The other day I was having lunch with my friend Kay. We were getting caught up on each other’s lives and Kay was talking about a mood downswing that occurred a few weeks back.
“How are you feeling now?” I asked. “I know that was kind of a tough time for you. I didn’t hear from you very much.”
Kay looked a bit sheepish and finally said, “Well, I was thinking to myself, ‘Bobbi’s all about resilience and she’ll want me to be resilient through this.’” She emphasized the word resilient with a big sigh. “And I just didn’t feel like I was in a place to bounce back from how I was feeling at the time.”
I nodded. “I’m so glad you shared this with me, Kay. I think it’s time I wrote a little more about this very thing.”
With that in mind, here are four myths about resilience that may have been a secret to you until now.
1. You must be resilient at all times.
Can we be anything all the time? Resilience is a practice and there are times we are better at it than others. And part of resilience is flexibility and belief that your body, mind, and spirit know your own timing better than anyone else – and that includes when to use resilience skills.
2. There’s something wrong with me if I feel sad and down in the dumps. I must not be very resilient.
Who says? Feelings just are, they don’t mean anything about you in general. It’s a mistake to equate a feeling with a trait: “I’m sad = I’m not resilient = I’m bad.” Your emotion is just a clue as to what is going on inside you. See #1 for the timing thing again. And take a look at Colleen Haggerty’s great post about this very thing.
3. Resilience means bouncing back immediately from whatever has you down.
Oh gosh, I hope not. It took me years to bounce back from the death of my partner. Although I like the phrase “bounce back,” it can sometimes be taken to mean that the bounce happens quickly. In actuality, that bounce may feel like it is in Super Slo Mo. And that’s okay.
4. Once I bounce back from a crisis, I shouldn’t have a “relapse” – it should be over.
Ummmm, not exactly. The path that resilience takes us on can often be very much like an upward spiral. We continue on an upward path, but there are times when we have to go past that point of pain again. At that place, we may get knocked down again, stay in the same place for awhile, or keep moving upward, albeit slowly.
Takeaway points: Resilience is a practice, and as in sports, sometimes we have a good practice and other times we feel like we’ve never played this game before. Sometimes we pick up the sport immediately and have a talent for it and other times it is a struggle and takes a long time. The key is to be okay with wherever you are today.
What other myths about resilience can you think of?
If you liked this post, you may also like one of my previous posts, 5 ways to be okay with where you are.
Maria’s day didn’t start well. Her kids dawdled so much getting ready for school that she felt exactly like she was chirping Anita Renfroe’s “Mom Song” –
She herded them all into the car but, at a stoplight, had to turn around to tell her son to stop pinching his sister, who was wailing at the top of her lungs. Her quick movement, however, caused her to knock over her coffee in the cup holder and it slopped onto her light-colored slacks. There was no time to go back and change her clothes so she gritted her teeth and resigned herself to showing up to the meeting at work with stains on her pants.
Maria freaks out
Kids dropped off, she arrived at work to find that there was someone from tech support in her office working on her computer. He mumbled something about a “network upgrade glitch.” Maria’s meeting was in thirty minutes and she needed to get onto her computer, download the agenda, and review her part of the data security report so she wouldn’t sound like a complete idiot when it was her turn to present.
“How much longer do you think this will take?” she asked the tech.
“I’m not sure,” he responded, “I think about an hour.”
“An hour!” Maria’s voice rose. “I don’t HAVE an hour! I have a very important meeting in thirty minutes!” She was shouting now as she threw her purse and coat on a chair. “I have GOT to get on that computer! Why did you have to work on it now? You are totally incompetent!”
The tech turned from her computer and looked at her. Maria could see the embarrassment and hurt in his eyes. She turned to leave and get away from this horrible situation, but someone was blocking her door. It was her boss.
Maria needed these 3 tips
Poor Maria. What happened to her? As the events of the morning unfolded, her brain, specifically her amygdala, became triggered and perceived that she was in danger, a fight-or-flight situation. Unfortunately, Maria chose to “fight” and lost her temper . . . right in front of her boss.
What could she have done to convince her brain she wasn’t in “danger” and didn’t need to fight?
1. Be aware. Maria needs to increase her recognition of signs in her body that she is starting to feel stressed. If she had been more aware, she may have noticed that she felt a tense knot forming in her stomach as she rushed the kids out to the car. When she was driving after spilling coffee on her pants, she could have noticed that her shoulders were up around her ears as the tension built up. And she might have recognized that she was about to start shouting at the tech as the anxiety moved its way from her stomach, up through her chest, and toward her mouth. What happens to your body when you become stressed?
2. Breathe. If Maria had taken even five seconds that morning to stop and take a deep breath, much of the fallout from her stressful morning would not have occurred. Would she still feel stressed? Yes, but not to the extent that she ends up shouting and throwing things. The act of stopping and taking a deep breath not only signals Maria’s brain that she is okay, but it also gives her a break that allows her to think more about what is going on in her body and mind.
3. Think. When Maria noticed that she was becoming uptight, she could have stopped to take a deep breath. During that pause, she may have thought to herself, “This is stressful, but it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. I’ll be okay. I’m safe, I’m just stressed. It’s not the end of the world.” This kind of thinking also calms her brain and assures her amygdala that Maria is not in a situation where she may need to fight or run.
Takeaway points: When facing stress, remember that your brain has a very primitive center that still thinks you may be in danger. Calm your amygdala and decrease your stress by practicing becoming aware of what your body feels like when it is stressed. The next time you notice the signals in your body, stop and take a deep breath. During the time out when you are taking your breath, think about what is going on and reassure yourself and your brain that you will be okay, you have faced stress before, and it’s not the end of the world.
What do you do when you’re having a “Maria day”?
If you liked this article, you may also like this post from Upaya.org.
In my last post, I discussed nine ways that families with special needs children can become more resilient. One of the ways was to be hopeful and realistic at the same time, what some may call realistic optimism.
Being a realistic optimist is a great resiliency skill and it’s also a trait of successful people, according to psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. The author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Halvorson has developed a list of nine things that successful people do differently to reach their goals that includes realistic optimism. Here’s the entire list:
1. Be specific
2. Seize the moment to act on your goals
3. Know exactly how far you have left to go
4. Be a realistic optimist
5. Focus on getting better rather than being good.
6. Have grit.
7. Build your will power muscle.
8. Don’t tempt fate
9. Focus on what you will do rather than what you won’t do.
I really like Halvorson’s approach because she talks about being specific, being realistic in both outlook and with yourself, and being patient with yourself. It’s very easy to set a goal such as “I want to eat better” but that sets a vague goal that is neither motivating nor descriptive of what success looks like. Being specific – “I want to include one serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner for the next month” – gives you a marker to know when success is achieved and lets you know how far you need to go to achieve your goal.
While being optimistic and visualizing the best outcome can be great skills, they are not enough on their own to achieve goals. In another article, Halvorson reports on a study which asked obese women embarking on a weight-loss program to say ”what they imagined their road to success would be like — if they thought they would have a hard time resisting temptation, or if they’d have no problem turning down free doughnuts in the conference room and a second trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet. The results were astounding: women who believed they would succeed easily lost 24 pounds less than those who thought their weight-loss journey would be no walk in the park.”
Finally, Halvorson encourages people to focus on the process of change and how they are getting better at skills needed to reach their goals rather than expecting that they will suddenly and magically become successful immediately.
Several years ago, I was working out at a gym after New Year’s day. Like every year, there were a lot of New Year’s resolutionists there for the first time. I noticed two women who were quite heavy walking on the treadmills and chatting with each other. The third time they were at the gym, I struck up a conversation with them.
“You look great,” they remarked on my toned (at the time) body, “How long did it take you to get there?”
“Well,” I began honestly, “I’ve been working out off and on my whole life, but this time around, I’d say it took me about a year of doing both cardio and weightlifting.”
“A year!” one of the women gasped. They exchanged glances and shook their heads.
I never saw them at the gym again.
While I initially felt bad that I had discouraged them, I also realized that they held a couple of unrealistic expectations: They thought the process would be easy and they thought they would immediately be successful. And they would have felt immediately successful had they realized that dropping a pound per week is fantastic, that going five minutes longer on the treadmill is a great achievement, that they were getting better at the skills needed to achieve their goals.
Want to successfully achieve your goals? Read Halvorson’s article and remember to be specific, be a realistic optimist, and give yourself kudos for getting better at new skills.
Takeaway points: Achieving goals is a terrific way to be resilient. The more specific we are with goal-setting, the more motivated we become. Realistic optimism helps us to hold high expectations for ourselves while not underestimating how difficult goal achievement will be. And give yourself a lot of credit for getting better at new skills and habits.
What do you think about Halvorson’s nine things successful people do differently?
Libbie and Joe
Libbie wrote to me and asked if I had written any articles on the resiliency of families with special needs children. Her youngest son, Joe, has multiple disabilities and I asked Libbie to tell me about how her family has utilized resiliency over the years. Here’s what she wrote:
As far has having resilience regarding our son, I think I am getting better as I get older. It is a continuous process. A sense of humor and appreciation are so important. Also, allowing yourself a little down time when needed. This past year when we learned of Joe’s chromosome abnormalities, I allowed myself to grieve. This is not something I have ever really done. As difficult as it was, it’s what I needed so I could accept that this is my son’s life, our life, and our future. I was able to bounce back because I allowed myself the time to acknowledge the realities of our lives. Also, I keep reminding myself that when I was blessed with these beautiful boys my original goal as a mother was to raise two polite, caring, and happy young men. Those are goals that are achievable for Joe as well as Justin [my older son who is at college].
Libbie’s honest response about her family’s journey with Joe inspired me. Although I previously have not written about resiliency with special needs families, I did a partial review of the literature and found some common threads in resiliency practices within the research. Here are 9 ways families with special needs children practice resiliency (these are not in any particular order):
1. Utilizing support systems. Families with a disabled child benefit extensively from garnering support from as many areas as possible: nuclear and extended family, schools, medical systems, and specialized programs for kids with disabilities, just to name a few.
2. Making meaning of adversity. Families who reflect on what it means for them to have a special needs child often find that there are positive lessons to be learned and that the child (or children) enhances the richness of the family experience. Which leads to . . .
3. Changing world views. Many families have found that their special needs child has broadened their view of the world as a whole including being more clear about what really matters in life. As Libbie noted, A sense of humor and appreciation are so important. Being positive, loving, and celebrating small accomplishments become priorities for these families. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” can be a new and freeing way of life.
4. Regaining coherence by thinking differently about the child. In the research studies, many participating families reported feeling fractured initially by the stress of change brought on by a child with disabilities. However, these same families found that once they started realizing the strengths of the child and the positive impact the child created within the family, the family became coherent again albeit in a new way. Libbie: Also, I keep reminding myself that when I was blessed with these beautiful boys my original goal as a mother was to raise two polite, caring, and happy young men. Those are goals that are achievable for Joe as well as Justin [my older son who is at college].
5. Affirming strength and becoming more compassionate. One of the ways families’ world view changed is that they prioritized strengths rather than deficits both with the child and within the family in general. One characteristic that research families consistently mentioned was that of becoming more compassionate as people. Even young siblings of the special needs child noted that they found themselves being more sensitive toward others.
6. Managing the boundaries. There were two ways in which boundaries created resiliency for special needs families. First, family members benefited from consistent rules and routines being observed by all family members, including the special needs child. Secondly, family members learned to manage and honor their personal boundaries. Libbie found that to be true for her recently: This past year when we learned of Joe’s chromosome abnormalities, I allowed myself to grieve. This is not something I have ever really done. As difficult as it was, it’s what I needed so I could accept that this is my son’s life, our life, and our future. I was able to bounce back because I allowed myself the time to acknowledge the realities of our lives.
7. Construction of new identities. Families often reported that they went through a period of adaptation and adjustment as their identities changed with the arrival of a special needs child. As Libbie said above, I think it’s a continuous process. Her comment reflects the experiences of many family members who find the need to re-invent themselves over the course of their lives with their special needs family member.
8. Combining hope and possibilities with a realistic view and acceptance of the situation. Families who held optimistic yet realistic outlooks were among the most resilient in the studies.
9. Having a spiritual belief system. This does not always mean a religious faith, but resilient families were able to draw on, increase, or sometimes develop a new spiritual belief system while living with and raising a special needs family.
Takeaway points: There are many ways for families with special needs children to become resilient. Did you notice that most of them have to do with acceptance, learning to think differently, and finding the gifts in adversity?
If you have a special needs child or know someone who does, what do you think about these resiliency factors? What would you add or take away?
Note: I plan to write a longer article on this aspect of resiliency and will announce it here when it is completed. In the meantime, here are the articles that supported this post:
Bayat, M. (2007) Evidence of resilience in families of children with autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 51, 702-714.
Grant, G., Ramcharan, P., & Flynn, M. (2007) Resilience in families with children and adult members with intellectual disabilities: Tracing elements of a psycho-social model. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 20, 563-575.
King, G., Zwaigenbaum, L., Baxter, D., Rosenbaum, P., & Bates, A. (2005) A qualitative investigation of changes in the belief systems of families of children with autism or Down Syndrom. Childcare, Health, and Development 32, 3, 352-369.
Knestrict, T. & Kuchey, D. (2009) Welcome to Holland: Characteristics of resilient families raising children with severe disabilities. Journal of Family Studies, 15, 227-224.
Heiman, T. (2002) Parents of children with disabilities: Resilience, coping, and future expectations. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities 14, 2, 159-171.
One of my most popular posts has been the original 5 great quotes to power your day. Here are five more quotes about resiliency and living each day to the fullest from ancient and modern sages.
1. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
2. Willa Cather
The end is nothing; the road is all.
3. Unknown (but wise) author
Whatever it is, if it doesn’t make you happy, walk away, give it away to someone else who wants it. Let it be their next dream; let it flee from you. Then you have room to grow, to allow magnificent things to fill the vacuum of those seemingly empty places. When you hold onto yesterday, when you hold onto dead and dying adventures, you have no room in your box for greatness.
4. J.B. Priestly
I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.
5. Leonard Cohen
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Takeaway points: I, personally, love Cohen’s line “forget your perfect offering.” It’s so easy to get stuck on making everything perfect when, the truth is, the way the light comes in is through an imperfection – a crack. This is a great resiliency skill – understanding that there can be light and joy in things that are broken.
What’s your takeaway from these great quotes?
Acceptance has a bad rap. Most people think of acceptance as giving up on something and this grates against the sense of being an active, effective person. One of my clients had a stroke and is doing quite well, but feels that she won’t be “whole” until her physical abilities have fully returned to her pre-stroke condition. We have talked a lot about acceptance and what that means for her and it is hard for her to leave the mindset that acceptance = giving up. For her, if she accepts her current condition, it means that she will give up on further rehab and will always be less than one-hundred percent.
There are two important things to realize here:
1. Accepting something doesn’t mean you have to like it.
Does my client need to like the fact that her body isn’t fully functional on one side? No. But what does resisting it and thinking that life will begin when she is back to her pre-stroke condition get her? A lot of energy-consuming angst as well as missing out on the life she has today.
Sometimes we just have to observe where we are and be okay with it, even if we don’t like it. I love blogger and author Colleen Haggerty’s post “Half Empty” about this very thing.
2. Giving in is not giving up.
In my last post about the wisdom of the Chinese finger puzzle, I mentioned that an approach to something you’re resisting is to “not give up, but give in.” This requires that really tricky (and somewhat mind-boggling) ability to hold two opposites at once. For my client, it involves still working on recovering her physical abilities (not giving up) and being okay with where she is right now (giving in instead of resisting.)
It’s hard, this holding of two opposites. As the poet William Stafford says:
Look: no one ever promised for sure
that we would sing. We have decided
to moan. In a strange dance that
we don’t understand till we do it, we
have to carry on.
Takeaway points: Accepting something is not about giving up or even liking the thing that we are resisting. It’s about being okay where we are, right now, even as we work our way out of an uncomfortable place.
Does accepting something feel like giving up to you?
William Stafford, An Introduction to Some Poems in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Graywolf Press, 1999.
When my late partner, Ruth, was going through chemotherapy, her oncologist gave her a surprising piece of advice: Don’t resist. Cancer survivors are commonly taught to “fight” their cancer and our friend, MaryAnn, took this image a step further, envisioning the drops of her chemotherapy as members of a little SWAT team attacking her invasive cancer cells. Ruth and I were surprised, then, when Dr. Patel, after listening to Ruth’s concerns about her chemo, gently said, with his wonderful trilling accent, “R-r-ruth, don’t r-r-resist. Don’t resist the chemotherapy as it comes into your body. Allow it to do its healing work for you.”
Ruth’s life was changed by these two little words, “Don’t resist.” Her metastatic breast cancer should have ended her life within nine months or so but, instead, through consciously practicing non-resistance, she lived four more rich, meaningful, joyous years.
1. You begin to feel oddly stuck.
2. The harder you resist your situation, the more you feel trapped.
3. As you continue to struggle vigorously to escape, you feel a sense of panic that you may never be able to get out of your situation.
So, what’s that old definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Resistance is pulling and pulling and pulling at the finger puzzle trying to get out, not realizing that the only way to get out is to relax and give in. Not give up, but give in.
Are you resisting something? Take a breath, step back, relax, and try something else. Maybe giving in to your situation will bring you unexpected peace and joy, too.
Takeaway points: Resistance brings us only angst and exhaustion. Relaxing against the pull of life can bring freedom and release.
What are your thoughts about the finger puzzles in your life?
In contrast to the flowery blurbs on the front page of The Art of Resilience: 100 paths to wisdom and strength in an uncertain world, I’ll give this brief summation: This book rocks. Although published in 1997, Carol Orsborn’s writing is more than pertinent to today’s ever-changing economic, political, and social climate.
The book is organized into 10 stages which are in a progression, from the initial shock of impact, through both short-and long-term stages of recovery. Within each stage, Orsborn draws on wisdom from the stories of ordinary people, herself, and ancient philosophers to illustrate a path toward resiliency. It is an easy read and one immediately feels that Orsborn is a kindred spirit; she understands at the bone level the devastation which loss and adversity brings.
Although she frequently uses philosophical or spiritual insights as teaching tools, I also love how she doesn’t let the reader off the hook. In Stage V, Unfinished Business, she encourages us to take responsibility for mistakes we have made and, as the titles of two of her chapters reflect, Eat Your Mistake and Deal With It. Although done in a gentle manner, Orsborn is firm in her belief that owning our weaknesses and mistakes is an essential part of recovering from adversity.
As she leads us through the journey of recovery and growth, she ends by encouraging us to create Sacred Space, the tenth stage. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters, Pull in Your Oars. The story leading up to this point is that Orsborn decided she needed to create a space just for herself in her busy days, so she took up rowing on San Francisco Bay as an early-morning exercise. She describes her first solo row and how she untied from the dock and then pulled with all her might toward the Golden Gate Bridge where she just knew a spiritual epiphany was waiting for her. After ten minutes of intense effort, she looked around to find that she was still in the same place, no closer to her goal. She was trying to row against the tide.
I pulled up my oars and bent my head down into my arms, sobbing about the injustice of life. I mourned my own inadequate efforts to crack the secret code. I railed against my destiny. I railed against myself. And then finally, exhausted by the blinding emotion that had engulfed my inadequacies, I gave up. I would row back to the dock. Turn in my oars. And forget once and for all about my puny efforts to find meaning in my life.
But as I sat up, the dripping paddles resting on my legs, I realized that something was happening. The boat was moving. It was moving fast. It was moving effortlessly. The current had taken hold of it and was sweeping me around a hidden bend of the shore, toward a destination I had never noticed before. I neither helped nor hindered the boat’s intention as it rapidly rounded the corner, slowed its pace, and finally ceased its motion. I looked about me, amazed. Somehow, I had found my way into a sparkling lagoon, the surface smooth as glass. Around me were bright green weeping willows, swaying gently in the warming breezes of the morning. For the first time in many years, I felt my heart deeply come to rest. I had not made this magical destination happen. Even as I had given up, pulled my paddles from the bay, and cried out in pain and hopelessness, my destiny had been moving me forward. And not just to the goal I had set, but to an experience far greater than I had ever envisioned for myself. I wept again, but this time in gratitude. As the hour came to an end, I effortlessly made my way back to the dock. (p.187-188)
Takeaway points: Carol Orsborn’s book The Art of Resilience: 100 paths to wisdom and strength in an uncertain world is like having your own personal support group. It’s well worth adding to your library and to your toolkit of resiliency skills.
If you are interested in this book, you might also enjoy my other suggestions in Bobbi Recommends.