In the words of sages… ‘This, too, shall pass’

Sharon Steyn

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have – Bob Marley.

We, South Africans, really are a resilient bunch.

Historically we are a people who are tough, resourceful, entrepreneurial and hardworking and “when the going gets rough”, we tend to make a plan.

So what is resilience and can it be learned?

“Resilience is the mental reservoir of inner or psychological strength that people are able to call on in order to cope with stress and hardship”, says researcher Kendra Cherry.

Psychologists believe that resilient individuals are better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after a catastrophe.

We know that everything in our world is constantly in a state of change or flux. Dealing with change or loss is an inevitable part of life for most people and sooner or later, we will all experience setbacks to one degree or another.

Some of these challenges might be relatively minor, while others can be traumatic and on a much larger scale (such as pandemics, job losses, home invasions, hijackings, floods or earthquakes).

How we deal with these problems can play a significant role in, not only the outcome, but also the long-term psychological consequences.

While some definitions of resilience speak of the ability to “bounce back” or recover from adversity and generally withstand and adapt to stress, other definitions emphasise the powerful ability to grow and thrive despite the adverse experience.

Author Angela Duckworth has also introduced the concept of “grit” (the passion and perseverance for long-term goals) – a kind of “stickability” into the conversation around “resilience”.

While some people seem to come by resilience naturally because they are genetically predisposed for resilience, these behaviours can also be learned.

In fact, Gabi Lowe and Pippa Shaper, the owners of The Resilience Factory, have developed a model called the “The Ten R’s of Authentic Resilience”.

This model teaches one how to access and strengthen one’s capacity for resilience.

Here are some resilience building skills from their model, which we can focus on to foster our own resilience:


When faced with a tragedy or adverse situation, one might react in a number of ways: some may go into denial and refuse to face the reality of what is happening in their lives whilst others tend to be dramatic and “catastrophise” the situation.

Denial is not useful because we cannot change something until we acknowledge that it is there.

On the other hand, when we “catastrophise”, we tend to say things like:

“I will never recover from this. I can’t do this” and these powerful words may make a situation feel and seem insurmountable and put a lid on creative solutions and healing.

A resilient person, will, after the initial shock, try to take stock of the situation by asking questions like: “What are the facts?” and employ self-compassion and positive self-talk to move forward.

Self-talk such as “how can I find a way to solve this? I am strong and capable and I can do this” open up the individual to new and creative possibilities and problem solving.

Balancing acceptance with change is never easy, but it is possible.

Reaching in:

This pandemic and the resultant lockdown have many people experiencing feelings of extreme anger and anxiety as they see their jobs and businesses slipping through their fingers.

There are also many who experience a sense of shame and embarrassment at not being able to provide for their families and employees.

Globally, there is a collective sense of grief and trauma as a result of all the losses.

All of this emotion can be overwhelming which is why it is so important to acknowledge and manage our feelings.

This is extremely difficult – also because it makes us vulnerable – not only to ourselves, but also to others.

The alternative is that, if we push our feelings away or numb them, they will invariably pop up sooner or later – often in the form of depression or anxiety.

On this note, well-known author and speaker, Brené Brown, says that we cannot numb ourselves selectively: when we numb our pain, we also numb our joy.

Reaching out:

Resilient people reach out to others when they are taking strain and they tell people what they need – either materially or emotionally in order to cope better.

We are wired for connection and looking to loved ones for help and emotional support gives us a sense of belonging and builds our resilience.

Sometimes the people in our circle remind us of the skills and strengths that we possess which we can use as resources to unlock our creativity.

Very often our family and acquaintances have special abilities and talents, which we can tap into, to launch us into the next phase of our journey.

Reflection and renewal:

When we find ourselves in the eye of the storm, it is essential to ground ourselves and be still, pray, meditate and reflect.

Being still allows a space between what happens to us and our response or reaction.

This space allows us to ask ourselves: “What is the wisest thing to do under the circumstances?

What is right and what action should I take according to my values and beliefs?”

When we take time out to reflect, we are also nurturing ourselves and showing ourselves compassion.

Daily rituals of self care, which include exercise, quality sleep and healthy eating, go a long way in reducing stress and in turn, boosting resilience.

We also need to be mindful of limiting the flood of information exposure which tends to drain our energy and can leave us feeling powerless.

Instead, set your mind and heart on uplifting and inspirational pursuits which make your soul sing.

In our efforts to recalibrate our worlds and to adjust to and navigate our new normal, where we can aim to thrive and not just to survive, I leave you with an exercise to ponder:

How am I going to recalibrate?

If I had a magic wand, what would I change?

Who needs to support me?

How will I notice when I have made a change?

How will others notice when I have made a change?

This excerpt from the Desiderata offers great wisdom: “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.”

Sharon Steyn is an educational psychologist who lives and works in Somerset West.