Recently I was asked this question. Here is my response (*name changed for privacy):
What a great question, Kate!*
I believe that survivors are resilient because they exercise choice (either knowingly or unknowingly). By choice, they overcome. And, each time they undergo adversity (and survive), they become stronger and draw on faith from past experience, as well as from being supported by others who have suffered similarly, that they will again, survive.
In many cases, belief in a Higher power is where people derive that core "faith", because they believe there is a cloud of witnesses who have gone before them who have survived similar ordeals - and are surrounding them with support. Those people also draw on faith because they believe nothing is left to "chance", and that everything happens for a reason and can work for the good of all.
However, our life experiences, our "surviving", is never in vain. We can always use our situations of survival to aid and assist others. Ultimately, our pain can be our best teacher. We can further harness lessons, and be of help to ourselves, by helping others through their similar pain and suffering - by sharing the in human condition. Someone else's pain becomes our pain. Someone else's joy then, becomes our joy. Like John Donne' said, "no man in an island...do not think for whom the bell tolls, the bell tolls for thee." Further, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "we are all interconnected...I cannot become what I am supposed to become until you become what you are supposed to become...." This writing, by the way, Rev. King penned from an Alabama jail.
Learning this lesson of using pain as our teacher to help ourselves and others, can ultimately be what empowers us (and others) to also choose to survive, and overcome.
**photograph of me in Westminster Abbey, circa 2004