In recent years, the concept of resilience has gained widespread attention and recognition as an essential trait for navigating life’s challenges. While resilience is generally considered positive, there is a darker side to this trait known as toxic resilience.

This phenomenon occurs when the very mechanisms designed to help individuals cope with adversity become counterproductive, leading to long-term psychological and physical harm. This article delves into what toxic resilience is, how it manifests, and strategies for overcoming it.

What is Toxic Resilience?

Toxic resilience occurs when the drive to remain strong and stoic in the face of adversity becomes detrimental. This form of resilience encourages individuals to suppress their emotions, ignore their own needs, and avoid seeking help.

Rather than fostering healthy coping mechanisms, toxic resilience leads to a cycle of denial, avoidance, and, ultimately, deeper psychological distress. It is the antithesis of genuine resilience, which involves acknowledging and processing emotions constructively.

How Does Toxic Resilience Manifest?

Toxic resilience can manifest in various ways, often starting subtly but becoming more pronounced over time. Recognising these signs is crucial for addressing the issue early on. Here are some common manifestations:

1. Emotional Suppression

People exhibiting toxic resilience often bottle up their emotions. They believe that showing vulnerability or admitting to feelings like sadness, fear, or frustration is a sign of weakness. Over time, this emotional suppression can lead to numbness and a diminished capacity for empathy and connection with others.

2. Overworking

A relentless drive to stay busy and productive can indicate toxic resilience. Individuals may immerse themselves in work or other activities to avoid confronting their emotions and underlying issues. This overworking often leads to burnout and a neglect of personal well-being.

3. Avoidance of Help

Those affected by toxic resilience tend to avoid seeking support from friends, family, or professionals. They fear that asking for help will make them appear weak or incapable. This avoidance can exacerbate feelings of isolation and helplessness.

4. Perfectionism

An unrelenting pursuit of perfection is another sign of toxic resilience. Individuals may set impossibly high standards for themselves, believing that any failure or imperfection is unacceptable and indicative of personal inadequacy. This can lead to chronic stress and self-criticism.

5. Physical Symptoms

Chronic stress and unresolved emotional issues often manifest physically. Symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, and other stress-related conditions are common among those exhibiting toxic resilience. These physical manifestations are the body’s way of signalling that something is wrong.

6. Substance Abuse

In an attempt to cope with unacknowledged stress and emotional pain, some individuals may turn to alcohol, drugs, or other harmful behaviours. This can lead to a dangerous cycle of dependency and further exacerbate mental health issues.

Overcoming Toxic Resilience

Recognising and addressing toxic resilience is crucial for long-term mental and physical well-being. Here are several strategies to help overcome it:

1. Acknowledge Your Emotions

The first step in overcoming toxic resilience is to acknowledge and accept your emotions. Recognise that feeling vulnerable, sad, or anxious is a normal part of the human experience. Allowing yourself to feel and process these emotions is a sign of strength, not weakness. Journaling can be a helpful way to explore and understand your feelings.

2. Seek Support

Reaching out for support from friends, family, or mental health professionals is vital. Sharing your feelings and experiences with trusted individuals can provide relief and help you gain perspective. Professional support, such as therapy, can offer tools and techniques for managing stress and building healthy coping mechanisms. Joining support groups can also provide a sense of community and shared understanding.

3. Practice Self-Compassion

Developing self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a friend in a similar situation. Acknowledge your efforts and progress, and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Self-compassion can be fostered through mindfulness practices and positive self-talk.

4. Set Realistic Goals

Setting achievable and realistic goals can help reduce the pressure of perfectionism. Break tasks into manageable steps and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. This approach can foster a sense of progress and reduce feelings of overwhelm. Use tools like SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to set and track your progress.

5. Incorporate Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Practising mindfulness and relaxation techniques can help you stay present and manage stress. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can promote relaxation and emotional well-being. Apps like Headspace or Calm can provide guided meditations and mindfulness exercises to help you get started.

6. Balance Work and Rest

Striving for a healthy work-life balance is essential. Ensure you allocate time for rest, leisure, and activities that bring you joy. Taking regular breaks and setting boundaries can prevent burnout and promote overall well-being. Implementing a regular sleep schedule and prioritising rest can significantly impact your physical and mental health.

7. Reframe Your Perspective

Reframing involves changing the way you think about and interpret challenging situations. Instead of viewing difficulties as insurmountable obstacles, try to see them as opportunities for growth and learning. This shift in perspective can foster resilience without falling into the trap of toxic resilience. Cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT) can be particularly effective in helping you reframe negative thoughts.

8. Educate Yourself

Understanding more about toxic resilience and its impact can empower you to make informed choices about your mental health. Reading books, attending workshops, or participating in support groups can provide valuable insights and strategies for overcoming toxic resilience. Resources like Brené Brown’s books on vulnerability and resilience can offer deeper understanding and practical advice.

4. Setting Boundaries

Learning to set healthy boundaries is essential for maintaining emotional health.

  • Work-Life Balance: Clearly delineating work time from personal time can help prevent work-related stress from spilling over into personal life.

  • Saying No: It is crucial to understand that it’s okay to decline additional responsibilities when feeling overwhelmed.

5. Mindfulness and Reflection

Practising mindfulness and regular reflection can enhance self-awareness and emotional regulation.

  • Mindfulness Practices: Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness can help centre the mind and reduce stress.

  • Reflective Journaling: Keeping a journal to reflect on experiences and emotions can provide insights and a sense of release. Journaling is clinically proven to help reduce stress and anxiety (we can’t process difficult things when they’re in our heads). So writing them down, even if we burn them afterwards, can be hugely beneficial.

The Wrap Up

Toxic resilience is a hidden danger that can undermine genuine well-being by promoting unhealthy coping mechanisms and emotional suppression. By recognising its manifestations and implementing strategies to address it, individuals can develop a healthier, more balanced approach to resilience.

Remember, true strength lies not in ignoring our vulnerabilities but in acknowledging and addressing them with compassion and understanding. Overcoming toxic resilience is a journey towards a more authentic, fulfilling, and emotionally healthy life.

In an age where resilience is often hailed as the ultimate virtue, it’s crucial to remember that being resilient doesn’t mean being invulnerable. Embracing our humanity, with all its complexities and emotions, is the true essence of resilience. By doing so, we can move beyond the superficial facade of strength and cultivate a deeper, more genuine resilience that supports our overall well-being.

What Next?

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