As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) with a lot of childhood baggage, I spent most of my twenties lost in emotional pain.
Yet, one close friend of mine bounced back much better than I did after a painful event, a trauma or a setback.
She rolled with the punches. And she got back up. Better still, she seemed to get back up wiser, kinder to herself and more resilient.
Meanwhile, I got stuck more firmly in my pain, felt like more of a victim and struggled more and more to cope with everyday life. And I wondered, ‘How does she do that?’
After a 25-year deep dive into psychology, spirituality and self-growth, I know some of the secrets.
Maybe you’re reeling from a health or career crisis right now. Or a loved one is causing you a cascade of anguish, upset and hurt. Whatever the issue, you can turn your emotional pain into resilience.
Here’s how the people who do it do it. (I know this because, thank goodness, I’m now one of them!)
1) They are in touch with their emotions
They FEEL their emotional pain.
Sounds obvious, right?
But think about what so easily happens when we’re hit with painful news or terrible events…
We can shut down or close ourselves off to avoid feeling the pain. Or maybe we act out, getting angry and blaming others for our feelings. We may even self-medicate with alcohol, shopping, work or drama to avoid sitting with deep emotional pain.
Those who turn emotional pain into resilience allow themselves to feel. That way they can begin to heal.
2) They aren’t RUN by their emotions
Once we can feel our emotions, we can start to process them. But how?
Emotionally resilient people have space between what happened to them and their reaction to it.
We can create more of this space through simple daily practices like walking in nature, journaling, meditation or mindfulness.
And then we can use that space when we need it, to reflect on what happened to us and our feelings about it.
3) They have strong, meaningful social networks
They share their emotions with safe and trusted people.
And, of course, they’re not looking to gossip or bitch about others. Instead, they seek a space in which to be open and vulnerable. And they listen to others in turn.
They fill their lives with spaces where they can truly be themselves, and they spend time with people who really see them.
4) They have a rich inner life
They also use the emotional pain – turning it into creative work. That could be stories, songs, art, dance, sculpture, crochet… or, like my brother at twelve, rockets from toilet roll!
They also turn it into wisdom and empathy – because living through painful situations helps us understand ourselves, others and human nature better.
Put simply, emotionally resilient people are creating meaning from their pain. They’re distilling their painful experiences into gold – and therefore creating even more resilience. It’s a virtuous cycle.
They’re building a platform for coping better and better with what life throws at them, by letting it all be part of their rich inner experience.
5) They’re self-sufficient
They’re not co-dependent or constantly in crisis. They’re not always the one with a problem. Not always the one who needs the attention, the support and the shoulder to cry on.
They do a lot of their emotional processing internally, and they hold space for themselves with patience and compassion.
But… They’re not all ‘I am a rock, I am an island’ either…
6) They accept help
‘No, really, I’m okay.’ How often have you said that when you really aren’t?
Of course, sometimes it’s not the right place, time or person to open up to. When resilient people need to share, they know when and where to do so.
They call on those safe, trusted people in their lives. And they respect and are grateful for the time and capacity of others.
So, start turning your pain into resilience by saying yes to that quiet chat, that lift, that help with the childcare… The wonderful thing about saying yes is that you can return the love and care when it’s needed or pay it forward.
7) They have rock solid self-esteem
Unless they’re a very rare exception, they probably weren’t born with this. If you’re struggling with the legacy of childhood trauma – low self-esteem, lack of confidence, lack of self-belief, I hear you. I’ve been there.
We can all improve our self-esteem by being of service to our communities, looking after our bodies and minds, developing kindness to ourselves and others, and practicing gratitude every day.
You can bet that most of the resilient people you admire developed their self-esteem this way!
8) They’re keen to grow and develop as people
Rock-solid self-esteem doesn’t mean being rigid and inflexible, or always having to be right. It’s just the opposite, in fact.
Emotionally resilient people are happy to question themselves, to learn and grow, and to see where their own patterns and behaviors have added to their pain at times.
9) They hold others accountable
They’re not afraid to have difficult conversations with those who have caused them emotional pain.
And they’re not afraid to set fair boundaries to protect themselves better in the future. They know that healthy relationships are a two-way street.
They are gracious with others too, though, and can forgive (if that’s appropriate) and genuinely move on.
10) They take responsibility for their own experience
Resilient people feel empowered and don’t get stuck in victimhood.
Turning emotional pain into resilience means – guess what? Not taking life’s knocks and ups and downs too personally. This brings us back to that virtuous cycle again – take things less personally and you’ll create more resilience. That will help you, yes, take things even less personally.
So, next is a tough one, I know. But what can really help with empowerment and resilience is understanding trauma…
11) They’re psyche-savvy
Unresolved trauma can be a serious barrier to emotional resilience.
That’s why emotionally resilient people understand why they feel and behave in certain ways. And they understand why others do too. Put simply, they’re psyche-savvy.
You’ll soon build even firmer foundations for your emotional well-being. That really pays off when life’s punches hit, making what you’re going through easier to understand and process.
12) They know it’s all about the love
Being psyche-savvy builds compassion and understanding, for ourselves and others.
All that helps keep our hearts open, even when we’re experiencing deep pain.
Emotionally resilient people have open hearts. Yes, Resilience 101 is LOVE.
As John Lennon wrote, ‘Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.’
Throw in a healthy dose of gratitude, optimism and playfulness, and you’ll be living with your heart open wide in no time, healing that pain and rolling with the punches.
13) They trust in the flow of life
Those people trust the flow of life itself. They feel part of something far bigger than themselves. They stare up at the stars and feel how fleeting life is. And how precious.
They say, “Life is full of ups and downs, shocks, painful events, setbacks and challenges. It’s what we do with them that counts.”
You can do this more and more and more, every day. Whatever your pain, it’s valid, and I know it may feel huge right now. But you’ve got this. And, yes, the flow of life itself has got you.