A brief description of the Resiliency Strengths found in books, movies, & stories

Larry H. Pastor

            A resiliency strength is a strength, attitude, belief, habit, or behavior that we rely on when going through rough times, in order to help deal with bad feelings, find motivation, and get our life back on track.  Every person has their own unique mixture of various resiliency strengths, and a few particular ones, called “signature strengths” that we rely on most.  Also, everyone has the capacity to discover and develop new strengths in order to become stronger and better able to withstand life’s challenges. 

            One of the things that make great books, movies, and myths great is that these forms of story-telling usually show a main character who discovers her own inner resiliency strengths and uses these strengths to overcome difficulties and survive.  Bravery, persistence, humor, or love are common inner strengths, but as the list below demonstrates, there are many other resiliency strengths as well.  The more resiliency strengths you have, the better!

            Movies are a great way to teach others about resiliency because many people in the audience have already seen the movie under discussion, and those who haven’t can go and see the movie afterward and experience a dramatic and powerful example of the resiliency strength that the film has illustrated.  In The Judge, for example, Robert Downey, Jr., plays the role of an outwardly successful lawyer who has achieved his success largely through the use of one resiliency strength, a fierce fighting spirit that allows him to win in court and climb the ladder of success.  In the list below, this resiliency strength is labeled “FIST”, for “Fierce, Indomitable Spirit of Toughness” (each strength has been given an abbreviation to make it easy to remember).  FIST, however, doesn’t help Downey when he is forced to confront unresolved relationship conflicts with his father, brother, and a former girlfriend.  To deal with these problems, he must discover within himself the ability to love and accept others as they are, to give and receive support and feedback.  This resiliency strength is called “CELLO”, which stands for “Capacity to Enjoy the Love and Loyalty of Others.”  Only when Downey learns to dial back on his overuse of FIST, and employ the resiliency strength of CELLO, does he achieve the same level of success in relationships that he has achieved in his career.  Toughness and love must be balanced in order to achieve a truly harmonious and balanced personality.  Downey’s ability to use CELLO & the character growth that results provide the dramatic movement of the story.   

            As the movie The Judge shows, when a person mistakenly applies the wrong strength to their life situation, it can be more difficult for them to find the solution they seek.  When people have a range of strengths to choose from, they have more options for tackling life’s challenges.  Movies illustrate resiliency strengths in a powerful and entertaining way.  People can model their own behavior after vivid and well-portrayed characters from movies (as well as from personal examples, historical figures, and characters of myth and legend – resiliency strengths can be found in all sorts of stories from Spongebob to Shakespeare, from the bible to the blogosphere).  A good exercise for helping people, including yourself, acquire new resiliency strengths would be to write a short essay about how a character from a popular movie used or acquired one or two resiliency strengths in order to overcome their personal predicament, overcome setbacks, and grow stronger.  Life is a series of challenges and resiliency strengths are essential survival tools for successful living.  Accordingly, nearly every great movie shows one or more main characters employing their particular resiliency strengths.  A lot of great stories show how different members of a team use their different strengths in combination to solve problems as a team that would be too great for any one individual to solve (examples that come to mind include Star Trek, The Mysterious Benedict Society). 

Cognitive resiliency strengths (i.e., those based in thoughts and beliefs):

C-FAR (Cognitive Flexibility And Reappraisal): making a deliberate choice in whether to remain stuck in anger or defeat, or whether to be flexible and see new opportunities, restore hope, and move away from despair.

HER (High Emotional Regulation): the ability to channel, balance, and moderate emotions, to stay calm and deal intelligently with others to work out conflicts; a key aspect of self-control.                                

PLATA (Philosophical and Logical Approach Toward Anxiety): worry and anxiety are part of every human life.  Each of us develops our own approach to managing worries.  Often, the strategy involves knowing the difference between what is and what is not under our control. 

PSS (Problem-Solving Skills): the ability to put unhelpful emotions aside in order to focus on defining the problem and generating a list of possible solutions; anticipating the consequences of different possible actions; obtaining information, forming a plan, identifying interim and ultimate goals, avoiding blame, negativity, escapism.

HI-HO (Having an Intrinsic Happiness Orientation): durable happiness is made possible only when we make an internal resolution to approach life as an interesting, challenging, exciting adventure; nothing external (cars, clothes, mansions) can “make me happy”, but I create an interesting and exciting life by my attitude & approach. 

SALT (Simple Appreciation of Little Things): the sum of many small, “banal” moments adds up to hundreds of positive experiences, i.e., life’s simple pleasures, adds up to a life rich in joy, humor, comfort, or triumph. 

Interpersonal resiliency strengths:

FARSS (Furnishing And Receiving Social Support): receiving support from others offers relief from feeling alone and isolated, and can provide fresh ideas about how to deal with problems; offering support to others can re-affirm your belief in yourself and your own goodness.

SABIO (Self-Acceptance & Belief In Oneself): SABIO means avoiding harsh self-criticism in response to life events; the opposite of self-acceptance is self-condemnation & self-loathing!  People who get stuck in self-condemnation or self-blame never get past the feeling of being a victim or loser, therefore cannot work on solving problems or allowing themselves to enjoy life. 

CELLO (Capacity to Experience the Love and Loyalty of Others): feeling the love and loyalty of others is sustaining, reassuring, and comforting; leads to personal and spiritual connectedness, a sense of belonging.

SAD (Sober Anticipation of Death): preventing the full force of shock of loss from hitting at once, by beginning an inevitable grieving process in advance of losing someone; wisdom is achieved and greater appreciation of life through realization of its end.

Moral and Spiritual resiliency strengths:

SOP (Sense of Perspective): keeping things in perspective helps a person stay calm and avoid jumping to extreme and catastrophic conclusions when things go wrong. 

FILM (Finding your Individual Life Meaning) or MAP (Meaning And Purpose): finding meaning in life’s events and identifying your own deeply-held purpose in life. 

WOE (Wisdom Of Experience): the calm that results from wisdom, a deep knowledge of the connectedness and flow of life and human experience. 

SOME (Standards Of Morals & Ethics): SOME fosters resilience by enabling someone to demonstrate strength of character; SOME, one’s “moral compass”, provides the direction for action in times of crisis.

BIMAH (Belief in Miracles and Heaven): religion, faith, and spirituality build resilience and, additionally, foster other resilient modes including Meaning and Purpose (MAP), building community (FARSS), self-forgiveness and self-worth (SABIO), and adhering to a code of ethical behavior (SOME).  BIMAH suggests order, purpose, forgiveness, or redemption within the divine arc of a life’s journey.

Creative and Artistic resiliency strengths

WHIP (Wit, Humor, Irony, & Playfulness): humor helps us to ward off pessimism and despair, and helps us to bear tragedy and lighten moments that would otherwise become unbearable.  Humor can be contagious and help uplift and unite an entire group or community.

CONE (Curiosity and Openness to New Experience): being eager to try things out, make discoveries, ask questions, and increase your knowledge and understanding of the world around you; remaining flexible and making creative use of accidental results.

HAWK (Historical and Worldly Knowledge): the “Humanities” help us understand and cope with life’s adversities, inspire us to rise above pain and suffering, tell us about great figures in history such as Martin Luther King, Jr., astronaut Sally Ride, Elie Wiesel, Churchill, or Chief Tecumseh. 

LAMB (Love of Art, Music, and Beauty): mankind has made art, fashioned jewelry, stood in awe of sunsets, starlit skies, or pristine snowfalls, and waxed poetic on paper or parchment since before recorded history.  LAMB promotes resilience by providing a refuge of warm and meaningful experience that stands apart from life’s ugliness and cruelty.  Beauty is not an occasional luxury, but a powerful, deeply inspirational and life-affirming force. 

EGAD (Energizing Goals And Dreams): goals & dreams motivate and energize us, providing a booster shot of resilient energy in the face of obstacles, losses, or heavy workloads. 

Resiliency strengths based in toughness and persistence:

PAR (Perseverance and Resolve): the ability to “keep on keeping on”, to see setbacks as temporary and as learning experiences, and to resolve to never give up. 

HASH (Healthy And Sustainable Habits): self-care and good habits that lead to hardiness and rapid recovery after a crisis.  Includes a wide variety of positive habits such as exercise, lifelong learning, managing finances, keeping a first aid kit in the car, or regular flossing.

FIST (Fierce, Indomitable Spirit and Toughness): a natural fighting spirit that drives competitiveness, ambition, and survival; aligned with courage.

COR (Courage): the word ‘courage’ comes from Old French “corage” or “of the heart”, “cor” being the Latin root for “heart” and the stem of modern terms like “cordial” and “cardiac.”  To have courage then, is “to have heart,” to face fear, to stand up in the face of danger or pain. 

RAPID (Realistic Appraisal of Possible Impediments & Dangers): blind or naïve optimism is dangerous; RAPID is a calm vigilance that identifies risks and hazards, permitting realistic optimism – and effective problem-solving – to go forward.  Individuals with the resiliency strength of RAPID often rise to leadership levels at times of duress or crisis.  A good cinematic example is Liam Neeson’s protagonist in The Grey.