“Although our world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it,” Helen Keller.
Resilience – it’s a subject I have spent so much time thinking about and reading about. What makes some people more resilient than others? Is it life experience that shapes resilience? Or is it your approach to life that drives resilience? What makes some people able to pick themselves up and carry on whereas others can fall into a deep depression without being able see the wood from the trees, any light at all? Is it about being a glass half full vs a glass half empty person? Many studies have been conducted about this exact subject and here I will try and share a bit of what I have read as well as some of my personal experiences.
At the outset, let me state that I think I am pretty resilient. I have had a number of very challenging experiences through my life – my mom dying when I was 8, my dad and step-mom divorcing when I was 18, cancer in my twenties, being told that I was infertile because of my cancer treatment, and the death of my darling 2 children. That’s quite a lot before the age of 35! These are the events that I would say have most shaped my resilience. I learnt very early on that I could not let my circumstances be an excuse for my behaviour and that I had to pick myself up and carry on. Because people will only cut you slack for so long, and then you need to stand up, be grateful for all the things you do have, and live your best life. And so I developed skills which allowed me to do just that. I am also very fortunate to be married to someone who has also experienced some huge challenges from early on in life and who has displayed amazing resilience.
We all learn something about ourselves in difficult times. Through these times, certain people manage to maintain their emotional balance. Instead of slipping into despair, they remain optimistic and focused enough to generally keep going with their lives. This ability to bounce back from disaster is “resilience”. What interests me about resilience is, is it something that develops because of challenges or is it something that already pre-exists as a personality trait? I still don’t know the answer to that question, and I don’t think its one or the other, but I do hope that in watching how my husband and I tackle life’s challenges, my son will be taught resilience without having to endure a lot of the heartache we have had to endure.
Resilience has a lot to do with our perspective on things. When we have a lack of resilience our perspective is likely to be skewed, leaving us feeling depressed, anxious, pessimistic – downright low. This can impair our potential and leave us believing that we have been defeated by whatever negative circumstances have been heaped upon us. Being resilient enables us not only to cope with adversity but to bounce back after riding a particularly rocky path. Building resilience in ourselves can be a lifeline during hard times as it is incredibly rare to lead a life that hasn’t been affected by difficulty loss or change at one stage or another.
Resilient people feel distressed just like anyone else. But even in the darkest times, they manage to buoy their spirits with positive thoughts. Resilient people, it seems, can find solace even while dealing with overwhelming loss. Studies have found that people who coped best with loss didn’t try to “make sense” of the death or spend a lot of time mulling over regrets or lost opportunities. Instead, while grieving, they found a measure of comfort in happy memories of their loved one. Resilient people tend to share certain characteristics, which include showing good judgment, being thoughtful instead of impulsive, and caring about others’ feelings. They have caring and supportive relationships within and outside family which is of utmost importance in cultivating resilience. Relationships that create love and trust,that provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance, help bolster a person’s resilience.
One of the things that has proven to help resilience is taking time to count one’s blessings, rather than dwelling on what you have lost or what you don’t have. Grief has taught me to live in the moment, to value each friendship and relationship, to cherish the gift I am given each day, to love and to be loved. Grief has taught me to honour the love I will always have for my children by living my life in the best way that I possibly can.
After the death of her husband Sheryl Sandberg spoke about her own resilience and said it came from the “three P’s,”: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. Personalization is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us. Pervasiveness is the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life. The lesson is that there are other things in life that are not awful and these are the things you need to hold on to. Permanence is the belief that the sorrow will last forever. But it isn’t true. Accept your feelings, but know they won’t last forever (or at least their depth wont).
Please don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a ra-ra-ra, “I am never sad, look at what I have overcome” rant, because there are a lot of times that I feel sad, that I find life really really hard, where I wonder how on earth I am going to carry on. But I don’t spend a lot of time feeling resentful, and angry and asking “why me?”. Because I know that that won’t change the outcome of what has happened,
To me resilience is knowing that my heart will never heal, that I will be forever fundamentally changed. But while knowing that I still get up every morning, ready to face the day, wading through the sometimes crushing grief, hugging my darling son a little tighter and breathing him in more sweetly, because he gets to take the breaths that my other children have been denied of.
Resilience is knowing that while I didn’t get to hold my children for long enough, I will forever hold them in my heart. Their presence as real and as significant as those that live on this earth.
Resilience is knowing that while love never goes away, sometimes people that you love do. And you need to learn to be able to feel this love without it destroying you.
Resilience is living when you would rather completely give up.
Resilience is knowing that there are no victims. Life is a choice. You need to make that choice to wake up every day and live the best version of your life. Bad things happen to everybody. It’s what you decide to do in the aftermath that really reveals who you are – to yourself and to others.
Resilience is knowing that because of what I have experienced I have a greater depth of love, compassion and understanding for others than what I would otherwise have. That when I say “I know how you feel” I can really and truly sympathise. And that I can be really helpful to those earlier on in this journey than me.
“When the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself.” Sheryl Sandberg