Tag Archives: resiliency

Resilience–A Gift From Hard Times

In 1978, M. Scott Peck (American psychiatrist) published his best-selling book The Road Less Traveled in which the first sentence reads:  “Life is difficult.”  Dr. Peck wasn’t kidding!  On a daily basis we deal with problems large and small–ranging from not being able to find our car keys to dealing with a difficult co-worker.  Usually, we’re able to cope with these challenges with the help of our friends, family and self-care practices.

However, what happens when we are hit with something really big?  A loved one dies. A marriage ends. A job is lost. We’re not the only ones trying to keep it together. On a global scale, the problems appear to be insurmountable. We only have to hear the local, national or international news to realize that, to put it very mildly, “Life is difficult”… and many of us are able to move past the challenges.  Why?  The answer is resilience.

The Concept of Resilience 

While the term ‘resilience’ was first the object of research in the 1970’s, it has now become somewhat of a buzzword.  A google search provides over 10,600,000 sites to explore–everything from physical resilience to the for resiliency in the work-place and why companies should encourage this trait in their employees.  The resilience that I’m focusing on is psychological resilience.

What is psychological resilience?  The American Psychological Association (2017) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”  It’s our ability to pick ourselves up after hard times and carry on–often wiser and more resourceful.

What Does Resilience Look Like?

Resilience doesn’t look the same from one person to another.  However, it does allow individuals to bounce back from a stressful or traumatic situation with “competent functioning”–i.e. the ability to ‘carry on’.   Like a piece of bamboo, we bend, we don’t break.

A common misconception is that resilient people are free from negative emotions or thoughts, and remain optimistic in most or all situations. Instead, a sign of being resilient is the ability to use proper coping techniques that allow them to effectively and relatively easily navigate around or through crises.  But what are these coping techniques?  How do we develop them?

Developing Resilience

Ideally, resilience is something that we learn in childhood through the key adults in our lives.  We were able to grow up in stable-enough homes and become securely attached to our primary caregivers.  Perhaps we were able to watch adults in our lives practice resilience. We were encouraged to develop our ability to self-sooth when we are emotionally upset  and taught self-efficacy (confident that we were able to take care of ourselves).  Our physical, emotional and spiritual needs were adequately met. Unfortunately, not everyone was fortunate enough to grow up in such an ideal nesting ground for resilience.  But it’s never too late to develop resilience.

The American Psychological Association suggests “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, which are:

  • maintain good relationships with close family members, friends and others;
  • avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;
  • accept circumstances that cannot be changed;
  • develop realistic goals and move towards them;
  • take decisive actions in adverse situations;
  • look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss;
  • develop self-confidence;
  • keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context;
  • maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished;
  • take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings.
There’s No Time Like the Present

Just like it’s important to have a support system in place before it’s needed, resilience is the same.  If you have decided that the ability to bounce back from adversity is a skill you would like to improve, then start now–before a major life event calls for its use.

Resilience and Mental Health

Sometimes mental health challenges get in the way of increasing our level of resilience.

Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté in their book The Resilience Factor:  7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles, identify the five typical emotions that are associated with a lack of resilience, namely;

  1. anger
  2. sadness or depression
  3. guilt
  4. anxiety or fear
  5. embarrassment

While it’s normal to experience these emotions, the key to recognizing them as indicators of a lower level of resilience is whether they are disproportionate to the event (looking back you might catch yourself thinking, “I really over-reacted”), or if the same event triggers the same emotion repeatedly.  If this is the case, speaking to a therapist may be helpful.

Resilience and Gratitude

I’ve spoken to many people who have been able to successfully live through hard times and are grateful for the experience.  A common theme that runs through their description of the events is that, while they wouldn’t choose to repeat the experience, they are thankful for what they learned–a recognition of their strength, the creation of new relationships, or an increased sense of self-efficacy.

Hard times come to everyone, and we can choose how we respond and find meaning in them.

Now, here’s a very inspiring Ted Talk about trauma and resilience…Enjoy!

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The Meaning of Life…What’s Yours and Why Should You Care?

This week’s post asks us to think about the meaning of life from different perspectives–it’s own meaning and why it matters.  Enjoy this popular post from the archives!

What is the meaning of life?  Big question.  If you asked Douglas Adams (creator of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series) he would answer “42”.   If you asked Thomas Merton (monk, writer, social activist and mystic) he would reply that “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”; and if you asked Dr. Seuss (writer), he would tell you that “sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple”.

How would you answer?  What gives your life meaning?  Is it your partner, your family, your passions?  Perhaps it is your spirituality or how your beliefs lead you to interact with the world. While your meaning may be similar to that of others, it will be as individual as your own fingerprint.

No matter what gives your life a sense of meaning, the key is that you have discovered meaning, and it’s something that you have to find yourself.  No one else can tell you your meaning of live.

The Importance of Meaning

When we haven’t found a sense of meaning in our lives, or have lost our sense of meaning, we run the risk of wandering aimlessly. We drift from one thing to another–looking for purpose in random activities.  We can experience feelings of disillusionment as we are never quite satisfied by our activities.  In our pain, we may become selfish.  Some people try to self-soothe with substance use, retail therapy, etc. Ultimately, we can reach a place of asking “What’s the point?”.

Alternately, when we’re in touch with our meaning, we operate from a sense of purpose. We focus on what we believe to be important, and this belief helps us to structure our activities, allocate our resources and provides contentment and a sense of accomplishment.  We believe that we are on the earth for a reason.

Searching for Meaning

If you are struggling with a lack of meaning in life, a wonderful resource is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Dr. Viktor Frankl.  Dr. Frankl was a recognized Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and published author when, in 1942, he and his family (wife, parents and two siblings) were deported to the Nazi Theresienstadt Ghetto and ultimately to various other camps.  Only Dr. Frankl and his sister survived.

“Man’s Search for Meaning” is Frankl’s description of his time in the camps and his observations.

Based on his experiences, Frankl believed that people are primarily driven to find meaning in their life, and that it is this sense of meaning that enables people to overcome painful experiences.  Dr. Frankl makes a key point, that while we cannot choose what happens to us, we can choose our reactions.

Meaning and Psychological Resiliency

Psychological resiliency is the ability to bounce back from negative events and stressors. Having a sense of meaning in life increases our level of resiliency.  Dr. Frankl discovered that prisoners who had been able to attach some meaning to their camp experience (whether through helping a friend, or staying alive in order to reconnect with loved ones) were more resilient to the horrors of camp live.  Those with greater resiliency choose how to view and respond to their experiences in the camps.   As their sense of meaning rose, so too did their ability to choose their responses. Ultimately, their resiliency increased.

Frankl also observed that once someone had lost their sense of meaning (perhaps when learning of the death of a loved one), their resiliency decreased, they ‘gave up’ and soon died.

How Is This Helpful?

Most of us go through periods when we feel that we have lost our sense of meaning and purpose…when we wake up in the middle of the night wondering ‘What’s the point?’.  It’s important to recognize that this is normal.  One of the wonderful challenges of being human is that we develop and learn.  In doing so, we can outgrow our current sense of meaning and then need to look for a new purpose–in a continuing cycle.

By recognizing the importance of meaning and resiliency, we can choose not to give up or fall into the trap of aimless wandering.  Instead we can choose to spend time exploring what has given us focus in the past and look for new versions of those activities or beliefs.  We can be mindful of our levels of resiliency and aware of what our struggles teach us.

We can continue to evolve.

If you are curious about Douglas Adams’ answer of ’42’, here’s a quick peek at a snippet of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Enjoy!

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