The Road to Resilience

By Michelle Gladu, LMSW, Bereavement Counselor

The death of a loved one is one of life’s most stressful events. Losing a person who was a significant part of our life can challenge our coping abilities and make us wonder if we will ever feel normal again. We may wonder why some who have experienced a similar loss seem to cope well while others, maybe ourselves, have more difficulty. Resilience has been a topic of recent research seeking to understand what might make a person more resilient than another. Research has also focused on whether resilience is a trait we are born with or if it can be learned. Resilience can be defined as a person’s ability to successfully adapt to challenges and changes, maintaining a sense of stability during adverse life events. There can be many factors that affect how a person adjusts to losses or other traumatic events over a lifetime. Obviously, some losses are much harder to cope with than others, but researchers have identified characteristics that people thought to be resilient have in common:

An internal focus of control: Resilient people tend to approach difficulties by thinking “I might not have been able to control what happened to me, but I can control my reaction.” They feel they are in charge of their own happiness.


A sense of meaning or purpose: Whether it comes from religious or spiritual beliefs, or from life experiences and values, resilient individuals seem to be able to see their struggles as part of a bigger picture. They often find a way to use their experience to help others who are struggling.


Problem-solving skills: Those who are considered to be resilient believe they can learn and grow from adversity and have confidence in their problem-solving skills. They see problems as challenges that can be worked through rather than threats.


Social Supports: If you want to be more resilient, it can help to surround yourself with people you believe are resilient, and who have a positive outlook in approaching difficulties. Resilient people also don’t “go it alone.” They know when they need to ask for or accept help from others.


Self-Care: Making sure you take the time to rest, eat well and get a little exercise can help give you the energy you need to cope with the grief and change that loss brings.


The good news is researchers have found that people can learn to be more resilient. When we go through a life-changing event our sense of control, purpose and confidence can be shaken to the core. Social supports are not always readily available, and finding time to take care of ourselves can be hard. However, taking some steps toward resiliency – even in the midst of loss – can still help us deal with whatever life may bring.