Category: <span>Resilience</span>

10 Ways to Foster & Cultivate Resilience

By Leticia Quezada, MSW, LCSW


How many times have we asked ourselves how is it that some people go through the worst of experiences in their lives and yet they seem able to rise from the ashes renewed, healthier, and happier?


We know this phenomenon as RESILIENCE.


One person that is really an example of resilience is Steve Pemberton. In his book “A Chance in the World” he talks about his story of incredible pain, acute abuse and neglect, lack of identity having been abandoned as a baby, and ending up in an abusive foster home. He remembered spending long hours looking at himself in the mirror trying to understand who he was and where he came from. Being bi-racial, he studied his facial features, his afro hair, and his intense blue eyes.


With his extraordinary resilience, and the help of some mentors along the way, he was able to achieve his goals: having a successful career, a family of his own, and finally finding his origins by locating family members, both White and African American.


What is resilience? 

Resilience has been defined as: “The ability to adapt and thrive despite experiencing adversity. It reflects the ability to ‘bounce back’ after traumatic and victimizing experiences.” (Dr. Donald Meichenbaum, Ph.D., Presentation at the 2017 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference.)

Dr. Meichenbaum cited some neuro-psychological mechanisms that nurture resilience: reframing, use of humor, realistic optimism, goal-oriented coping, pro-social behaviors, social supports, and meaning making buffers of negative feelings.

Jerry White (2008) lost some of his limbs to landmine explosions and he founded “Survivor’s Corp., an organization designed to foster a mindset of survivorship and prevent what is referred to as “victim mentality.”

Jerry White proposes five steps for trauma survivors to tap in their innate resilience to grow stronger:

  1. Face the facts: acknowledge and accept what happened
  2. Choose life: live for the future, not the past
  3. Reach out: connect with others with similar experiences
  4. Get moving: set goals and take action
  5. Give back: Be thankful for what you have and contribute to others. Express both gratitude and generosity


Resilience is not the privilege of a few. 


Although some people may have a genetic pre-disposition for resilience, the good news for all of us is that it can be learned by all, it is not the privilege of a few lucky ones. Resilience seems to be a set of skills rather than a disposition or a personality type. If this is the case, that means that it is possible for every person not only to get through hard times, but also to thrive during and after the experience.


Traumatic experience affects the brain in many possible ways, but according to Dr. Meichenbaum “the brain is a remarkable resilient organ.” In his book “Roadmap to Resilience, (2013) he adds that individuals who have experienced trauma can bolster their resilience in six different domains: physical, interpersonal, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual.


In summary, by no means, it is my intention to minimize or ignore the damaging effects that trauma and abuse cause to our physical and mental health, including real changes in the structure of our brains.


“It is impossible to tell from a single glance, the journeys someone has traveled, the experiences that have made them who they are.” (Steve Pemberton, “A Chance in the World” P. 205)


The good news, though, is that resilience, according to Psychiatrist Dennis Charney, is a set of skills that can be acquired.


Actor Michael J. Fox, who has been battling Parkinson’s Disease for more than 30 years, states the following in his interview by AARP Magazine (December 2021): “As I came through the darkness, I had an insight about being grateful, and how gratitude makes optimism sustainable.” “And, if you think you don’t have anything to be grateful for, keep looking, because you don’t just receive optimism, you have to behave in a way that promotes that.”


The following are suggestions from the experts that would help us bolster resilience:

  1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
  2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
  3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.
  4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
  5. Don’t run from things that scare you: face them.
  6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
  7. Learn new things as often as you can.
  8. Find an exercise regimen you will stick to.
  9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell in the past.
  10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong and own it.


Above all, be willing to reach out to others for help when needed. We all need professional help and peer support at one time or another.  Let’s be willing to take the extra step to come out triumphant from our traumatic experiences.


We are here to assist you.


-Leticia Quezada, MSW, LCSW

Why Emotional Needs Matter

Dear Reader,


“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

-Brene Brown

As a former teacher, I have seen how important, in our culture, is to think our way through things with a heavy emphasis on thoughts and changing mindset.  There is no doubt that our mind is incredible and capable of amazing things.

Meta-cognition (thinking about our thinking) was very important in helping students develop critical thinking skills.  In essence, it helps us formulate decisions, problem solving, planning, and organizing.

Now, as a mental health counselor, I understand how important and essential emotional needs are.  So, let’s begin with one important question:

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Why It’s Difficult to Defend Ourselves

What is learned hopelessness, how to identify it and what to do?

We have all been able to observe a little dog, a kitten, or perhaps a little deer, that through a process of life reaches helplessness.

The defenselessness is characterized because they do not defend themselves, do not avoid any negative stimulus, or some attack, which in normal circumstances would cause the escape, defense or counterattack.

We have seen that, despite being subjected to kicks, blows, lack of food, they only bend their heads, shrink and allow this situation to continue.

The question is: Why don’t they run away, why don’t they attack back, when instinctively this should be the answer? It is indeed a very particular phenomenon.

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What if Questions Were the Answer?


Dear Reader,


As a counselor and a teacher, I know the value and importance of asking the right type of questions.  In essence, being intentional has value.  The questions we ask ourselves, often, guide our focus, critical thinking and problem solving.


I have learned that during difficult times, we have an inclination to shift to survival mode, which is typically appropriate and adaptive depending on circumstances and even past experiences.  This survival lens may influence our perspective and mindset.


It is important to keep in mind that if we have experienced any form of trauma, then there are additional layers that need to be considered besides shifting our mindset.  In fact, some of those layers include feeling safe, type of support system, and resources, among many more.


My intention is to invite a possible way of reframing some of our internal dialogue in spite of adversity.  The purpose of this is to help us change our perspective and view things in a way that may be more helpful than unhelpful.


Resilience: An Anxiety Vaccine

“People experience increased stress and concern in times of crisis as we are currently facing.”

– Dr. Asim Shah, professor and executive vice president in Menninger’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.

A word that has gone viral in our society is anxiety, keeping in mind that anxiety is needed and adaptive in supporting us and preserving life, along with fear, anger, sadness, or happiness.

Until a few years ago, it was estimated that 20.6% of the world’s population suffered from anxiety. A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association shows that Americans are suffering from anxiety.

The survey found that four out of 10 suffer from anxiety when they think they may become seriously ill or die, five out of 10 Americans experience anxiety about getting coronavirus and six in 10 suffer from anxiety because family members get the virus. In addition, individuals may be overwhelmed with concerns about uncertainty of the next paycheck, increased bills and increase in social isolation.

Considering now, that when we experience a sleep interruption and change in appetite, we find ourselves more irritable or sensitive. When it comes to anxiety, the most recurrent manifestations of anxiety are shortness in breathing, palpitations, headache, back pain, catastrophic thoughts and other symptoms, and managing them is not always easy.

If this is the case, the important thing to keep in mind is to observe these changes and address them promptly by seeking professional support, so that it does not adverse impacts on yourself or your family.

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