Life is full of adversity, there is simply no avoiding it. The key to thriving in the face of adversity is learning how to cope with and adapt to it. People who understand how to navigate adversity and rise in the midst of it tend to be happier, have better relationships, report less stress, and manage change better (Sanders, 2020).
These are all necessary skills for people to thrive in interpersonal relationships, in a workplace environment, academically or virtually any other way The first step to getting to this point is shifting our perspective towards adversity by developing a better understanding of what adversity is and how it can be used to our benefit.
Before one can understand how adversity can be used to build resilience, one must first understand adversity. The dictionary defines adversity as a challenging or unlucky situation or event.
Adversity can be external, meaning from an outward source projected towards you or adversity can be internal, meaning coming from within (mental, emotional, etc.) and being projected outward (Sanders, 2020). There are several primary categories of adversity. Those types are outlined below (O’Keefe, 2019):
Physical adversity is characterized by challenges specific to our physical bodies. Examples of this can include physical injuries and handicaps, as well as medical conditions and illnesses.
Mental adversity is characterized by a challenge or limitation specific to our mental state or mental well-being. This accounts for mental illnesses and conditions such as depression or anxiety. This can also include stress that may negatively impact the mental state.
Social adversity identifies those challenges connected to how we interact with other people. This can exist as a result of a disability or disorder that makes social interaction challenging such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or social anxiety. This can also exist as a result of societal or demographic barriers such as racism, sexism, or classism.
Financial adversity speaks to any obstacles to our financial stability and well-being. This can include factors such as job loss, economic decline, or a personal situation that puts an immediate strain on the finances (i.e. medical expense).
Spiritual adversity involves discord in our spiritual realms. This exists when we lose faith or go through a period of feeling disconnected from our spiritual practices/beliefs. This can happen when we experience a life event that causes us to doubt/question our beliefs. This can also happen if we have a negative experience specifically tied to our place of worship.
Emotional adversity is characterized by a threat to our emotional well-being. This can be quite complex because it accounts for a wide array of possible obstacles. Our own emotions at any given time due to a specific stressor can create emotional adversity. Additionally, disarray in any of the other areas of our lives can also create emotional adversity.
Key Facts About Adversity
Adversity can act as a barrier to progress and advancement if we allow it. However, we can choose to not allow adversity to define us and instead discover the gift of personal growth it offers.
First and foremost, we must alter the lens through which we view adversity so we can see all the potential adversity offers. It’s about managing our perspectives instead of allowing the circumstances or our emotions to shape our perspectives.
Adversity can make you strong and resilient, or it can break you, the choice is yours. Resilience is possessing the stamina to withstand turbulence and having the tenacity to triumph in the midst of great hardship.
Choosing to look for the good and the opportunity in the circumstance automatically sets a positive tone. This helps us to avoid the emotional trap of deflation or feeling defeated and incapable.
A secondary emotional trap that this helps thwart is victimization. Victimization is a mentality whereby we see ourselves as helpless bystanders unable to change our situations or circumstances (Margolis & Stoltz, 2010). Again, when we see adversity as an opportunity, we can look for ways to change our circumstances and benefit from the outcome as opposed to just taking the challenges as is.
From a more open mindset, we see that adversity helps us to gain critical knowledge, perspective, and skills that we can apply to future situations. It is through adversity that we learn about ourselves and the environment around us.
It is by pushing through adversity we are moved to consult resources and information so that we can obtain further knowledge. It’s the pursuit of additional knowledge that aids us in obtaining new skillsets and talents that we can then apply to future situations.
It’s this process that helps us continually grow and adapt throughout life, and it is this continual process of adaptation that works to build resilience.
10 Ways Adversity Builds Resilience
Psychological resilience is the capacity to respond quickly and constructively to crises. It is the ability to not allow events and circumstances which can, in fact, be painful and devastating, define life. Research has shown that resilience is key to the development of healthy, adaptable individuals.
Those who develop resilience are better able to deal with disappointment, learn from failures, cope with loss, and adjust to changes. It is also noted that those who are characterized as determined, having grit, perseverance, and the ability to cope with emotional challenges also possess high levels of resilience (Price-Mitchell, 2015).
When we experience adversity, it forces us to reflect on our situation and ourselves. Reflection is a process that allows us to see where there is room for growth and improvement. It is through reflecting that we can make necessary changes that will help us respond to situations that arise with wisdom and precision.
2. Seek Knowledge
When faced with adversity you are given the opportunity to find information that will help you alter your circumstances and triumph over the current situation. This means consulting various resources and sources of information to obtain data, skills, or tools that then build resilience by allowing you to respond to the situation quickly and constructively (Patel, n.d.).
Adaptability is how well we can adjust to circumstances that arise. Most adversity we face is not expected. This means we learn how to cope with unforeseen circumstances and think on our feet.
This better prepares us to respond quickly and constructively to other situations we may face in the future (American Psychological Association, 2020).
Persistence is the ability to continue firmly in a course of action despite a challenge. The sheer act of choosing to navigate a challenge rather than fold under the pressure displays a tendency towards persistence that helps us build resilience. It is only by boldly facing the tough circumstances in life and resolving to work through them that we can respond constructively to crises in our lives (Patel, n.d.).
5. Learn from Mistakes
When faced with adversity, very few people are getting it right the first time around. Often times we have to try, fail, and try a few more times before we reach a viable solution.
It is in the process of trying and failing that we learn to embrace adversity with the understanding that mistakes and failures eventually lead to success. This mentality is what creates a resilient attitude that can respond to obstacles constructively (Price-Mitchell, 2020).
6. Set Boundaries
Something often overlooked is how facing adversity can help us learn how to set boundaries. Boundaries are necessary when it comes to resilience because they ensure we don’t extend beyond our limits. The only way we can know our boundaries is by testing them via facing trials. With clear boundaries in place, we can respond to challenges without doing too much or going too far (Price-Mitchell, 2020).
7. Build Relationships
In many instances when we face adversity, we realize we need to rely upon the help of other people to overcome that adversity. Whether we need people for information, resources, or simply emotional support, adversity helps us to build positive relationships with others around us.
When we know we have people we can turn to for help or support we can be resilient because we know we have what or who we need in order to respond to challenges constructively (Price-Mitchell, 2020).
There is nothing quite as confidence-building as facing a challenge and overcoming that challenge. When we are faced with adversity and make the decision to push through the difficulty and work to overcome it, we demonstrate to ourselves that we are in fact capable and competent.
It is this demonstrative act that helps us build belief in ourselves and our abilities in a way that then builds resilience as we encounter future obstacles (Patel, n.d.).
9. Emotional Health
Emotional health focuses on being in tune with our emotions, vulnerability, and authenticity, according to licensed psychologist Juli Fraga, PsyD (LaMothe, n.d.). Successfully navigating and conquering adversity can be a powerful tool to strengthen emotional health.
As you navigate through adversity you are continually processing your feelings as you show up authentically and are vulnerable during the process. Much like physical exercise, the act of emotional exercising helps us get stronger in the area, meaning we will be more resilient in this area as time goes on.
10. Growth Mindset
Growth mindset is the idea that we have the ability to and the capacity to learn more. In direct contrast with the fixed mindset perspective, a growth mindset asserts that through intentionality and effort we possess the ability to obtain the necessary skills and knowledge needed to conquer any challenge.
Pushing through and conquering adversity is the growth mindset in action. There is a measure of intention learning and growth needed to overcome adversity, thereby further strengthening our belief in the growth mindset and encouraging us to resort to that line of thinking when faced with future difficulties.
Ultimately, resilience better helps us navigate the world around us. It is through the facing of adversity that we can foster critical thinking, social, emotional, and mental skills that help us build resilience in our lives.
Thus, we become better able to cope with challenging situations and difficult people that we may encounter. Then, by being people of resilience we can demonstrate for others how to respond to situations with resilience, therefore encouraging them to respond similarly.
4 Stories Of Overcoming Adversity And Resilience
The way you interact with others is a necessary part of your success. You can’t progress in your career unless you show yourself to be a trustworthy, loyal, communicative person. Life would be incredibly lonely if you didn’t have friends and family to support, uplift, and motivate you. Life is difficult without social skills. Which brings us to the story of Olivia.
Olivia had worked hard in her career and social life to build a strong social circle. She had built a strong network of people she could rely on and turn to in difficult times. Her network included family, social friends, work friends, and mentors.
It was a carefully curated group of people she had put together over the best part of two decades. It aided her in advancing her career, it helped her make strong friendships, and in building a strong romance.
Unfortunately, when her spouse filed for divorce, her support network crumbled. She had met her spouse at work, and they had many friends in common so, the group of people she believed to be loyal were put in the middle. When push came to shove, many of them took the side of her spouse. It didn’t matter why they did, it just mattered that they did.
A divorce is one of the most stressful life circumstances someone can deal with, but this was amplified by the loss of her support system. Suddenly, she had fewer people to turn to. The people she relied on at work, the ones she had impressed over the years, suddenly left the room when she appeared.
In fact, the divorce was the least of her worries at this point. She realized that the relationship had come to an end and while she didn’t expect her spouse to file for divorce so quickly, she had seen the writing on the wall.
What she couldn’t have predicted, however, was the reaction of the people in her life. There hadn’t been a big dramatic breakup, no one had cheated, there hadn’t been misery. It simply ran its course, that might have made the divorce easier to accept, but it made the social adversity much harder to take.
Olivia had two choices.
She could wallow in the loss of friendships and colleagues. Or, she could find the silver lining. Initially, Olivia wallowed. She was down on herself, looking at the negative aspects of the situation, but eventually, she realized this was merely a setback.
The more she thought about it, the more she recognized that the support network she had in place clearly wasn’t built of the right people. If they could drop her and turn their backs on her so easily, then she had miscalculated who they were as people.
While that still hurt, it meant that she had an opportunity to find a new, better group of people. After all, how good a friend is someone if they can so easily walk away in a friend’s greatest time of need?
The adversity that Olivia was facing seemed like it was too much for her to take. It seemed like she wouldn’t be able to navigate her divorce without the support of her friends and colleagues. Yet, the reality of the situation was that she could and that she did.
She remained resilient in the face of adversity because she actively searched for the silver lining in a dark situation. She didn’t have to get even, she had to put her social skills to good use and build a new support network and she did.
Meredith Lost Her Job
Meredith lost her job. It was a cost-cutting exercise that made her position redundant.
Financial adversity is an obvious type of adversity that many of us face, and it can be an incredibly stressful experience for someone to struggle to afford the lifestyle they wish. It can be more stressful when the income you have has suddenly disappeared.
This is the position that Meredith found herself in. She had found a job that supported the lifestyle she wanted to live and built a life around her source of income. To lose that source of income, plunged her into dangerous territory.
Meredith had two choices.
She could allow adversity to knock her down and start panicking about going bankrupt and losing her house. Or, she should take active steps to overcome the setback she was experiencing. That isn’t to say Meredith wasn’t allowed a moment to mourn the loss of her job and income.
When you experience adversity, you are allowed to have feelings, you are allowed to process those feelings, and grieve or mourn the situation. What you cannot do, however, is wallow in it and keep yourself stuck in the same position.
Meredith allowed herself a week to process her feelings. That isn’t the only thing she did with that week, though. She also took the time to reflect on her previous position and where she was in life. Is this the career path she wanted to stay on? Or, was this her opportunity to strike out and do something different?
If Meredith wanted to change course, now was the time to research what career path may be more appropriate and what she would need to do that. Are there skills gaps? Will she need further education? Is this something she can work on by herself?
If Meredith wanted to stay the course and find a position in her current field, then she would need to update her resume, highlight her key skills, and look at improving on some of her weaker areas.
Learning a new skill doesn’t have to be costly. There are plenty of online options available for a low cost, there are also trade schools available if that is in line with what you’d like to do.
For Meredith, the decision was easy. While there were plenty of aspects of her job she enjoyed, there were other parts she loathed. This was her chance to take her skills and embrace a job that she could love.
Meredith sat down to work on her finances to ensure her accounts were balanced and she would be able to cover her bills. Then, she set about updating her resume. She dedicated two hours of her day to job searching and applications. Then scheduled a further two hour on improving her skill set. She treated her redundancy as a training exercise.
One of the scariest aspects of adversity is the lack of control we feel. Meredith was able to easily navigate her adversity because she focused on what she could control. The first step was to remove the biggest stress – the financial side of things. By taking care of her budget immediately, she gave herself the peace of mind necessary to excel in the rest of her plan.
She took a proactive approach to her search for a new job and invested her spare time in learning and improving on her skills.
Meredith isn’t new to adversity, like most people she had dealt with plenty of adversity in her life. She always came back stronger. She knew that with her resilience that she could overcome any situation, no matter how dire.
John Lost His Legs
While any type of adversity can be difficult, perhaps the most severe is physical adversity. A diagnosis of a life-changing chronic illness is a challenge to anyone, even those with high levels of resilience. A diagnosis of a life-ending illness is even more difficult to handle. Today, we’re going to talk about something a little different. Today, we’re going to tell you John’s story.
John was a superstar on the soccer field. The skills he showed on the pitch were certain to seal him a full ride to the college of his dreams. His soccer obsession started young, he joined AYSO as soon as he was old enough and arranged his life around his love of the sport.
Everything changed in his senior year of high school. His dream of playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels like his favorite player had gone up in smoke when he was in a serious car accident.
He was driving home from a game when a driver ran a red light and T-boned his car. The impact shattered his legs. While he would eventually walk again, for now, he would likely finish his high school career in a wheelchair. HE was facing a long recovery period, had to undergo numerous surgeries, physical therapy, and the mental toll was great.
Everything about John’s life changed at that moment. Not only was his dream of a college soccer career up in smoke, but his scholarship was gone, too. Without his skills on the pitch, he had no chance of a soccer scholarship.
While he was a good student, it wasn’t his main focus because he poured everything into the sport. Suddenly, he was facing an uncertain future filled with doctor’s visits and a big question mark over college.
John had two choices.
John could wallow in his misery, be angry at the driver who did this to him and be angry at the world. Or, he could show his resilience and overcome this physical adversity.
While he was perfectly within his right to mourn the life, he thought he would lead, he wasn’t going to allow that to hold him back. He turned her passion for soccer into another opportunity. John dedicated his senior year to helping coach his team, improving his grades, taking extra classes, and looking for other potential scholarships, grants, and loans.
While he might not have gotten the college experience she wanted, she wasn’t down and out. John rolled with the punches and changed his path and instead decided to pursue a coaching career.
Despite the trauma of his accident, the chronic pain he experienced, and the changes to his body as a result of being in a wheelchair, he pushed himself. HE found new ways to exercise, paid attention to his diet, and found new ways to bond with his friends. When John ran into a complication or a setback, he simply pulled back and found a way to overcome it.
If his story were different, if I were telling you about how John imploded for years before bouncing back, it would be understandable. However, he recognized that as severe as this setback was, he had the resilience necessary to overcome it and to seek new opportunities from the great challenge he faced.
He didn’t cry about life not being fair, he found a way to make it work to his advantage. It might not have been easy, but his resilience found a way through.
Mary’s Physical Abuse
There are a range of impairments that present us with adversity. In this case, mental and emotional adversity. The two are intertwined here. After Brennan experienced decades of emotional abuse at the hands of first, her parent and then a romantic partner.
For Mary, the key to overcoming the mental and emotional adversity she was going through was professional help. She couldn’t have done it without the help of a doctor and psychologist.
Their help allowed her to recognize the need to build a strong routine to manage the anxiety she felt about a lack of control. Having a healthy structure to her day ensured that Mary took her medication at the right time, ate regularly, exercised, and followed a sleep pattern.
Once she had addressed these issues, she was free to focus on the rest. She also let go of the idea that she would be magically cured. This mental health issue she was dealing with would be something she would manage for the rest of her life.
She recognized that she could get better, but that managing it would be continuous. She worked with medical professionals to get her medications right, and to build good habits. That was the mental side.
There was still an emotional aspect of the adversity to consider.
Having been abused for so long, Mary struggled to process her emotions. She was prone to wild mood swings, and her lows and highs were intense. What Mary needed was to learn how to experience her emotions without allowing them to overcome her. With the mental health aspect of her life taken care of, she could more easily focus on the emotional aspect of her life.
Emotional maturity stems from a healthy state of mind. Without emotional maturity, Mary would struggle to build healthy relationships with the people in her life. What was clear to her is she undervalued herself because of the harsh treatment she had received from childhood onward. The only way through this emotional adversity was to improve her self-worth.
Mary also experienced a lot of rage. She would easily slip into a rage over the treatment she received as a child. It warped her sense of self and led her into abusive relationships as an adult. She was constantly being put into the role of victim and she was tired of being that person.
For Mary, it was vital that she stop seeing herself in the victim role and start seeing herself as a victor. What she went through was horrific, but she made it through. No matter what life threw at her, she always bounced back. She had shown resilience in the face of adversity her entire life. Mary learned how to tame every emotion.
Ultimately, she could have sat back and wallowed in the mental and emotional adversity she was experiencing as a result of the abuse she had suffered. However, she was tired of it dictating the terms of her life and was exhausted by the emotions she was experiencing as a result of her anger about what happened.
She found resilience in adversity by taking control of the situation and fighting back. There is power in controlling what you can and letting go of what you can’t. That is one of the biggest keys to overcoming any type of adversity, from the minor setback of a typical Monday morning to the direst of situations that result in years of pain and healing.
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