The Internal Landscape: Finding Your Resilience
written for "Choices" magazine
If Washington state is known for anything in its late August days, its the detrimental wildfires. Threatening, sometimes devastating, the flames spread through farmland, creating chaos and rendering the sky full of hazy smoke. For most these fires are a signal to stay indoors, but for others the flames mean something else: mandated change, an eviction notice from the life they're been living, hard-to-fathom-loss.
There are people who don't walk away from this season unscathed, and yet whether the wildfire in your own life is literal or figurative, it's worth noting something: many of the trees recover. They are left with their fire-resistant bark, and their new marks merely indicate their wound, not their inability to heal.
So it is with us when we are left licking our wounds from the difficulties that life delivers. As you know, human trials can range from a joyous change to an unexpected new reality to a incomprehensible loss. While the latter demands the most in terms of resolve and recovery, the other changes give us the opportunity to strengthen our internal landscapes as well. In her article "How People Learn to Become Resilient," Psychologist Maria Konnikova says, "it's only when you're faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges. Do you succumb or do you surmount?"
Permission to Process
It wasn't until after I'd married and had children that painful parts of my childhood resurfaced the most. Though my parents did a good job raising me and providing me with my essential needs, there were incidences of harm caused by another source that needed addressing. While some walk themselves through the process, I found a trusted counselor to help lead me through the steps to healing. You might not realize it, but scheduling the appointment, reading books on growth, and/or journaling your experience is decisive action, and that alone takes courage.
What's initially confusing (a least for me) is that scheduling the appointment with the counselor or taking a greater, more focused look at the source of your sorrow can feel counter-intuitive. You might even think to yourself, "why am I focusing on the past? That was then, and this is now." But if you find yourself plagued with painful memories and don't know what to do with them, far better to face them than turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
When you give yourself permission to process, you are acknowledging that you are worthy of healing and that you are allowed to be human. The beauty in these seasons of trials is that we can gain "a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life" (The Road to Resilience: American Psychological Association).
In this Together
While it's tempting to stew in anger over life's unpredictable turns or even the wrongs done to us, we're stronger when we remind ourselves that we're not the only one facing hardships. "In the United States, an estimated 50–60% of people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives, whether through military combat, assault, a serious car accident or a natural disaster," (Stress: The Roots for Resilience, Nature: International Weekly Journal for Science).
What this feedback tells us is that we don't have to emerge from life's fires alone. When you start looking around, you realize that many people have walked through similar and in many cases, harder experiences than we have, and they're not allowing those adversities to have the last word. Neither should we.
It's important to realize that "resilient people maintain strong and supportive relationships, both personal and professional. As a result, they have caring, supportive people around them in times of crisis," (Lolly Daskal, "How to Be More Resilient When Things Get Tough, Inc.).
Perhaps you also have found that having trusted people of influence around you helps firm up your internal resolve. Often times these sources have emerged stronger from life's lows --the unexpected divorce, the loss of a loved one to cancer, childhood adversity--and they don't wear the smoke of their battle everywhere they go. Life's sorrows make them more empathetic, more knowledgeable about what's important, and more willing to help another person who might need a hand up. Don't think for one minute that you won't someday be the one instilling hope and belief in another. You might already be serving that purpose now!
Looking for the Gift
If you've lived a few decades, you know that life's adversities often demand that we drop all the things that aren't important. Such prioritization is a gift. The times that call for resilience have the tendency to bring that which matters into hyper-focus: our faith, our family, our need to put our attention on tasks that make a difference. We might be in the throes of anger, grief, and pain and yet feel ourselves changing, growing, and emerging into stronger individuals. We might not be where we want, but the choice to move forward with intention takes us farther than we ever knew possible.
In his book "A Moment's Pause for Gratitude," author Kevin Carroll says, "If we are confident that, no matter what, things will get better, and that we have the ability to overcome whatever obstacles we encounter in life, we will allow that gift of resilience to bring us back to life."
While some life events might leave us with a wound or even the faintest scar, e-just like so many of those ponderosa pines in forest fires-are capable of the renewal and growth that helps us not only exist, but thrive.