Resilience research typically seeks to understand what contributes to personal resilience, and how to help people develop it in themselves. ‘Resilience’ in this context, means a person’s capacity to “overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development” (Resilience Research Centre).
Researchers talk about ‘pathways’, ‘components’ or ‘elements’ of resilience and I use the term ‘building blocks’. Whatever the terminology it seems clear that:
- Degrees of resilience don’t just vary from person to person, but also within us; even the most resilient person can have moments of vulnerability when they feel less able to cope.
- Conversely, people who don’t see themselves as resilient often surprise themselves and others by how they deal with a crisis.
- Whatever your level of resilience, it can be increased (this is one of the drivers of research).
- Understanding the pathways or building blocks allows you to grow and protect your resilience.
If there is a single element which contributes to resilience, it is social connectedness. This is not about how many friends you have or getting on well with your family. Both of these contribute, but what is really important is how connected you FEEL you are with other people. Loneliness isolates us and erodes our sense of self, feeling connected does the opposite.
We are a social species, and we have relied on each other for our very survival throughout our evolution. Yet, despite our utter dependence on each other, we nevertheless seem to be denying our co-dependence; social studies show that we are shifting almost inexorably towards functioning as disconnected individuals.
This is paradoxical. We are now more connected – via the digital environment – than we ever were. In my view, this is hugely enriching (I would say that; I use the web a lot). The speed and efficiency of our communications and exchanges of information make things possible which we could only dream of a decade or two ago. But ‘communication’ isn’t the same as communicating. It is precisely because we can share at a distance that we are becoming more isolated, and less connected socially.
The remedy is simple: Connecting with other people means engaging and empathising with them. Group activities are great for this. Camaraderie enhances self-esteem and much more besides, If you don’t feel ready to join a group, then acts of compassion and charity – helping others – would be a good place to start.