Most people endure at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes. Some have many. If you work in a high stress environment, like a hospital mental health care, the police force, or an incarceration facility, an overloaded nervous system could happen on a daily basis. So what makes some people bend, not break?

The key to understanding this has to do with orientation towards time.

Positive Relationship to the Past

People with a higher level of resilience have a healthier relationship with the past. Although their past may not have been totally rosey, they reminisce, have more positive than negative memories, and feel that some good came out of the bad. People with a positive relationship to the past are more likely to honor traditions, eat with their families, have long, strong relationships, and move more slowly. This positive past orientation gives them a sense that things were okay and will be again.

Positive Relationship to the Present

There are three types of present relationships with time. “Fatalists” are those who believe that life is determined by Fate or the will of God, so nothing they do makes a difference. These people tend to be more aggressive, more depressed, and lower energy than others. They have a poor relationship to the present.

The “Hedonist” types are the “eat, drink, and be merry” types with a positive relationship to the present. They are also more aggressive and depressed, but are high on energy. They are more likely to have addiction issues, are more impulsive, but are more fun. They make good friends, lovers, and party guests.

The “Holistic” types are mindful. They accept what cannot be changed, and also take lessons from the past so that they can grow from it. They take care of their health so that they feel good now and in case they are around later. Holistic types tend to have a spiritual practice that nurtures them. Another thing that they have in common is that they tend to take responsibility for their emotional healing. Although they may not have caused the problems, they feel it’s up to them to fix them.

Positive Relationship to the Future

Resilient people are optimistic and look forward to the future. They feel that, if it’s not better than now, it will at least be good. They also take charge of creating what they find there instead of waiting for things to happen to them. Additionally, people with a positive relationship to the future tend to have an optimistic view of death and what comes after. Faith is a factor in how we view the future.

Fortunately, these are all habits that anyone can cultivate. Since we all want to bend, not break, maybe it’s time to see what changes you can make to create resiliency.

*Credit to Philip Zimbardo for his research on time.