Don’t give up: resilience an art of resistance

Do not surrender,

… do not give in: even if the cold burns,

even if fear bites,

even if the sun sets and the wind dies down,

there is still fire in your soul,

there’s still life in your dreams.

Mario Bennedeti

Do not give up, do not surrender, do not give in even when tiredness overwhelms you, when discouragement weakens you, because to be resilient is to persist. To be resilient is to continue. To be resilient is to be able to recover what has been lost, but has not disappeared, it is just not available. These words follow on from Mario Bennedeti’s beautiful poem, “Do not give up”, which encourages us to persist, to resist and to achieve a dream, a goal, an achievement or a dream of achieving and believing that it is never too late to “be who you could have been” as long as there is fire in the soul or desire in the heart. And in this interweaving of ideas there follow shared thoughts of what it means to be resilient? What does resilience do and how is it revealed? And is being resilient always positive?

What is a resilient person?

A resilient person1 maintains emotional balance and self-esteem when faced with opposition from others to their ideas, achievements, behaviours or when things do not go according to their expectations. They are resilient if they are able to keep calm and do not question their value when faced with events which threaten their way of being and living.

These words, inspired by the identification of important behaviours for the development of entrepreneurial behavioural skills[1], are very applicable in the times in which we live in which uncertainty reigns, mistrust, loneliness, difficulties and human misery tend to take hold, in various dimensions, almost (when it does not) throwing people into a void of hope and future.

What is resilience?

Resilience is a property of materials described by physics2 and represents the capacity of a body to recover its original shape after a deformation or shock. If we consider this expression in the context of human experience, resilience is evaluated by the capacity to recover and return to “normal” functioning when a person experiences significant adversities or traumas (serious or prolonged illnesses, accidents, human aggression, accidents in nature, wars, drastic changes in living conditions, etc.).

What is the relationship between resilience and resistance?

If you are resilient you have a great capacity for resistance, but is resilience always a positive quality? Is it always something that helps?

For António Simão, psychotherapist, resilience is not always good. This psychologist gives the example of a rubber band stretched across the arms of a chair. The elasticity is maintained for some time, but after prolonged resistance this material loses its main characteristic which is elasticity. Resilience is also good as long as the person does not deform his own nature, his qualities and his capacity to start again.

In the film “The kidnapping of Lisa McVey” based on the true story of a girl who was subjected to several emotional and sexual abuses at home, and by a serial killer who kidnaps and mistreats her, shows us the enormous resilience of a girl and teenager to resist, survive and fight, because she believed it was possible to have a better life (contrary to what her mother repeatedly told her), as it happened from the end of her difficult adolescence. We have here an excellent example of positive resilience. But is there no such thing as negative resilience? 

Is there a relationship between resilience and persistence? 

Resilience and persistence in practical terms are very close. To be resilient one needs to be persistent in concentrating and continuing to perform the task and pursue the goals, despite possible distractions, setbacks or adversities (e.g. opposition from others, lack of interpersonal support, lack of physical, intellectual or emotional means).

What is the importance of resilience at work?

Resilience at work is a much appreciated characteristic even if it may not always be called by that name. For me and also for the consultant José Soares Ferreira, resilience is a critical competence for entrepreneurial behaviour (the ability to act continuously to generate tangible or intangible results, whether inside or outside organisations – own companies or personal life) that can be developed and recognised, through the behaviour of a person who knows how to manage stress, is persistent, communicates with diplomacy; has the ability to concentrate, knows how to control himself, is calm and knows how to accept criticism.

Managing professional stress requires a lot of skills, because if you know how to manage stress you are self-confident, because you trust that you have the resources (time, people, money, materials, knowledge, experience, etc.) to respond to the demands of your work. The opposite of knowing how to manage stress in a professional context results in a situation of burnout that arises in the continuity of dealing with the tensions, demands in a professional context and not having the resources (or believing that they do not have them) to cope with the situations. Therefore, we can consider that resilience is not only a personal but also a professional competence.

Can “over-resilience” lead to burnout?

“Burnout results from a persistent state of stress at work3 in which the “person feels that their resources to cope with the demands placed on them by the situation are already exhausted4″ and is translated into three dimensions: emotional exhaustion (burnout), depersonalisation (cynicism, apathy, indifference) and low personal achievement (feelings of failure, incompetence and self-worth, in which one doubts their own ability to perform5)…”

Burnout is a long-term state with marked losses of performance accompanied by a state of negative attachment to work6. In this situation of exhaustion, depersonalisation and low self-fulfilment, even if there is recovery, in the long term one of the effects of repeated and continued stress is the loss of the ability to manage this stress, losing qualities or even health (mental and physical). This is a case of negative resilience.

Emotional resilience and self-confidence

Resilience, like many other skills, feeds on emotions. It is emotions that give energy. But beliefs, convictions can feed emotions or weaken them. One belief, in my view, that is particularly important because of its impact on resilience, the ability to deal with adversity and frustration, is self-confidence.

Self-confidence results from the ability to believe in oneself and one’s own resources (knowledge, experience, skills, qualities) that help a person to believe, even if they don’t know how, that they are able to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen and yet solve problems and be able to adapt appropriately to situations.

Resilience and “having a meaning”

For Friedrich Nietzsche, “he who has a why, endures any how”. This why can be a mission (to make a contribution…), a value (family). Although these words make perfect sense, I would add, inspired by some good teachers: he who has a why, endures any how. And that is why you need to find reasons that give meaning to the existential emptiness: projects that project you into the future; values that guide your conduct; motivations that transcend you and make you reconnect the apparently meaningless experience with something that you recognise as being superior; or just a flame: desire, dream, aspiration, motivation that lights up your steps in the darkest moments just like people who have survived and overcome catastrophes, abuse and unimaginable traumas. Therefore, and only for this reason, do not give up, do not surrender because that is life!

“Don’t surrender,

you are still in time to reach out and start again,

accept your shadows, bury your fears, drop the ballast, take flight again.

Don’t give up, that’s life,

continue the journey,

chase your dreams,

unlock the times,

clear away the rubble and unveil the sky.”

In “Não Desistas”, by Mario Bennedeti

Bibliographic references:

1 In Referencial de Formação Pedagógica Contínua de Formadores – Competências Empreendedoras: Centro Nacional de Qualificação de Formadores do IEFP dos autores José Soares Ferreira e Ana Tapia;

2 In Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa, 2008-2020, https://dicionario.priberam.org/resili%C3%AAncia, [consultado em 16-11-2020];

3 Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job Burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397–422. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397;

4 Gomes, A. R., & Cruz, J. F. (2004). A experiência de stress e “burnout” em psicólogos portugueses: um estudo sobre as diferenças de género. Psicologia: Teoria, Investigação e Prática. Acedido 4 Julho, 2016, http://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/bitstream/1822/3944/4/2-Gomes&Cruz-SORevista-UM.pdf;

5 Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2009). Burnout: 35 years of research and practice. Career Development International, 14(3), 204–220. http://doi.org/10.1108/13620430910966406;6 Há moderação de género na relação entre motivação e bem-estar?  In https://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/29044, tese de mestrado de Ana Tapia.

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