Most of us experience at least one traumatic event in our lives, ranging from bankruptcy to violence. Even the luckiest will stumble upon hard times, such as heartbreak or the loss of a loved one. Yet humans are resilient, like a soft metal that doesn’t shatter when bent. We may suffer mild anxiety or depression for a short period following tragedy, but we usually carry on after the pain subsides, sometimes even wiser and nimbler than before.
It’s handy to know how resilient you are before turbulent times hit so that you can learn how to recover faster. We’ve put together a research-informed but non-diagnostic quiz to help. As you answer each question, the next one comes into view. Read on after the test for tips on how to develop and enhance traits associated with people who function well despite adversity.
- 1. Gallows humor:
- Is tasteless.
- Has its time and place.
- Is the best. I like my humor like I like my espresso.
- 2. I write in my journal:
- Once in a while.
- Only if doodling counts.
- 3. If I had to make a tough relationship decision:
- My friends and family would offer advice and support, and stand by me whatever choice I made.
- I would reach out to a couple of people for counsel.
- I’d rely on myself to make the right choice.
- 4. My connection with God:
- Is close. We talk daily.
- Is good but could be stronger.
- Is about as real as my connection with Santa Claus.
- 5. When I try to express my strong emotions:
- It can be difficult because I’m overwhelmed with feeling.
- I describe a general emotion.
- I can offer a precise explanation.
- 6. When my partner dumped me:
- I didn’t discuss it much because it was too negative.
- I talked about our break-up when friends or family asked.
- The story of our break-up became one of my favorite ones to tell.
- 7. When I stop to reflect upon my life:
- I think about my success.
- I feel anxious because there’s so much more I’d like to accomplish.
- I ruminate on how things did not turned out as I expected.
- 8. I make mistakes:
- 9. When describing a life changing experience:
- I give the background, tell the events in detail, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
- I tell the events in order, but I don’t give much context.
- I jump right into the action, and keep the story concise.
- 10. I exist:
- As God’s creation, to serve the work of the Lord.
- As part of a holistic order, sharing a spiritual connection with other living things.
- Thanks to evolution and lust.
- 11. Joy, interest, and contentment:
- Can all be experienced at the same time.
- Are different but mean similar things.
- Are vastly different, other than all being positive.
- 12. When I’m disappointed with an outcome:
- I hit the gym to work off my frustration.
- I live with it, and try to learn from the experience.
- I find the silver-lining, and understand the event may not be as bad as it seems.
- 13. Those who do good deeds:
- Should be careful they don’t get taken advantage of.
- Are usually rewarded. What goes around comes around.
- Don’t always win, but should feel proud.
Congratulations, you are highly resilient. Not only do you bounce back after negative experiences, but they often make you even stronger.
You are fairly resilient. You overcome many setbacks not too worse for the wear. To enhance your bounce-back skills, read the explanations below.
You could use some new strategies for dealing with unfortunate life situations. Turbulence can cause long-term damage, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. And it pushes some people towards problematic coping strategies such as anger or substance abuse. Studies suggest that protective qualities can be developed over time. Read the explanation to learn how.
If you scored 17-26: Congratulations, you are highly resilient. Not only do you bounce back after negative experiences, but they often make you even stronger.
If you scored 7-16: You are fairly resilient. You overcome many setbacks not too worse for the wear. To enhance your bounce-back skills, read the explanation below.
If you scored 0-6: You could use some new strategies for dealing with unfortunate life situations. Turbulence can cause long-term damage, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. And it pushes some people towards problematic coping strategies such as anger or substance abuse. Studies suggest that protective qualities can be developed over time. Read the explanation to learn how.
An important key to resilience is a sense of control.1 If you feel like you are powerless to turn your life around, you won’t make the effort that takes. People who feel empowered envision unexpected bumps as challenges to be overcome, rather than threats. That’s in part because resilient people see successes when they reflect on their lives (question 7).2
A second key to resilience is a sense of meaning. If you can’t find significance in your dilemmas, then you won’t look for the lessons in them. To find positive meaning, it helps to see things as better than they could be (question 12).3
Spirituality (questions 4 and 10) helps provide a sense of both control and meaning.4 Studies show that people with religious beliefs withstand stress better than those without them. The idea that everything happens for a reason makes tragedy seem predetermined and therefore controlled. Spirituality lends itself to the comforting feeling that everything will turn out okay, and the belief that there are lessons to be sought in trauma. Attending religious services also brings social support.
A common element of spirituality and magical thinking is the sense that the universe is fair and that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people (question 13).5 Belief in a just world also offers feelings of order and control.
Another way to find meaning in hardship is to tell stories about your life (questions 6 and 9).6 Storytelling forces you to try to understand a tragedy. It also may lead you to new perspectives on your experience, and when told to others it encourages bonding. Stories can also be told privately when you reflect on your experiences in a journal (question 2).1 In addition to revealing new insights, reflection increases emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognize and manage different emotions (question 5).7 A sign of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify different feelings in detail (question 11).
Positive emotions in particular enable resilience.8 They’re associated with faster reduction of heart rate and blood pressure after stressful situations. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, argues that a positive outlook widens one’s perspective, and increases abstract, creative thought. Over time, this type of thoughtfulness allows a person to amass new abilities atop old ones, which means they can acquire new tools for responding to adversity.
Positive emotions are of course increased by, and signaled by, a sense of humor (question 1). A study of American POWs in Vietnam found that they relied on humor to gain a sense of control over their emotions and over their situation, and they also bonded by laughing together over their predicament.9 If you have people to support you, you’re more likely to deal with trauma in a healthy way (question 3).10 Family and friends reduce fear and stress, assist with emotional regulation, and help one regain control over one’s life.
Finally, George Bonanno, an expert on resilience at Columbia University, has found that people whose confidence bordered on arrogance showed fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after they survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City (question 8).11 Bonanno suggests that people who think particularly highly of themselves feel less social restraint. They’re more likely to disclose personal feelings to others, whom they perceive to be more supportive than they actually are.
Matthew Hutson is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes for Wired, The New York Times, and Psychology Today. He is the author of the book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking.
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2. Connor, K.M., & Davidson, J.R. Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor‐Davidson resilience scale (CD‐RISC). Depression and Anxiety 18, 76-82 (2003).
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4. Peres, J.F., Moreira-Almeida, A., Nasello, A.G., & Koenig, H.G. Spirituality and resilience in trauma victims. Journal of Religion and Health 46, 343-350 (2007).
5. Bonanno, G.A., et al. Resilience to loss and chronic grief: a prospective study from preloss to 18-months postloss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83, 1150-1164 (2002).
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8. Tugade, M.M., & Fredrickson, B.L. Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 86, 320-333 (2004).
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10. Pietrzak, R.H., Johnson, D.C., Goldstein, M.B., Malley, J.C., & Southwick, S.M. Psychological resilience and postdeployment social support protect against traumatic stress and depressive symptoms in soldiers returning from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Depression and Anxiety 26, 745-751 (2009).
11. Bonanno, G.A., Rennicke, C., & Dekel, S. Self-enhancement among high-exposure survivors of the September 11th terrorist attack: resilience or social maladjustment? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88, 984-998 (2005).
This article was originally published in our “Turbulence” issue in July, 2014.