In our previous article, we introduced the relationship between three personality styles and resilience―some individuals are naturally resilient, others have personalities with fewer protective factors, and yet others have a moderately protective style and well-developed resilience skills. If you haven’t read it, or want a refresher, you’ll find the article here. More than simply boxing people in a category, this information helps guide our understanding of building resilience by personalising strategies more likely to succeed for each style. For that reason, below you’ll find some tips to guide your resilience for each of the three styles. If you don’t think that you fit any of the categories very well, we recommend that you select those techniques that sound most relevant to you, and make sure to monitor and review how they are going.
High innate resilience and lower learned resilience
If you are fortunate to be “naturally” resilient (emotionally stable, warm and sociable, open to new ideas and options, and organised and industrious), you may also not be alert to the behaviours you do that help facilitate your resilience. That’s because you don’t really have to think about it. Your biggest challenges are likely to come from unexpected or uncontrollable stressors, as these types of challenges don’t enable you to predict and manage ahead.
Given that we will all likely face unexpected challenges at some point, the best thing you can do is to make conscious your toolkit of resilience strategies. To do this, think about times when you’ve felt most vulnerable or thrown off-course, and times you’ve felt confident and resilient, and run through this quick quiz:
- What were the differences between these times?
- What activities were you doing regularly?
- How were you managing your emotions and in what ways did you tend to think and look at the situation you were facing?
- How were your relationships with others and what effort were you putting into them?
This type of self-reflection helps to build your understanding of your own coping so that, when facing an unexpected challenge, you know what to draw on – what strategies are helpful to start, stop, or work hard to maintain.
As a “natural”, you are probably used to coping well with life’s normal ups and downs without too much effort. As a result, you may find that you have high expectations of yourself when it comes to coping. These expectations may make you more likely to be hard on yourself if you do find that you are struggling to cope. It is important at these times to recognise that those high expectations may be unrealistic, and that you are not letting others down by having a hard time. Being kind and understanding with yourself, rather than focusing on the ways in which you aren’t coping, will actually help you to cope more effectively.
Low innate resilience, greater reliance on learned resilience
If you identified with this style (emotional ups and downs, strong emotional reactions, intense, self-critical and impulsive) and experience more difficulty with resilience, don’t lose hope. You may have to work harder on your resilience than some others, but you can establish a full toolkit for dealing with whatever challenge comes your way. Use the knowledge that it may not come easily to you as all the more reason to devote some time and energy to building your wellbeing toolkit.
You’re probably well aware of how challenging it can be to think clearly and solve problems when emotions are running high. The first step in managing these challenges is to calm your emotion system. Only after your emotion level has reduced, then is the time to look at options for addressing the problem. When emotions are running high, it is nearly impossible to be able to be logical and “think your way out” of the situation. Instead, strategies that help to cool down your reactions will produce the best result. Slow breathing, taking a short break, distraction, or getting some support from others, are all good skills to hone.
Given that once your emotions are high it can take a lot of work to regulate them, being able to “get a jump” on this process is really useful. By that, I mean being able to notice your early reactions before they get bigger, so you can take small steps sooner rather than needing to do more work later. Clarify the signs you notice in yourself when you are getting stressed, or when you first start feeling annoyed or even overwhelmed. What thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and reactions tend to cue you in that something bigger may be building? This information is your cue to take “mini-recovery” breaks, use distraction or address issues directly while they are still small.
Having a broad range of coping skills is the key to be coping with the many challenges life can throw your way. But many people with this “low protective” style tend to rely heavily on a small number of coping strategies, and may overuse those. If you try out new skills – either that you’ve heard of or know others use – start small. Don’t try to use a brand-new strategy on a really hard, really emotional situation. Instead, pick something that you’re bothered but not overwhelmed by, to test the new strategy. Review how it goes, and if it seems like it could work for you, gradually try it on harder and harder issues.
Balanced innate and learned resilience
If this style sounds like you (impulsive and reactive in interpersonal relationships, extraverted, warm and gregarious and also open-minded), you probably already work hard on your resilience and are aware of some of the more and less helpful strategies you’ve used for facing life’s ups and downs. Here are some ideas from our clinical experience working with individuals like you.
Although you make efforts to remain resilient, your underlying emotion system is reactive, which may make it harder for you to feel resilient at times. Fortunately, feelings are not the only gauge of how successful your resilience practices are. Take time and reflect on challenges you’ve dealt with, and what strategies have been most helpful for you and led to positive outcomes. This exercise will not only give you an opportunity to give yourself credit where it’s due, but also to help to define your plan for future coping. What strategies will be your “go-to” in future? Are there any helpful, regular coping behaviours you do that, if you notice them slipping, might signal trouble brewing? Is there anything helpful you see that you could try to remind yourself of when difficult emotions are overwhelming?
Having strong relationships and support is essential for maintaining wellbeing. People with this “moderately protective” style are typically sociable, but also competitive and often not great at showing understanding. For these reasons, deliberately building positive relationships with those you care about is invaluable. In order to enhance strong positive relationships, next time someone tells you about something good that’s happened to them, concentrate on the positive. Using a style called Active Constructive Responding, ask for details about what went well and express your positive thoughts and feelings toward their good news. As well as strengthening your relationship, this strategy will help you to experience more positive emotion which offsets difficult emotions like stress, anxiety, and sadness.
No matter which style you identify with, remember not to get to hung up on the name of the style. Recent research shows that personality is much more flexible than psychologists previously thought (learn more about this here). This flexibility means that even if you have a “low protective” personality style, working on building resilience will help you to build a more resilient personality. Equally, if you have a “naturally” resilient personality, by ignoring your wellbeing, you can become less resilient. Use the ideas here as building blocks to keep strengthening your resilience every day.