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Optimism, strengths and resilience

Thought I would put something up here about the resilience stuff as it continues to attract a great deal of attention. That’s good as it’s an important idea. The fear I have is the overuse problem. We use the word so much it gets sucked of its meaning. This has happened to the word ’empowerment’. People being in charge of themselves really is important, but we can’t hand out empowerment like we had a bucket of it to distribute. And I have literally seen someone answer their mobile in the middle of a conversation about respect! They used the word but somehow missed the idea!

So for what it’s worth…let me throw in some comments about resilience…and its connection to other popular ideas.


Optimism is about seeing the best, having realistic and positive views of self and the world, hoping for the best and working towards it.

A strengths approach

A strengths-focus in working with people means just that. Looking to people’s triumphs, abilities, qualities and strengths as a way of approaching life. And of dealing with the difficult stuff, including the less-wonderful aspects of ourselves. It is a realistic and optimistic approach to people.


‘The process of growing strong as a person…and being able to bounce back from the hard times of life’.

It is an ongoing process rather than something that you ‘get’ and have forever. The most resilient person will have ups and downs, good days and bad days. There are lots of ideas about resilience.

Let me offer you my list of ingredients for resilience. I have been drawn to these, because each of them I have seen stand out as a real dynamic over and over again in both research and in the experience of my work. And secondly, this framework is useable. It can be translated into do-able actions.

The seven elements of resilience

People need to have a sense of purpose, a sense that what we do and who we are actually matters
Meaningful relationships
Being connected to other people in mutually fulfilling, supportive and uplifting ways seems to be good for us. Some of us are more in contact with others, some of us less so. Some people learn to be comfortably alone while others are just lonely. So there are variations. Having said this, for most us, relationships really matter
Being actively involved in what happens around us, rather than being passive recipients of whatever we are offered, is good for us. It creates a sense of involvement and interest in our own lives and those of others
Personal power
Having some sense of control, some power, influence in our lives builds within us a confidence and ability to tackle life’s hardships and challenges
A strong sense of self
This is much more than self esteem. It is a deep sense of worth, of belonging, of having a clear place and purpose, a sense of agency or personal influence, a sense of being in charge of our own lives
Other’s positive expectations
We are likely to flourish when others expect the best of us. (The reverse is also true). These expectations need to be positive, high and realistic. We tend to do well when others focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t; on our qualities rather than our shortcomings
We need a sense that we can get through something; a belief, a faith that things can be better, that life will be okay, that ‘I will prevail’.


And of course, these are just words until we bring them to life in the actions we take.

Resilience The shorter version

  • Identity
  • Sense of belonging
  • Relationships
  • Sense of being in charge of own life.


And here is another take on this. It is what children say matters to them.
(From a study by the NSW Commission for Children and Young People and Uni of Western Sydney)

  • Agency
  • Security
  • Positive sense of self.

Collectively these ideas can establish a framework to guide how we work with individuals, families and communities ¦noticing and helping strengthen the elements of resilience, working with the strengths of those we work with and noticing movement, change, growth, and having faith that it will continue.

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