Perception and Resilience

Perception is everything



What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly. – Richard Bach in Illusions.

Our perception of an event, situation or condition dictates our response to it.


I wrote about resilience in this post in September 2015 It’s a personality trait I have become familiar with because I have had to develop it several times in my life.

One of the best articles I have read on resilience is this one by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker. . It is definitely worth reading.

She quotes various studies that have produced some surprising results. Surprising to many, but not to me with my experiences of overcoming adversity and living under stressful conditions unfamiliar to most people in the first world.

Far be it for me to try to improve on Maria’s words, but two key points made so much sense to me that they deserve repeating.

The findings by Emmy Werner, a developmental psychologist who found that resilient children “had an internal locus of control”, “tended to meet the world on their own terms” and “saw themselves as orchestrators of their own fates.”

Resilient people have a different perception, they see themselves as survivors not victims. That it is up to them to chart their lives, they do not feel “entitled” to anything.

The second point is that resilience is not at a fixed level in any of us, it can increase or decrease. Too many strong stressors at vulnerable times can reduce our capacity for resilience. Overwhelm us and change our perception of an event.

As perceptions change, resilience increases.

This became glaringly obvious during the terrorist war in Rhodesia in the 1970s and again during the farm invasions which started in 2000. The first landmine incident, vehicle ambush or urban bombing caused great stress and worry. A few years later the earlier fearful perception of widespread chaos and high casualties became aligned with the reality of few incidents and few casualties.

Most people’s resilience had increased so that the war became just another irritant to those of us not directly affected. When we did feel the effects personally, as I did and wrote about here, our resilience enabled us to get over it without having our lives permanently damaged.

We developed resilience again during the farm invasions in Zimbabwe. When the first farms, hundreds of kilometres away were invaded, houses burned, farmers and workers killed or beaten, livestock, pets and wild animals slaughtered, we did not know how we would react when our turn came.

As the carnage moved closer, we realised that most of those affected who had not been killed, did survive and thrive. They got over the shock of losing everything, having to move to the cities and towns, get help from family and friends.

After two years when our neighbours were under attack, we helped move their personal property before it was looted. Sneaked onto one abandoned farm to remove horses that had been injured by the invaders.

Finally it was our turn. We had developed the resilience to survive.

If your perception is right, you can develop the resilience to survive, overcome and thrive anything as long as you still have a beating heart.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

photos courtesy of panuruangjan /

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  2 comments for “Perception and Resilience

  1. Roberta
    February 20, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I do not think there is anything more on point on resilience than the following:

    “There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who do not. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”

    José N. Harris

    • Peter
      February 23, 2016 at 9:19 am

      I agree, great quotation, good advice.

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