The Marvelous Emotional Brain of Resilient People

· September 26, 2016

Resilient people know that no one is immune to suffering, to adversity. They understand that when those moments of darkness and despair pop up, we have two options: give up or come out on top, fight with every strategy we have available, because life is marvelous if you are not afraid of it.

The term “resilience” actually comes from the field of physics. It refers to the feature of some materials to resist pressure and to fold flexibly to return to their original shape. So then, resilience, when applied to psychology, presents another existential dynamic: making ourselves grow.

When you stand up to pain, understand that protecting yourself with armor is not always going to work. It can become your very cage. It is better to stand up to your enemy face to face in order to understand it and thus obtain knowledge, wisdom.

Small Flower

Resilient people: a brain that learns to confront stress

The concept of resilience started being used in the 1940s in the field of child psychology. They were trying to understand how highly disadvantaged children confronted family problems and adversity in their surroundings.

For a long time, they believed resilience had a genetic origin. They believed a person who had suffered post traumatic stress during their life passed on “that gene” to their children, in such a way that they would be more vulnerable and would have greater difficulty processing complex experiences.

Childhood must be a privilege for old age, where you can go back and remember happy moments. If you did not have them, if our inner child goes on being damaged, it is time to heal it, to make it move forward being resilient.

This is no longer the prevailing opinion. Today scientists focus more on psychosocial and neurological factors.

Head Made of Butterflies

Neurological origin of resilience

A study done by Dennis Charney of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Steven Southwick of the Yale School of Medicine, determined how the brains of resilient people and non-resilient people function.

They found that there are people who adapt much better than others in situations of stress or pressure. These people demonstrate more effective control at the neurological level of hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.

Faced with a threat, these three neurotransmitters appear in the brain, but when the threat disappears, the three hormones disappear faster in the resilient people. A less resilient personality, on the other hand, will keep feeling that psychological threat in a persistent way because there is still that excess of cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline in their brain.

The brains of resilient people are characterized by a very balanced use of dopamine. That neurotransmitter, related to reward and gratification, is very helpful for us when it comes to facing adversity.

Something to keep in mind is that in states of chronic stress and anxiety, our brain stops releasing dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, leading to the appearance of defenselessness and difficulty acting with resilience.

Woman with Red Umbrella

Keys for learning to develop your resilience

We shouldn’t forget that resilience is a skill, and as such, an ability that we can train and develop. In order for our brain to find that neurochemical balance, it is necessary for us to properly manage our emotions.

You are a unique universe full of emotions, thoughts, dreams, and sensations. Distance yourself from the edge of despair and add order to that chaos: resilience requires harmony and inner balance.

Becoming resilient is a process and a lesson that should be taught in schools. In fact, Martin Seligman himself, the father of positive psychology, has started an interesting program in several primary schools with excellent results.

In summary, these would be the key points for learning to be resilient.

  • Never let yourself get weighed down by your own emotions as if they were shackles that paralyze you. Imagine an inner emotional compass that allows you to keep your mind under control, in order to gain more attention and efficiency.
  • Be yourself, do not seek the approval of others or try to please everyone. All of that will push you further away from your own interests, from your own balance.
  • Do no let yourself be swept away by fatalism, and also do not fall into an “unrealistic” positivity. It is a matter of seeing things with objectivity while also understanding that adversity is part of life.
  • Focus on the here and now, what matters is the present. Do not anticipate things that have not happened, and do not keep feeling sorry for yourself over things that are already done.
  • Help others and let others help you. Take care of your social relationships and form positive bonds. This is where you can find support and grow as a person, freely and with integrity.
Woman with Dove in Hands

You are not your mistakes nor your sadness, and you are also not the people who chose to leave you behind at some point. You are greater than all of that, because every letdown is finite and hope is infinite.