Building Resilience: 3 Science-Backed Ways to Find Healing

February 25, 2020  - by 

Setbacks are not unique to life. What is unique is how well we are able to bounce-back from those setbacks. This ability to bounce back—our ability to overcome and grow from life’s challenges—is known as resiliency. Building resilience is a key to growing and healing from life’s inevitable failures, tragedies, and setbacks.

The Road to Resilience: A Researched Guide

When experiencing tragedy or going through challenges, you might feel too overwhelmed to even think about building resilience. Thankfully, resilience doesn’t need to happen all at once—it can start small.

Below are three simple, science-backed approaches to get you started on building resilience.

Start Where You Are

Group of friends walk down dirtroad path, symbolic of their "road to resilience"

Start building resilience by asking, “What is the story I am telling myself?” Understanding how you perceive a setback is the first step to knowing how to move forward from it.

What the Science Says

According to research, the story or narrative we tell ourselves—especially the one we tell about our families—impacts our ability to be resilient. Researchers categorized these narratives in three ways. Below is description and example of each:

  • Ascending NarrativesBottom-Top stories of “We had nothing, but we worked hard, and now we’re on top.”
  • Descending Narratives—Top-Bottom stories of “We used to be on top, but we lost everything. Now we’re here.”
  • Oscillating Narratives—Balanced stories of “I worked hard and got a great job, but then I was laid off. I was depressed at first, but then I saw it as an opportunity to rethink my career path. Then I got a new job that I love even more.”

The research found that the balanced or “oscillating” story is the most healthy—and most nuanced—of the narratives.

What You Can Do

Write or record your story. This story can be as expansive as your family story over several generations, or it could be the story of a current challenge or setback. Try to identify which narrative you are telling yourself.

The Record My Story activity will prompt you with questions you can answer and provide a safe place to store your story.

Reframe the Story

Now that you know where you are—what story you have been telling yourself—it’s time to put your challenges into perspective. Ask yourself, “What is the real story?”

Two sisters play with a dog

What the Science Says

The science—as highlighted by this research article—supports two key ways that reframing your story can improve resilience and overall well-being.

  1. Create a balanced narrative: People whose stories included the “sharing of positive moments alongside the ability to bounce back from difficult ones,” showed improved self-esteem and enhanced feelings of control and “mastery over life.” In other words, people who reframed their stories to include the good and the bad were more resilient.
  2. Look at the Big Picture: Those who reframed their stories to include their family story experienced an “expanded sense of self” connected to family across generations. This connection contributes to resilience “at all stages of life.”
Grandmother with granddaughter outside. Reframing your stories to include the stories of your family builds resilience

What You Can Do

Start reframing your story to be more balanced, and include the stories of those who came before you.   Talk to your family about their stories (we’ll talk about this process more in the next section), and learn more about your heritage.

(Tip: If you don’t know your heritage, try searching your surname, which can give you clues about where you came from.)

Connect to Others Through Your Story

Research shows that your social support systems help build resilience. The science also shows that connecting to your family through listening to their stories and sharing your own stories is a significant way to build resilience.

What the Science Says

Two Samoan brothers in the jungle together

A study at Emory University asked children and adolescents 20 basic questions about their family background, such as where their parents went to high school or where their grandparents were from.

The researchers found that the more the participants understood about their families, the easier it was for them to feel self-confidence and to experience a healthy level of control over their lives. Knowing their family stories helped children and teenagers develop a sense of identity as part of something much bigger.

What You Can Do

Connect your larger family story by asking your relatives about their lives. You can use the questions from the Emory study or use our #52Stories template as a guide.

Be sure to share these stories, whether it be on social media or in person. By sharing the stories, you help build resilience in others, especially those in your family. To preserve these stories for future generations, consider storing them in FamilySearch Memories.

Grandmother and grandchildren walk down path.

Resiliency is understanding your story. It is understanding that you can add another chapter. Start discovering your story today.

Jessica Grimaud and Annelie Hansen contributed to this post.

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  1. Es un artículo muy interesante, que nos muestra cómo salir de tiempos difíciles para seguir adelante. Muchas gracias.

    Translation: It is a very interesting article, which shows us how to get out of difficult times to move forward. Thank you.

  2. I find it thrilling tofind how learning our family stories can build personal resilience! I have been feeling prompted to pursue my personal history. I now will be sure to weave in stories of my family members as I write. Thank you!

  3. As I have already used Family Search to find my Ancestors and learn about them? It has brought a great change in my thinking and looking at myself. One family line has traced back to Knights Of Templar and a family Crest I knew nothing about. I so thank God for leading me through my life paths that has brought me to where I am today with His dedicated people caring for one another and reaching out to those who are searching for Him and who they themselves really are. Thank You for being there.

  4. I started my genealogical quest because my dad never talked about his family. What I discovered was that he never talked about family probably because he didn’t know anything. I knew that my grandfather died when my father was 8 years old, but I didn’t know that my great-grandfather died in an accident at work when my grandfather was 2 years old. Also, I had heard rumors that my grandfather’s death was alcohol-related, but when I saw his death certificate, it turns out that he died of an auto-immune disease. Anyway, my siblings and I are all over 50 now, so early death hasn’t stopped us from rebuilding the family or from prospering on Earth.

  5. I am humbled to see how ahead of the curve FamilySearch is (this article was published February 25, 2020, long before social distancing and sheltering at home were part of our vocabulary). We will do our best to share this message with our family, friends, neighbors, community and ward and stake members.

  6. I’ve felt this strong urge to get back into family history and discover more about my family. As I’ve come to know more about my family and do more family search. I’ve been able to move away from my addictions and be over all a happier man. I’m so thankful for knowing more about my family history and the spirit that doing family work brings in my life.

  7. I will be 80 years old this year. As a child, i remember listening to my grandparents talk of their grandparents and our pioneer heritage. I loved it! In high school I purchased a typewriter and started copying all family records i could find! I visited relatives and listened to their pioneer stories. I have loved family history and being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have been a temple worker for the last 5 years. I have witnessed /enjoy many modern advances in Family History! Now the temple is temporary closed along with schools, churches, senior centers, the gyms, etc. Everywhere I normally go, is closed! After a life time of experiencing/enjoying wonderful advances in the world. We now have an unexpected “gift of free time”. Time to learn more about our heritage, time to share our stories with others. It is amazing what is being offered/available to all. This is a great learning tool. Many thanks! Best wishes to all…may we remember, our current situation is not our final destination!

    1. Thank you for your story. Your words were quite a gift to me this morning. Especially your last line. Many thanks! <3

  8. This is an amazing resource! I just now completed a cursory reading of this material, not yet even having looked at the questions in the links, and already I can see that this is amazing. I can attest to the truth of the principles set forth, and the efficacy of these exercises, because a few years ago I wrote my personal history, including my forebears’ stories insofar as I knew them, and that did wonders for me. I wrote it over the course of many months (it turned out to be very long), during a period of great physical and emotional suffering, and I can hardly express how much it helped me. It gave me perspective,, understanding, hope, joy, peace, and love. It was miraculous. I felt the Holy Ghost guiding it all the way through. And when it was finally finished, I had the satisfaction of knowing that it was exactly how the Lord wanted it to be. I can most sincerely testify to the power of healing that this brought into my life.

  9. Why not consider adding some sample stories of “fictional families” to show as examples of how to create your story?