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  • Writer's pictureConstance Nash

6 Protective Factors: Giving Yourself The Best Chance Of Success

In life, the struggle is real. It's true that we can't always control what's happening in our lives, but there are times when we can. So, how can we use that control to give ourselves the best opportunity to handle the struggles that pop up in life?

One avenue is increasing resiliency, our ability to bounce back from life’s experiences. When building resiliency, it's important to identify risk factors that have influenced some of our not-so-great decisions, as well as how our protective factors can help in cultivating positive change.

Risk factors can include negative experiences (childhood and adult traumas), mental health challenges, genetics, substance abuse, poverty, a lack of resources (financial and educational), family violence, disabilities, and more.

Protective factors are aspects of life that give us a better chance of overcoming unpleasant life events. Examples include social support, positive coping skills, physical health, a sense of purpose, self-esteem, and healthy thinking.

Take a moment and imagine a seesaw on a playground. The risk factors are on one end weighing you down heavily, and on the other side are all those positive resources, abilities, and characteristics you've cultivated. When we don't have strong protective factors, the probability that our risk factors will negatively influence how we manage our emotions and reactions to events increases. Alternatively, increasing protective factors increases the probability of making it through an unpleasant experience in a healthy manner.

Here are six protective factors to consider:

1. Social Support

Social support relates to the people you have in your corner. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself: Who can I look to for practical help? Who can I talk to about my problems? Do I have people that like/love me, or people in my life that I love? If you feel any of these categories could improve, then try connecting with your friends and identifying who you trust to share yourself with and pend time developing your mental health treatment team by checking for local resources/clubs/support groups.

2. Coping skills.

Having the ability to manage uncomfortable emotions in a healthy way is essential to managing negative situations life may throw at you. Here are some questions you may want to consider: How do I deal with my stress? How well am I able to recognize emotions I'm experiencing? How are those emotions influencing my behavior? If you feel this category could improve, then try the following: make a list of all the coping skills you use and determine which ones have been useful to you, take up new a new hobby, and try learning new meditation and breathing techniques.

3. Physical health

If we feel bad physically, that feeling may affect other areas of our lives. Some major examples of this include poor eating habits and inadequate exercise. Here are some questions to contemplate: Do I get adequate exercise? Do I eat a balanced and healthy diet? Do I comply with all medical direction I receive (taking prescribed medications, attending scheduled appointments). If you feel this category could improve, then try the following: introducing new, healthier foods to your diet; spend time finding a form of physical exercise you enjoy; and spend more time learning

about your body and what it requires to be happy

and healthy.

4. Sense of purpose.

Having a strong sense of purpose keeps us motivated and can push us past our fears to continue on a rewarding journey. Questions to contemplate include: Do I feel meaningful involved in my work, education, or any other roles like parenting? What are my personal values, and do I live life according to those values? For example, if honesty is an important value to you but you lie a lot, then you may struggle with feelings of guilt/shame. If you feel yourself struggling with this dissonance, try spending some time journaling about your life goals/dreams, identify what is important to you and the steps you can take to achieve those goals.

5. Self-esteem

This is the way in which we think and feel about ourselves and our abilities. Self-esteem can make a monumental difference in our ability to overcome challenges. If you are constantly operating with a belief system of “I can’t," then your self-esteem may need some tuning. Questions to contemplate include: Do I believe I have value? Am I accepting of my personal flaws and weaknesses? A point of caution- there is a difference between statements like “I am a filthy person” and “I struggle with maintaining a clean living space”. The latter uses phrasing that is less tied up in one's personal identity in a way that avoids perpetuating negative self talk. If you feel you could improve upon your self-esteem, try building a list of positive affirmations, highlighting all your strengths in a journal, reflecting on all the times you have been loving/helpful/kind, and talking to yourself with kindness.

6. Healthy thinking

Healthy thinking means taking on a positive mindset, not ruminating on mistakes and personal flaws. Someone with a positive mindset is able to see the good with the bad, to identify a lesson learned, even when uncomfortable to do so. Here are some questions to consider: Do I have a tendency to harshly judge past decisions I've made, well past the time of the actual event? Am I able to make a rational assessment of my own strengths and weaknesses? If you feel you could improve here, try making a gratitude list and identifying both the pros and cons of a situation. Remember to be kind to yourself!

When you are contemplating of these protective factors, try assessing yourself fairly. The more self-aware you are, the more power you can cultivate for change.

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