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Introduction to Emotional Resilience

Harry Mills, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 4th 2016

Stress is a fact of modern life - seemingly everywhere and all the time. There are so many sources of stress: caring for children, disabled persons and elderly parents, holding down a job, and making time for a social life are all everyday sources of stress. Added to these everyday stresses are extraordinary events such as deaths, serious illnesses, natural disasters and social upheavals that often occur randomly and without warning. It is easy to become frustrated by the great number of pressures that consume you on any given day. Over time, the cumulative effects of multiple stressors, small and large, can combine to wear you out before you've had a chance to get started.

woman watering plantStress can overwhelm your defenses despite your best efforts at coping. In the short term, you may lose your temper, your blood pressure may soar, and you may even feel sick to your stomach. Over the longer term the cumulative nature of stress can keep you on edge long after individual stressful events have passed, and can even contribute to medical problems. For example, unresolved and lingering stressful feelings of anger, hostility and aggression appear to make the development of heart disease and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) more likely to occur.

There is no escaping stress, but there are ways you can learn to handle stress better when it is present, and to 'bounce back' faster from its impact. The collection of skills, characteristics, habits and outlooks that make it possible to remain maximally flexible and fresh in the face of stress is often referred to as "emotional resilience", which is the topic of this center. Learning to become more emotionally resilient can dramatically improve your attitude and your health in the face of inevitable stress.

Read on to learn about emotional resilience -- what it involves, how it is accomplished, and how you can become more emotionally resilient yourself. 

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Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Are you sure? - Chris - Sep 23rd 2008

I believe some people here have mistaken being emotionless with being emotionally resilient. To be "emotionally resilient" means you still have the emotions but you can react to them in a more healthy and constructive manner than just letting them bring you down. Just as when you are ill, your body if resilient will recover quicker than if you are not, but you can still be ill. Now if you have problems with your girlfriend, being emotionally resilient would help you approach the relationship in a constructive manner and have an open discussion with her rather than just shying away from it with a few words. Being emotionally resilient will allow you to have better relationship with people, to have control over yourself and to enjoy life more. In the end you should love yourself and others more not less. I cannot think of a single negative point about emotional resilience. It would be like saying that intelligence is bad! If you think so then you have missed the point.

same here - Tiffin - Apr 27th 2007
Glad to see I'm not the only one Phil.  At first mine and my boyfriend's relationship was great...but lately we've been arguing more and when we do, I do just what you do...say very few words. Mostly because it seems that I'm the guy in this relationship and my boyfriend is the girl.  He's very sensitive and can take things the wrong way or thing I've said something negative.  If you find a way to break down your barriers...let me know...I'm looking into counseling to see if that helps me...but I've been this way since elementary school when I was incesently picked on.

- - Oct 21st 2006
sure Phil, You've put up a wall so not to feel bad. But I'll bet you that you also don't feel as good as you could either. I too had put up such a wall after a insecure childhood. One day I woke up and realized that it was true, no one seemed capable of hurting me but I also was not feeling the "love" either. I know you say you love your girlfriend - but how deeply really? You will need to work hard at breaking those walls down, if you want to truly experience life. Be careful to also work to achieve healthy boundaries too.

jude - - Oct 6th 2006
I think your "mental hardening techniques" may not be as beneficial in your current situation as compared with in the past. You may find that the way you handled yourself around people in the past is no longer relevant now that your life has changed. Perhaps your way of dealing with things in the past was to "block them out" and that worked for you fine when you were going through that problematic stage in your life. It seems that now you are in a stable, fullfilling relationship with your girlfriend and your past communication techniques and coping mechanism is no longer effective. Not only this, it sounds like it is actually problematic in itself. I like to think people use different tools for different tasks. (E.g - your mental hardening techniques were a "shield" in "battle". ) You may need to learn different communication techniques/ skills or re-discover emotional awareness now that you have a new "task" of communicating effectively with your girlfriend. I don't think desensitisation is a bad "tool" in itself. It depends what situation you are in and whether it is appropriate for the task at hand.

Might this lead to indifference? - phil - Jul 9th 2006
I have always been a big proponent of "mind over matter" when dealing with emotional and stressful situations. My parents were divorced from an early age and I had a very exciting adolescent/high school experience to say the least. Then I had a really crappy time in the military. The whole time I met less than honorable people, especially in the dating arena. I had an absolutely insane ex-girlfriend who constantly lied and I even ended up in jail because of her lies (later dismissed). I am currently in college and in a relationship with a girl, whom I love, and we have been dating for 1.5 years. Now I notice that the emotions I used to have seem to be gone. I am just so indifferent. When my girlfriend and I argue I just end up saying a few words, if any, and she says that I am emotionless and questions if I care or not. I feel like that guy in the movie "Office Space," who woke up from a psychotheropy session in an altered state of mind because his shrink had a heart attack. I was way different a few years ago and I have been pondering the possibility that my mental hardening techniques have had a negative impact on my mental state: decensitizing and indifference. Is this possible?

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