Becoming Resilient - 3 Keys to Resilience: Cognition, Emotion and Motivation

Becoming Resilient - 3 Keys to Resilience: Cognition, Emotion and Motivation


    A person able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

    Throughout our lives, we are all exposed to trials and unexpected events that will ultimately impact us. These adversities can be anything from daily struggles such as an alarm not going off or an argument with a friend. To life-altering events such as a divorce or death of a loved one. Big or small, quick or long-lasting, every experience will have an effect on us. The question is, how will these experiences affect us. Will we learn from them? Will we overcome them? Will we succumb to them? Even if we don’t know it, how we handle these situations and what we gain or lose form them is slowly changing us and developing our patterns of behavior. Like falling dominoes, these patterns will begin to impact every aspect of our lives, from our success to our relationships to our sense of self.


    Example: Two individuals living in similar demographics, exposed to similar traumas. Assumptions would be that given the similarity in their lives they would likely also share similarities as adults. Some might predict patterns of unhealthy behavior often associated with trauma. However, what if instead we found that only one of the individuals followed unhealthy patterns such as substance use, toxic relationships, and violence? What could account for this difference in outcome?


    • Reduces mental health issues (depression, Anxiety, PTSD)
    • Increases self-esteem
    • Reduces unhealthy behaviors (substance use, toxic relationships, violence)
    • Reduces chances for retraumatization
    • Improves the quality of life

    Contributions to Resiliency

    Motivation: Deciding to Be Different

    Example: For one individual we may see a pattern of continued substance use leading to additional trauma experiences. After years of this cycle, this individual has likely learned helplessness in their situation and no longer sees a way or reason for the change. The other individual has likely avoided this pattern through therapeutic or personal means, thus avoiding unhealthy behaviors and therefore reducing the likelihood of additional trauma. This individual in return has learned the power of their decisions and has increased the sense of control they have in their life. The first difference in the resiliency level of these individuals has come down to their decisions. In other words, what we can gather from this is that our decisions matter.

    It is important to have goals and dreams. These help us feel that there is a reason for us to strive to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

    Cognition: All About Perception

    Example: We may find that only one of these individuals viewed themselves as able to overcome the adversity faced. This would contribute to their having the coping skills to deal with the failure and the pain experienced as well as allow them to continue to see the world, and themselves, in a positive way. The other likely suffered from low self-efficiency believing that they were too weak, or the situation was too big to overcome. Continuing this pattern in life this individual may have never felt capable of achieving better things feeling that the experiences in their past put them too far down to be able to rise from.

    How we see the events in our lives can determine whether we respond to them. Our perspective will impact the way we approach all situations. If we think the world is just out to get us why would we try to make it different? But if we see adversity learning opportunity we can make it just a new challenge to defeat.

    Emotion: Benefits of a Good Attitude

    Example: We may conclude that only one of them possessed a positive affect allowing them to see the positive in the adversity. This individual may be more likely to form positive relationships and reduce the effects of mental disorders through positive self-esteem. This does not mean that mental health disorders, such as PTSD, were not present, only that they were able to overcome them due to strong emotional coping skills. The other person we may find struggles with negative affect even into adulthood. They may be more likely to have less healthy attachments and a more negative reflection of the world and their past.

    Having a positive attitude can help us overcome many obstacles. Not only do positive emotions actually keep our bodies healthier it can help build relationships and increases self-esteem. All of which can help up overcome adversity.


    Although both individuals have many shared experiences and have shared similar trauma, both individuals went on to lead very different lives. For one, poor motivation and a lack of cognitive and emotional coping skills led them down a path that not only increased their trauma exposure but prevented them from living a high quality of life. The other managed to motivate themselves out of the situation and grow beyond it with the use of positive cognitive perception and emotional effect. Although some natural poses personality traits and disposition in order to accomplish this, this does not mean that the skills are not achievable through therapeutic means. Counselors trained in trauma recovery may help clients form these skills leading to a better life and the overcoming of a tragic past. These counselors can help clients form goals, identify motivators, and increase cognitive and emotional coping skills. In the end, clients are able to improve the capability for resiliency not only over past events but for anything life throws their way.

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