When presented with a severe problem or life event like the loss of a child, a bitter divorce or the diagnosis of a chronic illness some people get stuck in reacting to the event and other people manage to overcome the tragedy and have productive, satisfying lives. The difference seems to be what we label resilience.
Both groups look pretty much the same initially. We know that the process of mourning feeling of grief, numbness, denial, and dissociation seem universal. Those who progress through the stages of mourning have certain characteristics in common.
They have at least the A’s— Attitude, attribution and action. Sometimes called optimism, it is the persistent belief that, bad as things are and bleak as the future looks, life in general is still good. Things may never recover entirely but things can get better. Sometimes the belief is tied to a religious faith.
They believe that their efforts have an effect both when they succeed and when they fail. They know they are not completely in control of problems but have faith that they can have at least some influence on what is happening.
These people plan and take action. Years ago a group of army recruits got lost in the Alps just before massive blizzards were predicted. An experienced sergeant broke his leg and had to be evacuated by helicopter. The blizzards set in and it was weeks before search parties could begin the search. Expecting to find few or no survivors the searcher found the entire group together and in good spirits. The survivors explained that one of the recruits found a map of the mountains in his pocket. Together the men decided where they were and the route to take to get out of the mountains. Back in camp an officer examined the map and found it was for the Pyrenees Mountains not the Alps. The soldiers developed a plan and took action that could not work. And it saved their lives.
Another characteristic of resilient people is that are self accepting. They are anti-perfectionists. They learn and improve skills over time but they don’t expect to be perfect the first time. They have enough confidence to understand that mistakes are expected and they provide lessons to learn. The opposite of all or nothing thinking. They manage the powerful emotions of the difficult situation without getting frozen by fear or depression.
Usually resilient people have strong relationships with family members, friends and others where they feel free to express the full rage of emotions they experience about the crisis. They don’t need to put up a false front and pretend to be brave when they feel like quivering Jell-O. Relationships of that quality develop only when both parties are willing to put aside their needs at times to be loving and supportive, so resilient people also offer reassurance and help to others.
Who do you know who is resilient?