Resilience -Where Does It Come From?


In the months following the death of my 4 month old daughter, friends, family and even those I hardly knew would repeatedly comment on ‘how strong I was’ and how ‘well I was coping’ and how unlike me, ‘they could never have handled something so tragic’. Whilst grateful for the acknowledgement, I found myself thinking more and more about this strength everyone talked about. If they all saw me as so strong, should I continue to ensure that they never saw me as anything else? If I wasn’t being strong, if I was in fact having a really bad day…would they therefore think me the opposite of strong, or at the very least, not doing as well as they thought or were led to believe? Or if I was so strong, when they ‘could never have coped’…did they think I didn’t feel enough sadness? Did I need people to know how much pain I was really feeling?   Did my smile really mask the pain that I was shelving for a later moment in time? Or what about the notion that it happened to me because I could handle it? Well give me a fragile persona that has a low tolerance for anything bad…and give me back my daughter instead. But the world doesn’t work this way of course. Bad things happen to all sorts of people.

What I have come to realise however, is that I am not strong, I do not feel any less pain about the loss of my daughter, and I am not getting over it.  I am learning to live with what happened however, because I am resilient. I am resilient because I have been down but have gotten up again. I am resilient because one of the worst things happened to me, yet I can still keep moving.

How did I get this resilience? Is it my parents and my childhood, my character, my support network, my friends, the things I have learnt at University, my husband and other children? These are all things that I believe have given me the skills to get back up again, to find joy, to love my life and to continue to thrive. Everyday we see examples of people rising to enormous challenges, of surviving heinous situations and of thriving despite constant setbacks.  Helen Keller summed it up beautifully with the quote, “although the world is full of suffering…it is also full of the overcoming of it”. But how do we pass on these skills? How do I ensure that my children and others that I hope to help will be able to live a life of resilience?  For I and those around me will more than likely be taken down low again. It may not always be as serious as losing a loved one. It may be everyday stressors, big or small. But stressors nonetheless which need to be overcome in order to live the life you want.

What I have learnt throughout this journey is that resilience is not gained by one teaching technique, by one particular environment, be one psychological theory or by one particular parenting style. There are however ways we can help our children and others around us build this resilience by giving them not just a couple of useful tools, but rather a whole toolbox full of experience, environment, and teaching. They need to be able to experience the whole gamut of emotions that come with failure, loss, disappointment and frustration. They need to be exposed to challenges in order to take the risks, in order to learn to cope with the inevitable pitfalls of childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

The figures for adolescents suffering from anxiety and depression is rising at an alarming rate. Very few of us would not have witnessed this to some extent in either our own or other children. “My child just doesn’t cope with…..” is becoming a very familiar statement, but one which I think needs to be addressed.

It is for this reason that I strive to ensure that I can provide the tools for my children and for others, the environment, the skills, and the strategies that will give them the best chance of rising up again, and of overcoming the inevitable challenges and everyday stressors that will confront them throughout their lives.

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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Debbie

    I totally agree with you Martine. I don’t think that you can actually teach resilience. I believe it is something you build on your own through a variety of experiences THROUGHOUT your lives. We as parents & caregivers can only expose our children (and allow them to be exposed) to such experiences & support them with the tools to deal with them, learn from them & grow from them. I believe that resilience is something that we continually build throughout our lives – just as our children experience new situations & learn & grow from it, so do we. Especially in relation to our experiences with our loved ones. For example losing a parent is completely different to losing a grandparent & we build a different sort of resilience for each. But at the same time each difference can help us be resilient in many different situations. Each & every situation in our lives gives us the opportunity to learn & to grow. Another example is the resilience we build as a new parent with a new born is completely different to the resilience we build as a parent of an adolescent. This is something I am working extremely hard on now – being resilient to the behaviours & emotions of a 14 year old… it’s bloody hard work & I know it’s not going to get any easier for a few more years yet – but I have to be resilient & soldier on ‘coz that’s what we have to do!! Sharing with others who have been through it before or are currently going through similar situations really does help. Maybe it’s just having someone to listen to you & enabling you to vent that is helpful. But just as we don’t let our children do it on their own, neither should we. We too need the help & support of others as we build our resilience to all the challenges that life throws at us. Parenthood is, as life is, a journey of ups & downs; we can’t & don’t always cope or deal with it – we often have meltdowns (well I certainly do!!). I try to remind myself, (just as I reminded my 14yo last week), that if we don’t experience the lows we would never know just how good the highs are & life would be pretty boring if we always just cruised around somewhere near the middle!! Being a parent is, I think, the hardest job in the world and I raise my glass to all those who take it on & do the best that they can!

    1. Martine

      Absolutely Deb..well said. And yes, we still can all have meltdowns….the important thing is being able to pick ourselves up again.

  2. Nimmity

    Thank you for such a lovely and inspiring post.

  3. Paula Lee Bright

    This piece has certainly jerked my life back into perspective.

    I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because of things going on, and my Bob being ill, and so on and blah blah.

    I’m not feeling sorry for me anymore. I admire your—hate to say it, but yes, your strength—and I’m so glad you have it, because you DO have other children.

    As a teacher, I have seen the damage that can be done to kids who have lost a sibling when their parents aren’t resilient. When they can’t get up even months later and start life again. So no, it doesn’t lessen my realization of your pain. That can only be immense and unquantifiable.

    But I’m so glad you are going to be there for the ones who are still with you, because that will show them that yes, life does go on. Unthinkably, sometimes, but it does.

    I’ll be back to see how you are. Thanks for reminding me to be grateful.

    1. Martine

      Thankyou for your comments. I am sorry that you are going through a difficult time, and sometimes we all have moments of “feeling sorry for ourselves”. What is important however is that these moments are not all consuming, preventing us from living the life we want.

  4. Vanessa

    Thanks Martine for your honesty and for your thoughtful post. I look forward to reading and learning more about life and parenting from someone so wise and further along the journey.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Vanessa, I too look forward to learning more from my readers. Parenting has been and will continue to be a learning journey!

  5. Ann P McMahon

    Well said, Martine. My takeaway message from your heartfelt story is that confidence in my own resilience – the very confidence that I can cope with loss and struggle – can only be gained by actually using all my internal and external resources to cope with loss and struggle. My ability to say to myself “I’ve weathered terrible loss and pain before, so I will choose to be present to what’s happening now and trust that I will be okay again eventually” is a hard-won gift of facing experiences that I would not have sought for myself but that life has given me. Within each loss and struggle, I can choose to find additional gifts in the new coping strategies I find within myself and in those compassionate witnesses who hold me in my pain and mirror them for me. My experience is that it takes time and reflection for those gifts come to my awareness.

    In parenting my own children (who are now in their 20s), I found wise perspective in Judith Viorst’s books “Necessary Losses” and “Imperfect Control.” You might already read her well known book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” to your children now. Her books for adults are equally honest, insightful and wise.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wish you peace and comfort.

    1. Martine

      Thankyou Ann, life certainly does have a way of teaching us things from even the harshest of realities. I am glad that you continue to face up to these challenges with confidence in your resilience..and yes it does take time and reflection and sometimes even some backward steps before we are able to push on through. And thankyou, I will be sure to chase up the adult books by Judith Viorst.

  6. Marie

    Really appreciated this post. Puts my experiences into perspective and helps me cope with things and my expectations better. It hasn’t actually changed my expectations but has given me greater wisdom on how I project my expectations on others. Basically, don’t. I hate it when my Dad has all these expectations yet is not articulate or strong enough to actually list them because he knows its too much. It makes be sick to my stomach which is why I accept their help when they come but living even 100 meters nearby seems too close. I like that they can take 40 minutes to come to my place. Even though I am going it alone. For some reason this is giving me a test of my own resilience to look after two little people on my own. So many other women have done it so why can’t I?

    1. Martine

      Thanks for sharing Marie. I hope I can continue to be of help to you as you continue to gain confidence in your own resilience in order to do the best job you can in raising your little people.

  7. Rosie Devereux

    A most insightful piece Martine which has made me think about my resilience all over again.

  8. Flor

    Bless you for spending some time to describe the terminlogy towards the noobs!

  9. Jennifer

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