A friend’s recent statement after learning that I had experienced a loss prompted this. She commented that she had observed that I have been through a lot of difficult times over the past few years. She then advised me to take care of myself as the losses and traumas can have an accumulate affect. She is a lovely friend whom herself has suffered some serious losses and traumas during the same time frame; however, she has managed to survive and even generously express concern for others. In thinking about my friend, my clients and so many others whom I notice not only survive but thrive after suffering losses and devastating traumas, I starting looking for what the key to their resilience.
Why do some people seem to have the ability to recover while others remain stuck in their despair? Further, if like my wise friend suggests that losses can be accumulative and causes injury both mentally and physically then why do some people seem to grow stronger despite years of losses? What is the mortar that holds some people together and gives them the strength to continue?
After some thought, I have developed some thought about resilient people. I concluded that when looking at resilient people you see specific behaviors. In their determination to survive life’s confusion and they choose to make delicious lemon aid with what they were given. I found that, it has more to do with what they do not do than what they are doing.
First, bear with me if I repeat some of my recurrent themes while I try to explain my reasoning. As I have noted in previous blogs, my books and constantly in sessions with clients, “when the new behavior becomes the normal.” Yes, that is title to my book. I shamelessly plug my books whenever possible. However, think about this for a moment. When you encounter a loss, trauma or just a minor setback, you have one of two choices. You can sit down, quit and give up or you can look at the situation you are in and figure out how to get through it, work with it and even make things better. This is a option, and as with everything that is anxiety producing, it is a matter of comfort.
Second, when you are making the decision as to what you are going to do in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable we all have a tendency to choose something we know. An example of how this related to resilience let’s look at what happens if you choose to give up; your anxiety level may go down because you have given up and you become more comfortable. In another situation, where you feel overwhelmed what do you think your automatic response will be? Each time you choose to give up, walk away, ignore the behavior or shut down during a crisis, loss or difficult problem the behavior is reinforced. We go back to what we know. It is the unknown that scares us. When you walk away from a painful experience, you feel more comfort.
As uncomfortable, painful or frightening as life can be when you choose to deal with the issue you create your resilience. You reinforce the behavior in a positive way. Despite the feelings of discomfort and anxiety, you plunge in and make your way through the muck by developing the emotional strength to go with your anxiety. Each time you overcome your feelings of anxiety and challenge yourself, you develop resilience. You begin to look at yourself as capable, stronger and healthier. Your response to problems, decisions and loss become more manageable. The problem is still the same. You do not minimize the loss and a traumatic experience are just as painful, however, your ability to bounce back, recover and make changes to the new normal is better. You have the knowledge based on your experiences to realize that you will survive.
I believe that people who have developed resilience do not let anxiety control their destiny. I have witnessed that resilient people persevere. I believe the old saying, “what does not kill you make you stronger”. I see life as an adventure and sometimes in an adventure you have to fall back and regroup.
If you are facing a tough situation, have experience a devastating loss or just feel that life is beating you up, please do not give up on yourself. Get the support you need either from a friend, family member, clergy or therapist and build your resilience. I help people do that every day and see the long term benefits. Call me today if you need support as you go through the process of growth.