Developing & Practicing Resilience by Pierre Zimmerman, MS
Resilience is the ability to face life’s challenges, small or seemingly overwhelming, surprising or habitual. With it we can experience what we might label victories, an
d when we lack resilience, we might end up having meltdowns or setbacks. Some people recover quickly from adversity; others become crippled by it, and some spiral into deep depression. As we approach the end of another year, it is the perfect time to reflect on this subject.
The capacities to bounce back, resurface, and integrate our experiences and then move on are innate and possible, yet difficult. To be resilient requires of us several qualities such as awareness, pausing to reflect, flexibility, stability, and adaptability. We can use the five elements that are part of our bodies and the larger universe to illustrate these important themes:
The earth element of stability and firmness,
The water element of fluidity,
The fire element of adjustable temperatures,
The air element of mobility, and
The space element of boundlessness.
Impermanence is real and not just a thought, everything is changing in our internal and external life constantly. Once we come to terms with it, our responses to change give us numerous probabilities of what can occur and unlimited opportunities to respond to them. We have neuroplasticity in the brain, which has the capacity to rewire itself and grow numerous connections, new pathways and circuits. Activating resilience means choosing experiences that will cause neurons to fire and wire together, creating new patterns in the brain and new attitudes in our mental and emotional world.
We need to face whatever creates suffering and discomfort; it is necessary and it’s called coping. Thoughts and feelings cannot destroy us; they may weaken our outlook slightly, and that is, only if we let them. We need to pause and stay calm, letting what needs to emerge surface, which in turn will bring clarity as to the beneficial choices we can make.
This doesn’t indicate that we are unfeeling or emotionally walled off, but neither are we getting drawn into an abyss. Mindfulness of the breath and cognitive reappraising of any distressing event helps us to reframe adversity in such a way that it is not perceived as extreme. Rather than viewing an event as a mistake, experiencing shame, guilt, or inadequacy, we can look at it as an anomaly that could happen to anyone and thereby challenging the accuracy of our thoughts. The most important thing to realize is that a thought, feeling or sensation is not the totality of who we are in any given moment.
We can use the following three-part contemplation to resource ourselves and retrain the wiring of our brain. (From Rick Hanson, PhD)
1 ) I am safe
2 ) I am well resourced, I have what I need or I can ask for what I need
3 ) I am connected, I am not alone
This three-part exercise helps us become more resilient. By repeating this contemplation a few times each day, it enhances our capabilities to retrain our nervous system and go back to a homeostatic and more balanced baseline. Cultivating empathy for oneself and others is a great antidote for recovery from distress or emotional dis-regulation. These new choices will bring us healthier connections and new resourcefulness which will support us in feeling more competent and give us renewed courage to face what is, rather than avoid it.