Cultivating Resilience in Addiction Recovery

Cultivating Resilience in Addiction RecoveryThink of the word “resilience” and consider what you know. Children are often called resilient, and indeed many are. Despite falls, scrapes, breaks or a lack of “good enough parenting,” many children continue to develop normally—eventually entering adulthood without incident. In fact, they may even thrive. But what about children (and adults) for whom life circumstances are consistently bleak? We know many of them reach adulthood still carrying experiences of trauma, and perhaps find themselves riddled with addictive symptoms or mental health disorders. To merely assume resilience in our kind is not enough; we must look at the characteristics that encourage it, and those which inhibit its possibility. What does resilience look like and can it be acquired and cultivated in addiction recovery? “At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself,” writes Hara Estroff Marano, author and editor-at-large of Psychology Today. “Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving toward a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs.” To put it more simply, resilient folks are people who rely on positive internal and external coping mechanisms to get them through hard times. It isn’t a matter of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps”; rather, it’s a willingness to look for real tools and support, in oneself and one’s environment.

Traits of Resilient People

Researchers have been examining resilience and the characteristics that comprise it since Norman Garmezy published his first research on it in 1973. What researchers have learned since is that resilience can indeed be learned, even for people at risk for more than their share of life difficulties. One resilience researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, explains in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, that resilient people share the following qualities:

  • They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills
  • They are more likely to seek help
  • They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them manage their feelings and to cope
  • They have social support available to them
  • They are connected with others, such as family and friends

Learning Resilience for Successful Recovery

Incidentally, these are the same traits experienced by successfully recovering addicts. Seeking help, believing there is a way to cope (and to manage addiction) and having the support of others are high on the list for addicts who remain in recovery, despite inevitable life stressors or other hardships. As a way to shore up recovery, deeper resilience can be sought and its principles practiced. Active addicts often share a victim mentality, a habit of blaming others or circumstances for their frailties, and a refusal to be accountable for their own behaviors. People who practice resilience, however, look to their internal assets to recover after down times, rather than looking for someone to blame. But as Marano explains, “ … talk of resilience can make some feel that no one is really appreciating exactly how much they have suffered.” This need for external validation may inhibit a will to change. People who practice resilience look inside for validation, rather than counting on others to meet their primary needs for significance.

Importance of Hope in Recovery

Dr. Brown also discusses the importance of hope for recovery from adversity (and addiction), and its link to people exhibiting resilience. Like many, she set out on her research with the assumption that hope is a feeling, an emotion. But after studying the work of C. R. Snyder, former researcher at the University of Kansas, Brown discovered that hope is more accurately a cognitive process—a way of thinking optimistically about our circumstances. Hope allows us to move forward with the belief that we can and will recover, which is strongly correlated with realized recovery. So, resilient people are those who choose an optimistic perspective regardless of past experience and therefore generate positively self-fulfilled prophecies. They go forward determined to thrive on the basis that they believe it is possible. Just like resilience, hope can be practiced. When others tell you not to give up hope, take their advice. Double down in your conviction and see yourself as gritty with resilience. Your chances of recovery are simply better off.

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