The Cliff Effect: Resilience Breaks


Fact: Resilience Breaks.

Resilience is a character trait that describes toughness; if you have it, you can recover quickly from events. Resilience is essential to overcoming life’s obstacles. It’s a trait that we see in others and want for ourselves. However, although resilience is a character trait, it is not a permanent one.

The cliff effect describes how resilience is depleted and how our stressors ultimately take their toll, no matter how resilient we are.

It starts like this. Life throws an obstacle at us, which is either emotional stress or physical head injury. Our resilience works hard to overcome any and all side effects.

For emotional stress, this looks like coping with anger or trust issues, allowing yourself to work through and move past these common stress responses.

For physical injury, this looks like physical healing, and the brain regaining abilities it lost.

This might happen one, two, five, ten times in the same pattern: obstacle, resilience, recover. Until…

BAM. You hit a psychological event horizon, a point of no return. You go over the cliff.

At this point, your experience with the emotional stress or brain injury are beyond anything you have experienced previously. Your resilience seems broken and your regular coping methods do not work as they have in the past.

This is a commonly seen occurrence that often goes unnoticed in the world of psychology. All trauma will have a cumulative effect.

What now? You can’t deal with these stressors in the same way as you have in the past. But you can learn new strategies. Using new strategies not only builds your resilience back up, but it makes it stronger for the next stressor you encounter.

  1.       After each stress or injury, take the time needed to recover. The brain needs true rest to heal itself. Read more about true rest here (new quick post-coming soon).
  2.       Admit that you have gone over the cliff, that this event is the one that you truly cannot ignore.
  3.       See professionals. Traumatic brain injury specialists have the resources you need for concussion and brain injury, and mental health professionals have the resources you need to overcome cumulative emotional wear and tear.
  4.       Teach yourself to think like an optimist. The mental phrases, “This is temporary. This is one event, and I can get better,” are your new best friends. Say them often in your head.
  5.       Build a better relationship with yourself by stopping negative thinking. Read all about that here (link to breaking your most destructive relationship post).

Resilience is a skill that can be depleted through repetitive stressors, but it can also expand and grow to be more useful over time.

We all have times where we reach our breaking points and go over the cliff. For some, admitting when that cliff has been reached is the hardest part. For others, cliffs are everywhere! For everyone, it is NOT a point of no return. It is a point of breaking to rebuild into a flexible resilience.






Michael Behmer

Founder, Aspen Neurofeedback, Inc.

We are professionals who work with chronic emotional trauma and brain injury. To learn more about our unique approaches and how we help you rebuild your resilience, contact us today at 970-281-7872 or