Weathering the Storms
Having reached middle age, I’m convinced no one gets through life without going through some really tough times. When talking to people, I’m intrigued by what kind of hardship or losses they’ve experienced, and how they coped with it. As a therapist, I’ve been deeply moved by how people weather change, transition, and even trauma, and grow stronger from surviving it.
Elizabeth Gilbert said it well- “The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because their shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes”. Not to exclude men from the conversation, but I happen to be a woman who had some stuff go wrong, and came out on the other side a whole lot happier, wiser, stronger, and living a life I’d always dreamed of. I’ve become curious about what makes some people more resilient than others. Are there skills we can learn and perhaps pass on to our children?
The Way Out Is Through
What is emotional resiliency? Emotionally resilient people bend and bow with life stressors but they don’t break. They possess a flexibility, and ability to change or maintain behaviors to live in ways that align with their intentions and values. Resiliency isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, then moving past them to make important things happen. It’s essentially knowing how to ‘get out of your own way’ in order to live a full and happy life.
To start, emotionally resilient people are not super human, or born with special gifts. They share the same fears and vulnerabilities as the rest of us. The very thoughts that keep them up at night, like career, health, or relationship worries, end up mobilizing them into action. Resilient people have set backs just like everyone else, such as bouts of depression or anxiety. It is often during these dark times they are motivated into action. What’s discovered is a sense of control where they would otherwise feel helpless. Emotionally resilient people don’t ignore negative emotions. They allow themselves to feel emotional pain, but also make the conscious decision to move forward after a set back.
They discover inner resources that can turn negative circumstances into the best possible outcome.
Emotional resiliency is about being flexible. When life throws a curveball, the more resilient among us devise a Plan B. Adaptability is an asset when life presents unexpected changes. I have known people, especially in mid-life, who redefined themselves in unexpected, positive ways, discovering that life is full of wonderful surprises. Upon self reflection, I never would have imagined returning to school after raising my four children. I surprised myself by doing that, and have enjoyed resuming my career. I understand that some of the most successful business people didn’t experience the height of their careers until their 50’s. We can assume by age 50, most people have experienced a few set backs. There are even people who have turned personal tragedy into helping others cope with the same misfortune. They find solace in working on a cause in their family member’s memory. Through the act of supporting others, they find meaning and purpose.
Since emotional resiliency is learned behavior, why not teach positive emotional resilience to the next generation? One of the best places to start is with our children– help them develop emotionally by not removing adversity from their lives, running in to fix things. Be supportive, but let them learn how to problem solve. Better yet, model positive resilience when you are faced with life’s challenges. Parents can help their children develop self confidence by encouraging them to handle life’s challenges with strength and grace.
If you would like to become more resilient, it’s never too late. By doing the inner work, you can release deep-seated limiting beliefs that hold you back from reaching your full potential. Writing in a personal journal is an excellent way to identify limiting beliefs, and begin shifting them into more realistic, positive affirmations. Writing can also be helpful in intention setting. Setting an intention is like drawing a map of where you wish to go—it becomes the driving force of your behavior.
I believe emotionally resilient people share these characteristics: they are hopeful; they understand life isn’t fair; they strive to live with a purpose; they place a premium on their relationships, which in turn provides support when going through rough patches. They know how to identify their feelings and have a nuanced vocabulary for a wide range of emotional experiences. They don’t let life’s challenges define them. And a common thread connecting all of the emotionally resilient people I know is ACTION. When faced with a challenge, they don’t allow fear to paralyze them. They put one foot in front of the other, and take action.
“It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognized.”