What's the Phoenix Effect? - Step To Health

What's the Phoenix Effect?

Resilience refers to the ability to emerge stronger from adversity. This is the common basis of the phoenix effect.
What's the Phoenix Effect?

Last update: 16 November, 2021

They say that every crisis also brings opportunity – the calm after the storm; the rainbow at the end of the deluge. There are many ways of expressing this idea, and this is the basis of the phoenix effect.

In particular, it refers to the fact of coming out on top and taking advantage of the opportunity for growth, empowerment, and personal improvement after having suffered a traumatic and impactful event. Let’s learn more about it.

What’s the phoenix effect?

The myth of the phoenix tells the story of a bird with beautiful plumage that burned to death, only to rise again from the ashes.

Symbolically, the phoenix effect is related to destruction and construction, and death and rebirth. The death of the phoenix doesn’t represent the end, but rather the beginning, a new beginning, the possibility of starting over and doing things differently.

In psychology, we could consider it as a synonym of resilience, especially after situations that have caused some kind of trauma in people.

In this regard, Viktor Frankl, neurologist and psychiatrist known for being the creator of logotherapy, emphasized that when the meaning of the suffering is recognized, it’s possible to emerge stronger from experiences of misfortune. He knew very well what he was talking about, as he was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps.

The phoenix effect.
The phoenix effect is learning to be reborn after going through traumatic situations.

Some of the values that are implicit in the myth of the phoenix are related to the following:

  • The importance of adaptation. The ability of human beings to accept change or to get used to new situations.
  • The value of adversity. Traumatic situations would allow people to get to know their strengths, to bring into play new resources, previously unknown because they weren’t necessary until now. Once someone hits rock bottom, they’re able to emerge stronger.
  • The resignification of the facts. Many people, after going through traumatic experiences, tell us that they now have another vision or perspective. This means that they’re able to understand and value situations from another angle. In this way, priorities change; some things lose importance, while others gain it. However, nothing is ever the same again.
  • The power of transformation. This is the ability to move from one state to another, to be reborn, to transform a situation of sinking and discomfort into a springboard forward.

Another great article for you: 7 Keys to Resilience: Courage Comes from Within

How to cope with adversity

Some recommendations to be able to cope with adversity are the following:

  • Often in psychotherapy we work on the acceptance of a painful situation or crisis, and then think about how we can learn something from it.
  • Accepting that difficulties are part of life. Learning to live with the frustration that occurs when we sometimes give our all and still don’t get the expected results.
  • Sometimes, getting ahead requires will and effort. The impact caused by certain situations affects our mood or the desire to keep moving. However, in order not to let yourself fall, you often have to fight against yourself. While you have to give yourself time to mourn or process an event, you then have to “force” yourself to resume the activities you stopped doing after the traumatic event.
  • Resilience isn’t only an individual aspect, but also a social issue. Maintaining relationships with positive, supportive, and nurturing people is a great tool for coping and developing one’s own strength.
  • Putting different thoughts into practice. We often get stuck with a fixed idea about a certain situation, as if things can only be done or understood in a certain way. Most of the time, this rigidity leads to frustration and discomfort. On the other hand, if we learn to think about other alternatives, then we’ll learn to reconcile ourselves with scenarios that aren’t always what we want. However, we’ll discover that they still have something to offer us.
  • Connect with the positive side of life. It’s important to allow ourselves to experience pleasant situations, to enjoy rest and leisure, to take care of ourselves, and to learn to relax.
  • Finally, it’s necessary to accept that we aren’t in control of everything and that uncertainty is the only certainty.
A person running.
Accepting difficult times as part of life is one of the keys to overcoming adversity.

To be reborn you have to accept and get to know yourself

The phoenix effect, or the development of resilience, requires the ability to face fears, pain, or anguish, and be able to name each of our discomforts.

It’s the opposite of avoiding all the overwhelming thoughts we may have. Rather than “sweeping them under the carpet”, we need to “own” them, recognizing ourselves as vulnerable and accepting ourselves as we really are. It also means that we allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes and turn them into a “weapon” for success.

By doing so, it’s possible to identify the resources we have to move towards a stage of improvement. It isn’t easy to let oneself be embraced by pain, but we need to simply trust that it’s possible to transform it into something positive.

Of course, it isn’t about idealizing well-being, but about recognizing that, throughout life, there are different challenges. Some of them can be unpleasant situations, which are inevitable in life. However, these can be transformed if we channel our resources correctly.

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  • Becoña, E. (2006). Resiliencia: definición, características y utilidad del concepto. Revista de Psicopatología y Psicología Clínica, 11, 125-146
  • Losada, Analia Veronica, & Latour, María Inés (2012). Resiliencia. Conceptualziaciòn e investigaciones en Argentina. Psiciencia. Revista Latinoamericana de Ciencia Psicológica, 4(2),84-97.[fecha de Consulta 9 de Noviembre de 2021]. ISSN: 2250-5490. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=333127382004