Grief and Resilience

Is There a Connection between Grief and Resilience?

We’re sure you’ve heard this quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Over the years, many grieving individuals have found the truth within his words: while it sometimes feels as if you’ll die from the emotional, psychological and physical effects of grief, there is the potential for self-growth within the experience of bereavement. Here we look at the relationship between grieving and the development of greater resilience.

What is Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association, the word ‘resilience’ describes the ability to successfully adapt to living “in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress”. When you’re a resilient person (and–to one degree or another–most people are); your “behaviors, thoughts, and actions” help you to “bounce back” when hardships occur.

If resilience isn’t one of your natural characteristics, it’s good to know resilience can be learned–and bereavement can be a fine teacher– if the ‘student’ is willing to do the work. The considerable distress of grief can, just as in the creation of tempered steel, reshape and refine one’s character; helping a person to become stronger than he or she was before–when you actively do the work of grieving. (Read “How to Manage the Effects of Grief and Stress” to learn more about grief work and the four tasks of mourning.)

Many experts agree; for example, American researcher Mark Seery spoke of this hidden benefit to grieving: “I really look at this as being a silver lining. Just because something bad has happened to someone doesn’t mean they’re doomed to be damaged from that point on” (Source: Daily Mail). And in “Grief: The Journey from Suffering to Resilience”, Dr. William Doverspike wrote of the life-altering process of bereavement: “One never really returns to his or her former self. Instead, one incorporates the experience into what eventually becomes a new self. Reaching resolution requires working through grief, which takes time."

Grief and Resilience

So there is a connection between the two; as Dr. Doverspike wrote, “Working through...grief can eventually lead to the positive outcomes of recovery, resolution, and resilience.” While these positive outcomes are best achieved when you have “caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family”, it’s also necessary to learn to:

Avoid seeing this crisis, the death of a loved one, as an insurmountable problem. Instead, as the American Psychological Association noted, you should “try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.” (They also advise taking note of “any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.”)

Set small, realistic goals and steadily move toward them. Each morning, ask yourself “what’s the one thing I know I can do today to help move me through my grief?” It could be anything; even something as small as calling a friend, eating a nourishing meal, or writing in a journal.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. This is an opportunity to learn something new about you. “Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported... (a) greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.” (Source: American Psychological Association)

Your bereavement is a very personal, very unique experience. While you can talk to, and learn from, others; the key to fostering resilience from your grief is “to identify ways that are likely to work well for you and incorporate them into a strategic reaction to the death of your loved one.

How We Can Help

We’ve been walking alongside those who mourn for years. It has always been an honor to do so. If you would find comfort in our companionship–or that of others who mourn– during your bereavement, please call or email us. We have the resources, willingness and desire to be of support.

Online Sources:

Nelson, Fred, "Grief Work", Canadian Virtual Hospice, accessed September, 2016
Hibbert, Christina, "How Do I Grieve?": Grief Work and TEARS, Dr. Christina Hibbert, 2010
"Coping with Loss: Bereavement and Grief", Mental Health America, accessed September, 2016
Doverspike, William, "Grief: The Journey from Suffering to Resilience", Georgia Psychological Association, accessed September, 2016
American Psychological Association, "The Road to Resilience", accessed September, 2016
Daily Mail, "So Nietzsche WAS right: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, scientists find", Daily Mail, updated December 19, 2011

Recommended Reading:
Bonanno, George, The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us about Life after Loss, Basic Books, 2009