In my last post, Lessons from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I began thinking with you about the capacity to bounce back from difficult and traumatic experiences—a capacity known as resilience. So this week, I thought I’d offer a few keys to building resilience. Now I must make a disclosure from the start: this post is going to be very simplistic. There are books, scientific articles, and entire research programs dedicated to understanding resiliency. There is a whole section in the PT blogosphere dedicated to resilience, written by professionals with far greater expertise in the field than mine. But because I think I have a few useful ideas, I've given myself 750 words to share them with the belief that simple is a good place to start.
There are three key lessons to be gleaned from Kimmy Schmidt's fictional journey that echo a lot of great research as well as the wisdom of my own profession, psychoanalysis. Three keys to building resilience are:
Developing the awareness and conviction that we are not defined by these negative experiences. We are affected by adversity, yes. But we do not have to be defined by it. In resilience research, the ability to carry on in the face of adversity is called grit. A person with grit honors and learns from difficult experiences but is also determined to move through them. Like the character Kimmy Schmidt, we come to realize that we may have been held captive in the past (literally or figuratively) but we do not have to be held captive in the present. Our relationship with ourselves and the world can change as a result of new positive experiences. Furthermore, we can develop new ways of relating to our painful experiences, both those from the past and the present. In a way, changing the relationship we have with our painful experiences is what psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness practice, and even the search for enlightenment are all about.
My recent reflections on this topic were met serendipitously by a wellness newsletter I received from my health insurance company last week. It described a lifestyle enhancement program called Resilience: Bouncing Back Instead of Falling Down. The course description highlighted for me the very practical implications of building resilience: “Being resilient can improve your self-esteem, upgrade your relationships, strengthen your immune system, and be instrumental in making other positive changes in your life. Resiliency allows you to experience more of life’s pleasures and get less bogged down by life’s setbacks. Learn how to restabilize after a destabilizing event, increase your emotional intelligence, and develop the skill of being anti-fragile.”
The journey of building resilience is lifelong and it takes work. But the benefits are considerable—emotionally, physically, and relationally. Whatever path you take, I hope that you will find a way to grow through and bounce back from your difficult experiences by being present to them and re-defining your relationship with them.
Copyright 2015 Jennifer Kunst, PhD
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To read more about Jennifer's model of personal growth, check out her recently released book, Wisdom from the Couch: Knowing and Growing Yourself from the Inside Out