. It was incredible to see their courage and fortitude, given the nightmarish situation. I think we can all learn a few things about resilience from our “Boston Strong” compatriots.

Here are a few more tips from about becoming more resilient in your own life. I know that I have mentioned a few of these techniques in other articles I have provided, but they definitely bear repeating: 

1. Build Positive Beliefs in Your Abilities

Research has demonstrated that self-esteem plays an important role in coping with stress and recovering from difficult events. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Becoming more confident about your own ability to respond and deal with crisis is a great way to build resilience for the future.

2. Find a Sense of Purpose in Your Life

In the face of crisis or tragedy, finding a sense of purpose can play an important role in recovery. This might entail becoming involved in your community, cultivating your spirituality, or participating in activities meaningful to you.

3. Develop a Strong Social Network

Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. While simply talking about a situation with a friend or loved one will not make troubles go away, it allows you to share your feelings, gain support, receive positive feedback, and come up with possible solutions to your problems.

4. Embrace Change

Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you’ll be better equipped to respond when faced with a life crisis. Resilient people often utilize these events as an opportunity to branch out in new directions. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.

5. Be Optimistic

Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency. Positive thinking does not mean ignoring the problem in order to focus on positive outcomes. It means understanding that setbacks are transient and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it is important to remain hopeful and positive about a brighter future.

6. Nurture Yourself

When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis situation. Focus on building your self-nurturance skills, even when you are troubled. Make time for activities that you enjoy. By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges.

7. Develop Your Problem-Solving Skills

Research suggests that people who are able to come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who cannot. Whenever you encounter a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways you could solve the problem. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems. By practicing your problem-solving skills on a regular basis, you will be better prepared to cope when a serious challenge emerges.

8. Establish Goals

Crisis situations are daunting. They may even seem insurmountable. Resilient people are able to view these situations in a realistic way, and then set reasonable goals to deal with the problem. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by a situation, take a step back to simply assess what is before you. Brainstorm possible solutions, and then break them down into manageable steps.

 Yours in personal change and growth, Howard M. Cohen, LMHC, [email protected], 2312 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, 954-980-9628,

Howard Cohen is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice with offices in Wilton Manors and Dania Beach. Cohen Counseling is a safe place for individual and family therapy, with specialties offered in the areas of LGBT issues, career counseling, overcoming depression and anxiety, family conflict resolution, coping with loss and grief and addiction solutions.  See ad page 54.