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    Adverse life experiences; what are they and how do people cultivate resilience?

    The story we build around our lives matters; most of us have experienced difficulty at some stage, whether a traumatic event or other forms of psychological distress.

    Coping skills

    Inherently, humans get built to endure adversity, but there is a spectrum on which people continue to cope or not, as the case may be.

    Those with adverse life experiences or ACES as they often get referred to in the mental health community are highly stressful or traumatic experiences that take place during childhood and adolescence.

    Traumatic events

    Adverse life experiences incorporate a whole range of traumatic or stressful situations that include:

    • Physical and emotional abuse
    • Caregiver mental illness
    • Parental neglect
    • Household violence
    • Natural disasters
    • Domestic violence
    • Terrorist attacks
    • Chronic diseases and mental health conditions

    Physical and mental health

    Research suggests that the more adverse life experiences children or young adults endure, the more likely they will suffer from health complications in later life, such as diabetes, heart disease, substance abuse and low academic achievement.

    Toxic and chronic stress

    Some studies show that when people experience many ACE’s like community violence or racism, without adequate support from parental or caregiver figures, the effects often lead to toxic stress.

    Psychological science

    Toxic stress can cause complications in the brain and excessive activation within the stress response system. 

    The wear and tear all this creates are similar to a motorbike engine getting revved up for weeks or months at a time.

    Supportive relationships

    Mental health professionals explain that people must build a robust social support network to build natural resilience.

    Indeed, for those who have experienced ACE’s, there are many ways that people can build psychological resilience that allows them to manage and move forward after a traumatic event.

    Building resilience

    Building resilience to deal with emotional pain from the past can be challenging but possible with appropriate treatment and significant sources.

    Many people adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or other addictions, all of which can lead to serious health problems in the future.

    Promote resilience

    Managing stress and building resilience is imperative if people want to stay healthy and live fulfilling lives.

    Building resilience comes in many forms. However, mental health professionals say that the following can be profoundly valuable for building resilience skills:

    • Attending therapy with a mental health professional
    • Meditation
    • Physical exercise
    • Spending time in nature
    • Having a solid social support network

    Cultivating resilience

    Research illustrates the need for stress management in those who have experienced adverse life experiences.

    When building resilience, great care must get taken to reduce external stressors in people’s lives.

    Basic needs

    The capacity to meet each individual’s basic needs and offer them the right resources and support are excellent ways to reduce stress and build self-esteem over time.

    Community resilience and mental health services

    Community resilience and mental health services

    Another way that communities and mental health services can support young people and adults with ACE’s is to cultivate solid and responsive relationships between children and parents or caregivers.

    Core life skills

    Building core life skills allows children to buffer the effects of toxic stress and strengthen their resilience skills and mental toughness.

    Unhealthy coping mechanisms

    Statistics show that people with ACE’s are more likely to turn to substance abuse before fourteen.

    Substance abuse

    In addition, those who experienced five or more ACE’s are seven to ten times more likely to abuse drugs. 

    Such destructive coping skills can lead to broader implications on the person’s physical and psychological well being further down the road.

    Mental health conditions

    Other studies on mental health and adverse life experiences demonstrate that mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are prevalent complications for people in this group.

    Risk factors

    One in three people diagnosed with a mental health condition in adulthood get directly related to ACE’s.

    The more long-term and chronic ACE’s are, the more significant the impact on the person’s development and physical and mental health.

    Difficult cirumstances

    Life’s challenges can get overwhelming at times, and those with adverse life experiences often endure countless hardships as they move through life.

    Young children exposed to domestic violence or chronic disease as children, for example, may have had their development stunted as a result of their experiences and were not able to develop skills necessary to navigate adulthood.

    Emotional regulation

    Many people who endure hardship may find it challenging to regulate their emotions and find that they cannot control their behaviour or impulses.

    Low resilience

    Negative emotions such as anger, sadness and addictive urges can be hard to equilibrate when a person has endured adverse events.

    All this is likely because of the brain’s stress responses. 

    Essentially, a switch in the brain has gotten activated, and the individual exists in a perpetual state of hypervigilance.

    Realistic optimism

    When attempting to rebuild our lives after trauma, it can be helpful to tune in to what other resilient people are saying on the topic.

    However, it’s crucial to remember that each of us has our way of processing our experiences and how we choose to move forward. 

    With all this in mind, people must build realistic optimism in the wake of complex events.

    Protective factors

    Trauma experts state that in post-traumatic experience, many people inherit protective factors that help them to survive.

    Such protective factors respond to a crisis in different ways and often get stimulated when a person’s threat to safety occurs.


    Some people may find their anxiety gets triggered during challenging moments, and they may notice they freeze up altogether!

    For others, each day brings on a fresh batch of worry that brings out different feelings or parts of themselves that exacerbate their mental health.

    Life’s hardships can be unpredictable, which only adds to the trauma where survivors believe that nothing is safe.

    Growth mindset

    Growth mindset

    Psychologists suggest that when building resilience, people can do a few things to kick start the healing process.

    Whether a person is recovering from adverse childhood experiences, economic hardship, or other stressful events, people can leverage positive aspects of the experience.

    Positive emotions

    Emotionally resilient people tend to have a positive mindset and can flip the narrative by viewing their experiences as something that has happened for them and not to them.


    Of course, this is not always easy or realistic. However, when trying to build resilience, it is easier to reframe traumatic events in a way that allows us to move beyond what has happened.

    Being resilient helps us to endure hardship

    Being exposed to trauma, domestic violence, chronic pain, or other traumatic experiences can be profoundly difficult for the human spirit to bear.

    Strong emotions

    Such situations bring out strong emotions and reactions that can impact a person’s daily life and turn positive relationships into negative ones.

    Trauma is such a complex condition, and many people are unaware of the implications that trauma has on the mind and body.

    However, over time, most people learn to adapt to their experiences and identify positive emotions that help them get through.

    Clinical psychology

    Psychologists highlight several ways for people to reframe their experiences and build resilience, all of which involve:

    • Allowing yourself to feel your feelings
    • Prioritizing self-care and building self-confidence
    • Cultivating self-compassion towards yourself and others
    • Asking for support and help
    • Using social media for connection and social support
    • Identifying positive affirmations that help to build healthier belief systems
    • Exercising and eating a healthy diet


    The ability to develop skills in resilience can help improve mental and physical health outcomes.

    Therapy, building community resilience and speaking to a mental health professional are all empowering ways to promote well being and long-term recovery from trauma.

    Moving beyond your trauma

    Whether people want to work on a specific personality trait or behavioural pattern or move on from past trauma, this is possible with the proper treatment and support.

    If you would like to further build resilience and move beyond any past trauma, get in touch with one of our specialists to help you do just that.