How to Develop Resilience: Advice From Brené Brown

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Do you want to know how to develop resilience? Why is resilience so important for Wholehearted living?

In Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she discusses how to develop resilience. Brown says there are four requirements for developing resilience: developing hope, combating societal expectations, refusing to numb negative emotions, and embracing spirituality.

Continue reading to learn how to develop resilience according to Brené Brown.

The 4 Steps for Building Resilience

The third guidepost for living Wholeheartedly is learning how to develop resilience. Brown’s research found that people who lived Wholeheartedly all had some resilience. They’d experienced struggles but had found a way to work through them. Doing so had taken great courage, but had ultimately helped these people to move on and thrive. 

If you lack resilience, living Wholeheartedly may be more difficult. You may be more vulnerable to threats to your worthiness. Any trauma or struggle can negatively impact how you feel about yourself. If you can’t learn from and rise above those struggles, you’re in danger of feeling that you’re not worthy of a different, happier life.

According to Brown, to become resilient you need to:

  1. Develop hope
  2. Use critical awareness to combat societal pressures
  3. Refuse to numb your negative emotions
  4. Embrace spirituality

Develop Hope

The first step in learning how to develop resilience is developing hope. You might think that hope is an emotion: the feeling of wanting something to happen. However, according to psychologist C. R. Snyder, this isn’t true. Hope is actually a way of thinking made up of three steps: 

Step 1: Setting goals that give you a sense of purpose and direction—for example, deciding what your next career step is going to be. 

Step 2: Planning out exactly what you need to do to accomplish your goals, and believing that you can put this plan into action. Acknowledging the barriers you might face along the way, but formulating possible ways of overcoming them. Once you’ve done this, you’ll hopefully have a strong sense that your pathways are realistic and actionable.

Step 3: Feeling motivated to pursue your goals because you believe in your ability to achieve them. Knowing that no matter how difficult the path to achieving your goals becomes, you’ll get through it, and using this knowledge to motivate you. 

Hope increases resilience because it shows you that things won’t be tough forever. It reminds you that you can achieve your goals and improve your life.

To generate hope successfully, you need to keep two things in mind. First, achieving your goals will often require hard work and perseverance—and that’s okay. Society teaches us that all goals should be quick and easy to achieve. However, this isn’t always realistic. For example, if your goal is to master a new skill, it’s going to take time and effort. If you go through life expecting all achievement to be easy, you’re quickly going to lose hope when it’s not. 

Second, remaining hopeful requires a tolerance for disappointment. No matter how hard you try, things aren’t always going to go your way: your plan for achieving your goal may not work out. If this happens, you can’t give up hope. You need to be courageous and look for a new way to achieve your goal. If your goal becomes impossible to meet, amend it to suit your new situation. 

Combat Societal Expectations Using Critical Awareness 

The next step in developing resilience is combating societal expectations using critical awareness. 

Every day, the media bombards you with expectations about what you “should” do—for example, how you should look and the products you should buy. If you encounter these messages often enough, you may start believing them. You might start to judge and shame yourself for not meeting these expectations, or feel that you’re the only person who struggles to do so. Ultimately, you’ll start to believe that because you don’t meet society’s expectations, you aren’t good enough. Your worthiness will deplete, as will your resilience. It’s hard to find the energy to push through tough times if you believe that you’re not good enough to overcome your struggles.

To avoid this damage to your resilience, you need to practice critical awareness. This means evaluating the media you consume and the expectations that it communicates. Ask yourself the following questions:

#1: Does the media you consume show realism or fantasy? For example, many commercials depict the fantasy of the “perfect” family: a family that always gets along. This isn’t a realistic depiction of family life. Yet, many of us feel guilty if we don’t live up to it. Is that fair?

#2: What’s the media’s purpose? Is it trying to show you a healthy, Wholehearted way of living? Or—as is often the case—is it just trying to convince you to buy something? If the answer is the latter, can you really trust that the media has your best interests at heart?

#3: Are you really the only person who doesn’t fit the media’s expectations? In reality, there are probably many people facing the same or similar struggles to you. Meeting societal expectations is much harder than it looks.

Using critical awareness will help you to realize that the expectations communicated in the media are unreasonable and that you shouldn’t try to live up to them. By keeping this in mind, you can protect your worthiness—and, consequently, your resilience.

Refuse to Numb Negative Emotions

The third element of developing resilience is refusing to numb negative emotions. Numbing is a common response to feelings such as disappointment, fear, sadness, and shame. You’re afraid of feeling these emotions, so you try to “take the edge off” them. You might do this by drinking alcohol, using drugs, binge eating, or shopping. If your need to dull your emotions becomes chronic and compulsive, you may even become addicted to your chosen coping mechanism.

The problem with this approach is that you can’t choose which emotions to numb. Numbing leads to all of your feelings being dulled—both positive and negative. You become unable to fully feel emotions such as joy, love, and excitement.

This can harm your resilience. Often, the thing that helps people to get through their struggles is remembering happier times and reminding themselves that they’ll feel this way again. If you’re unable to fully experience positive emotions, you won’t have as much positivity to draw on when you’re struggling.

Instead of giving in to the temptation of numbing, force yourself to work through your negative emotions. Feel and address them fully. For example, if you’re feeling sad, allow yourself to cry. Fully explore the root of your sadness: where it’s come from, and why it’s so powerful. Admit to yourself—and maybe even others—that you’re hurting.

Embrace Spirituality

The final element of cultivating resilience is embracing spirituality. Brown defines spirituality as recognizing the existence of a higher power that connects us all. This connection with others is rooted in love and compassion, as is your connection with your higher power. Therefore, embracing the existence of a higher power opens the door to more love and compassion manifesting in your life. The “higher power” in this equation could be a religious power, such a god, but, it doesn’t have to be. It could be nature, or “the universe.”

Embracing spirituality increases resilience in a number of ways. First, the feeling of connection that spirituality brings makes overcoming tough times feel easier. Being resilient is less challenging if you feel you’re not alone.

Second, it’s easier to be resilient if you believe that a higher power is working to bring love and compassion into your life. This belief will reassure you that even though things are tough now, better times are just around the corner. 

Finally, spirituality can provide a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective that contributes to resilience. For example, you may adopt the view that your higher power has a plan for you that’s ultimately out of your control—a plan that includes tough times. Your purpose isn’t to question this plan: it’s to get through these tough times and emerge stronger for it. This ascribes meaning and purpose to your struggles, making you feel more motivated to overcome them.

How to Develop Resilience: Advice From Brené Brown

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  • How to stop feeling like you're not "good enough"
  • How shame affects your self-worth
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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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