Friday, March 27, 2015

What Is Resilience?

What is resilience? Who has it and who doesn’t? How can you improve yours… just in case you need it one day?

Is resilience a state of mind or is it a series of behaviors? Does it reside in how you feel or in how you act in the world?

Let’s accept that psychologists have been using the concept of resilience to explain why some people recover from trauma more rapidly and more effectively than others.

Clare Ansberry writes about it in the Wall Street Journal:

Everyone experiences loss and setbacks. We are diagnosed with serious illnesses and injured in accidents. We lose homes, jobs and loved ones. Yet even the most traumatized often manage—over time and with help—to slowly piece together their lives. It is a painful and rarely linear process, but it can strengthen people in unexpected ways. Many are able to transcend their hurt by providing help to others, and in doing so give direction to their waylaid lives.

Some people are more optimistic. Some people have better social support networks. Some people refuse to let even a tragedy get them down.

These people tend to be optimistic—thinking things will work out—and are able to accept what can’t be changed and focus on what can be, he says. They recognize that even though they didn’t have a choice in their loss, they are responsible for their own happiness.

When we ask how one can go about becoming more optimistic and more positive, one way is to choose one’s friends well.

In Ansberry’s words:

For example, people can develop a more optimistic view by cultivating friendships with positive people and challenging negative thoughts.

Of course, there are traumas and there are traumas. When Carolyn Moor, a young mother with two small children, lost her husband in an automobile accident, her world fell apart. She herself nearly fell apart.

What did she do? Ansberry describes Moor’s way of dealing with trauma:

She went through the motions, getting her daughters out of bed, dressing and feeding them, and volunteered at a grief group called New Hope For Kids. “I put on a good face in public,” she says. Inside, she says, she was a wreck, not sure of what to do with her life. She met other widows at the grief group but didn’t know anyone who could show her how to move forward.

Evidently, Moor had responsibilities to her daughters. She did whatever she could to make their lives as orderly as possible. She wanted to limit the disruption they had experienced when their father died.

So, she went through the motions. In the therapy world, people tend to believe that insight cures. In this case, going through the motions and putting on a good public face constitute resilience.

She did not need to understand what she was doing or why she was doing it.

Obviously, some people cannot go through the motions. Some people refuse to do anything. Some people refuse to go out in public. One would be correct to say that they are not resilient.

I would suggest that people who have strict and very regular schedules must be more resilient than are those who do not. Those who have a goodly amount of routinized behavior, behavior that feels automatic when it is performed are probably more capable of continuing it even when they have suffered a trauma.

Surely, it is also true that people who are directly responsible for the well-being of others, who can perform their daily rituals with an attitude of benevolence are more resilience than are those who focus on their personal pain and grief.

This suggests that resilience involves the ability to perform, to behave in a certain way, regardless of the emotional stress. It does not resemble spiritual enlightenment as much as it resembles the training that a soldier undergoes… the kind that will allow him to do his job regardless of the stress.

If resilience involves tasks that need to be performed, it can be undermined by doing the wrong thing.

Carolyn Moor had made one mistake in the aftermath of her loss. As it happened, a rabbi helped her to correct it:

Rabbi Boteach asked her to look at the choices she was making to see if they were the best for her and daughters. One stood out. Every year on Valentine’s Day, the anniversary of her husband’s death, she opened a memory box. Inside, along with her husband’s watch and architectural drawings, was a stained sweater that she had worn the night of the accident. It was, she reasoned, a way to honor her husband by never forgetting the pain of that day.

Doing so, though, left her—and her daughters—focused on Chad’s tragic end, rather than their happy times together.

Keeping a reminder of a tragedy did not help her. It did not, as the rabbi said, help her to focus on the good in the relationship.  One object in the memory box was working against her and she needed to release herself from its hold.

She also sold her house and did other things to put more distance between her and the life she had lost.

Eventually, her mind caught up with her resilient habits. We will say, for now that we do not know how this happened.

When you are learning how to play a game, you begin by going through the motions. At some point you learn how to play the game and are said to know how to do so.


Ares Olympus said...

So resilience has something to do with good habits and the ability to not dwell on the past, attachment to things and relationships that have been lost.

We can imagine two extremes, one is totally detached, unaffected by anything that happens, and the other is sensitive and traumatized by everything that happens to them and to those around them.

So you might imagine the totally detached unaffected person is the most resilient, although there are surely other factors, like what motivates the detached person to be interested in the present, but assuming they have perfect Buddhist detachment, and attention to the moment, they would be one ideal, and with maximum resilience.

But the past also contains meaning for most of us, and symbols that we can restore. So like the symbol of Israel is an attachment to the past and this vision was restored after world war II, and the world has sympathy for the murdered and persecuted Jews from Nazi Germany.

So many Jews consider the modern Israel as equivalent to the ancient Israel. They are the same thing. The land is the same. Many of the old buildings can be the same. And now modern Jews are attached to this history, and feel personally threatened if their vision is threatened. They pretend as if their vision came from God himself, and any other vision by others threatened their relationship with God.

So that shows something that doesn't look resilient. And any time you would rather kill someone than give up your attachment, you're probably not acting in a resilient way.

So can the past be forgotten? Can the trauma of the Holocaust be forgotten? Would the Jews be better off by forgiving the past, and not taking this event personally? Or how many generations should we carry this?

And similarly for those who had ancestors who were slaves, or the Native Americans, who made treaty after treaty which were each broken again and again, until everything they had was lost. Should they try to regain what was lost, try to regain their ancestors culture and religion and way of life? Or should they assume the modern culture is permanent and their job is to find a place to make a living within the larger system and live in square boxes like the rest of us?

When Winona LaDuke says "We don't want a bigger piece of pie, we want a different pie." Is she being resilient in expressing her culture, or is she just being bratty, acting superior?

If she could just forget her ancestry, perhaps she'd be happier to just be a modern person like the rest of us.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. I saw Lewinsky did a TED talk, and uploaded recently: Monica Lewinsky: The price of shame

I think it's a shortened version of an article from last year.

The TED talk is sensibly refocused on the general issue of public shaming, and her message "Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop"

She mentions Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after a secret video was recorded and publicly shared of a sexual encounter, while adding her experience was totally different, and a result of her own poor decisions, but in her words "I wished I had been able to say to him that I knew a little of how it might have felt for him to be exposed before the world. And, as hard as it is to imagine surviving it, it is possible."

So that sounds like Resilience to me. Even if you believe public shaming serves any positive purpose in creating an orderly society, if shame is a punishment, at some point you have to get past the past, and reclaim your life beyond the humiliating incident.

A few years ago I read this book "The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defences of the Personal Spirit" by Donald Kalsched.

The main Ideas I got from it is that trauma isn't what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. Secondly that trauma really represents an inner process of splitting, where we isolate the vulnerable parts of ourself that was harmed or threatened, and build up a defensive persona that gets triggered when similar threatening experiences happen in the future.

But what's less clear is how resilience fits in. Resilience might mean "perfect splitting" where you build up defenses and never face anything like what hurt you, even if you're really stronger than you were then, and don't need the defenses any more.

Or resilience might mean an ability to accept everything that happens to you, and all your choices in a somewhat detached way, where you can offer compassion to yourself and others, both in the sense of being harmed, but also recognizing your own capacity to harm others without intending.

Maybe you could say there are two types of resilience, one is "instinctual" something that allowed our ancestors to survive and move on past violence and loss we can't begin to imagine, and another is reflective, something that doesn't need to divide the world between all good and all bad components, labeled, where learning is disabled.

Anyway, I was impressed by Lewinsky's speech, even if its just as easy to idealize her request to "everyone needs to play nice." And she doesn't call for censorship, only self-discipline, to see the gossip we participate in is part of the evil of the world, and the anonymous internet makes us all feel innocent, until it happens to us.

Socially Extinct said...

I consider myself to be a tremendously resilient person. I am emotionally strong and can weather Deviations in the Path as well as most people.

I feel this is owing to a childhood environment that presented endless opportunities for me to learn and acculturate myself to the ravaging unpredictable nature of life. Resilience is the ability to live in the moment and turn of that natural part of our psyche that seeks to manipulate events that have not happened.

In many ways, my resilience is born of my deep sense of pessimism and nihilism. As a Samurai warrior accepts death through dying while alive, I assume the worst and live its existence, whether it's real or not. I've integrated a world which never obeys and this allow me to accept reality as it callously unfolds.

Dennis said...

I would suggest that resilience for me is seeing every challenge as an opportunity to prove my ability to succeed. There are few problems that we don't have the ability to conquer.
Different than others I wake up almost every morning thinking this is going to be a great day. I have the chance to learn something and maybe, just maybe, accomplish one of the many goals I have set for myself.
Life is too short to spend your time felling sorry for yourself at any level. If one is wasting their time on feeling sorry they have little time to enjoy the opportunities that present themselves.
Interestingly, every time one door closes another door opens if one has the wherewithal to see it. After all these years I still see luck as where preparation meets opportunity. I have read and studied things I nearly understood only to have that moment where it all comes together.
One would think that one who grew up in a very dysfunctional environment would be saddened by his lot in life, but I was extremely lucky to be possessed by a large sense of naiveté. I almost never get disturbed by the exigencies of life because I know that they all end. One is the master of their own destiny if they choose to accept the challenge.
I used to wonder why we were given such a short life span until it occurred to me that it forces us to live life to its fullest and drives us to accomplish. There is no greater joy than to know one has the wherewithal to succeed despite life's challenges. I often wonder if the "bootcamp" experiences set the standard for it forced me to do things I never thought I was capable of doing. One can either take the up elevator of take the down elevator. Sadly too many people in this society see the barriers vice the possibilities. I rather enjoy tilting at windmills.