9 Steps to Building Emotional Resilience

Updated on March 8, 2018

What is Emotional Resilience?

We all face failures, rejection, and hardships of various kinds that could cause us to give up or function below our potential. Resilience is the ability to cope with adverse events or situations such as trauma, psychological wounds and threats, and return to normal.

We are better able to cope with these situations and move on with our life if we are emotionally resilient. It gives us the ability to reduce the damaging effects of psychological distress in cases of job loss, illness, traumatic events, loss of a loved one, failures and so on.

In my own life, in the past three months I have experienced a a series of challenging events including the traumatic experience of being held up and the sudden death of my brother. As a clinical counselor, dealing with these issues on a personal level, presents me with the opportunity to gain deeper insights into what it means to be emotionally resilient.

You can thrive where you are planted and be emotionally resilient in challenging as well as in favorable conditions.
You can thrive where you are planted and be emotionally resilient in challenging as well as in favorable conditions. | Source

Emotional Resilience: A Journey

Emotional resilience is not a one time event but is a journey through life. It is the determination to see things through to the end, without giving up, even though we experience intense difficulties and challenges.

In my desire to get a deeper understanding of what it means to be emotionally resilient, I find psychologist, Dr Guy Winch's suggestion that we practice "emotional first aid" very helpful. This means taking practical steps to deal with upsetting events that could lead to psychological wounds in the same way we would address physical injury.

Researchers list a number of qualities that resilient people possess such as self-efficacy, flexibility and sense of humor. But they also show that we can learn and improve our emotional resilience. So take the journey with me and share in the nine steps to build emotional resiliency that this hub explores.

The process could help you (and me) remain hopeful and actively involved in taking steps to build our self-esteem and battle negative thinking in the face of challenges. In the end we will improve our capacity to resist and to bounce back from the adversities that face us.

Qualities of Emotional Resilient People

Research indicates that resilient people possess qualities including:

1. Self-efficacy and self-esteem

2. Enthusiasm, optimism and hope

3. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence

4. Ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships

5. Flexibility and adaptability

6. Ability to learn from experience

7. Ability to manage and contain own emotions and others

8. Persistence when faced with challenges

9. A sense of purpose and find meaning from difficulties

10. A sense of humor

Find Your Life Purpose

Having purpose in life is an important ingredient to overcoming life's challenges. According to Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books:

"Identifying, acknowledging, and honoring this purpose is perhaps the most important action successful people take. They take the time to understand what they’re here to do – and then they pursue that with passion and enthusiasm,"

We are more likely to recover from disappointments when we have a strong sense of purpose. Participating in meaningful activities and setting goals for the future, give a sense of purpose to move on in spite of adverse situations.

How to Practice Emotional First Aid

Establish Your Personal Vision

Our personal vision describes how we intend to live our life. We will weather the storms better, if we know what we believe, and have a clear idea of what we want to accomplish in life.

I carried a vision of completing graduate studies in my heart from I was a teenager. I was able achieve this goal, even though I was challenged to give up my educational dreams, early in my life and even during my doctoral program. My personal vision provided me with hope I needed to press on despite the obstacles.

When we have a sense of meaning in what we do, this helps us to be resilient in the face of adversity. Start by drafting your personal vision statement. Focus on what you REALLY want - envision, dream, and move beyond the things that would limit you. Review your vision statement frequently and especially when things get tough.

Dr Guy Winch - Emotional First Aid

Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts
Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts

I find Dr. Guy Winch's suggestion that we need to pay as much attention to our psychological wounds as we do the assaults on our physical health very insightful. Even more, he identifies common psychological injuries and offers emotional first aid techniques to relieve these wounds that could lead to deeper problems in our lives.


Cultivate Emotional Awareness

When we practice self-awareness we to know our needs and know when to reach out for extra help in trying times. We keep in touch with our emotions and don’t push them aside.

Psychologist, Dr Susan David, in her book, "Emotional Agility" explains that we need to become aware of our emotions and "learn to accept and make peace with them." As we learn to identify and manage your emotions this leads to increased self-understanding to get you through difficult times.

It is helpful to not just identify our feelings but also to be in touch with the underlying cause for these feelings. For example, we might say: " I am feeling sad (the feeling) that my best friend left for college today (the event) because we won't be able to go out together often (the reason).

Emotional Awareness Poll

Which of the following qualities do you think is MOST helpful to be an emotional resilient person?

See results

Cultivate an Attitude of Optimism and Gratitude

When we experience challenging situations and we look for opportunities for self-discovery, we can learn something about ourselves. We can gain important insights that could help us to find the positive aspects of our situation.

In the past months I have had to face some extremely difficult situations. But I have learned some valuable lessons, for example, I have learned to give thanks for things I took for granted before. Even more, despite my challenges, I am optimistic about the future.

Practicing gratitude and thankfulness gives me better frame of mind to deal with the issues I face. Like me, you can learn from your experiences and also you can find unexpected possibilities and opportunities to thrive. Optimistic people are more resilient because they stay positive even in challenging situations.

By taking actions when you are lonely, by changing your response to failure, by protecting your self-esteem, [and] battling negative thinking, you will not just heal your psychological wounds, you will build emotional resilience, you will thrive!

— Dr Guy Winch, Psychologist

Become Flexible and Adaptable

Flexibility is the willingness to adapt and it determines how we respond to change. Adaptability is our ability to change in stressful conditions. As we adapt, we learn from our mistakes instead of denying them. Then we can find meaning in difficult situations instead of seeing ourselves as victims.

If you are like me, you will find that it is so easy to stay in your comfort zone. I am finding, though, that as I seek ways to adapt to new and changing realities, this relieves my stress.Then I am better able to deal with the difficult situation I face. So try to let go of any inflexibility as you face of adverse changes in your life.

Building Emotional Relience in Everyday Life

Change Unhealthy Thinking Habits

Cognitive behavioral psychologists point out that our feelings and behaviors are largely influenced by our thinking. The following are nine common types of thinking errors called cognitive distortions:

  • Filtering. We notice only what the gloomy filter allows and dismiss anything that is positive or realistic.
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking. When we refuse to recognize that things are not totally back or white and we are not able to figure where things really are on the spectrum.
  • Disqualifying the Positives. This is when we continue to dismiss and discount our positives experiences or attributes.
  • Negative Self-labeling. This is putting ourselves down and blaming ourselves for situations that are not necessarily our responsibility.
  • Catastrophizing. We believe and imagine that the worst possible thing will happen in a situation.
  • Mind Reading. This is assuming we know what others are thinking (usually wrongly).
  • Should and Must Statements. When we use these statements, we not only place pressure on ourselves but set up unrealistic expectations.
  • Emotional Reasoning. We think something must be bad because we "feel bad" about it and so we ignore evidence to the contrary.
  • Labeling. This is when we assign negative labels to ourselves or others that leave no room for change or improvements in situations

In his TED Talk, Dr Guy Winch shows how we can practice emotional first aid when we face upsetting events. Distorted thinking in negative events could place us at significant risks of developing mental health problems such as depression and medical problems including cardio-vascular disease.

The psychologist explains, however, that even a two-minute distraction is sufficient to break the urge to ruminate or focus on negative and upsetting thoughts. He shares how he used this distraction technique consistently for a week and his outlook became more positive as he grappled with his twin brother's life-threatening illness.

What Makes A Good Life?

Build Connections and Relationships

Psychiatrist, Robert Waldinger, is the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. The 75-year-old study on adult development is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history.

In his TED Talk, Professor Waldinger explained that, "Many of our men [in the study] when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life."

He pointed out, however, that that over the 75 years the study showed that, "The people who fared best were the people who leaned into relationships with family, with friends, with community."

We need to understand the value of social support system. Then take time to build strong, healthy relationships with people who can provide the support and acceptance you need in difficult times.

I can think of several people in my own life who have been my confidante and supporter in challenging times. Having people to share our problems and frustrations, who can encourage and help us find solutions, could make a great difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Develop Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving is one of the practical skills that we need to enhance resilience to triumph over adversity. While there are things that we cannot change, we can learn problem-solving skills and take the following steps to:

  1. Identify the problem. Define the problem that needs to be solved and what is to be achieved.
  2. Analyze the problem. Understand what is the current situation, who is affected by the problem, and how.
  3. Generate possible solutions. Brainstorm possible ways to resolve the problem.
  4. Evaluate solutions (options). Evaluate alternative scenarios and assess the pros and cons of each.
  5. Decide on a solution. After carefully weighing all the options, decide on a solution.
  6. Implement solutions. Carry out the plans for step 6 by performing the necessary actions.
  7. Review results to find out if the problem is solved.

We build our resilience when we learn to take specific problem-solving steps to deal with adverse situations instead of reacting to then without thinking.

Practice Self-Compassion and Self-Care

Self-compassion is accepting that we are not perfect and we can learn and grow from our mistakes. It is being gentle and understanding to ourselves as we would to a good friend who is facing difficulties.

Research indicates that self-compassion is strongly linked to positive mental health. "Being compassionate to oneself is associated with emotional resilience and psychological well-being" (Warren, Smeets & Neff, 2016).

We need to practice forgiving ourselves of our mistakes and try to see challenges as opportunities for growth. Nurturing a positive view of ourselves and developing our strengths and abilities needs to pay a part of our self-care strategy. Even more, practicing my faith is significant in dealing with hard times.

I find that it is very easy to let go of the things we enjoy when things get challenging. However, we need to take time to laugh and get involved in pleasurable activities to relax and relieve stress.

We dare not neglect our physical needs which includes a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep and exercise, and practicing stress management and relaxation techniques.

Emotional Resilience Poll

How do you deal with challenging situations in your life?

See results

The Journey Continues ...

Emotionally resilient people are able to adapt in times of stress and adversity. They are able persevere despite the odds. Research shows that we can learn skills that can help us to develop the qualities of emotional resilience.

We can cope and thrive in the face of negative experiences, challenges, and adversity. But building emotional resilience is a continuing process. Hence Dr Guy Winch's suggestions on how to practice emotional first aid could be helpful on the journey.


Grant, L & Kinman, G. (n.d). A Guide to Developing Emotional Resilience. Retrieved, February 15, 2018 from https://www.iasw.ie/attachments/Guide-to-emotional-resilience-do

© 2018 Yvette Stupart PhD


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    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 25 hours ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for visiting and commenting on my article, Dianna. We all have to deal with challenging situations in our lives so building emotional resilience is important.

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      Dianna Mendez 36 hours ago

      A sense of purpose keeps us on track and balanced in life. Great message here!

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 10 days ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for stopping by and giving feedback on my article, Denise. Practicing emotional resilience is an on-going journey and so psychologist, Dr Guy Winch, encourages us to practice "emotional first aid."


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      Denise W Anderson 10 days ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      These are great things to know! Having been through mental health treatment, they are the very things I learned that have helped me to develop resilience in my own life and the lives of my family members.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 11 days ago from Jamaica

      Thanks for visiting my hub and commenting, DDE. Yes, we need connections, people who can support us in difficult times. But another part of the equation is that we will be there for them when they need us.

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      Yvette Stupart PhD 12 days ago from Jamaica

      Hi Lori, thanks for reading my hub. I appreciate your sharing your personal journey and I am happy that you found some of the ideas in the article helpful. Like you, I find strength that comes through my faith to push on despite the odds. Thanks for your kind words.



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      Lori Colbo 13 days ago from Pacific Northwest

      This was a very good and helpful article. I am so sorry for your loss and your trauma.

      Your article here has expanded my understanding of the word resilience. I always think of it as bouncing back. But you've identified so much more. I have two diagnoses, PTSD and Bipolar. I've done a lot of work over the years in therapy and extra services, especially I would say in the last few years. When I have symptoms relapse, I can identify them right away and use tools and advice that have been given to me, and ones I've created for myself, and I find I do adapt as you said. My symptoms are handled rather quickly and I always try to identify something new I've learned. I love that you mentioned sense of humor. I have found this a crucial part of my recovery, believe it or not. Sometimes it's hard to find something to laugh at but I have found my life is full of silly things that I can laugh at, or just enjoy a good joke or see and appreciate funny situations. Sometimes when I get down I get on youtube and watch my favorite comedians.

      I think my greatest element of resilience is my spiritual life. When I turn myself and my issues over to God during a flare up I find strength and perspective and an understanding that God is with me. That brings great comfort to know I am never alone. God bless you Yvette. I hope many read this article.