Connect with Resilience

In my book club last month we read Viktor Frankl’s, Mans Search For Meaning, and our discussion brought up a wonderful question. Why do some people survive life difficulties and traumas and others don’t ever seem to bounce back or recover? What is the difference between a survivor and someone who cannot rebound from lifes unfortunate experiences that touch us all. Of course, Dr Frankls were much worse traumas than the average person has, and here we will discuss everyday problems, not events of the magnitude of the Holocaust.

For those of us who have survived traumatic life altering events, some multiple times and many different events sometimes, we might reflect back and realize our own strength and say we wouldn’t have it any other way. Some find themselves stronger and more content following a career crisis, devastating breakup or frightening diagnosis. Research finds that individual resilience is the factor that brings each of us through difficult times.

If we respond in the right way to life obstacles, then our chances of overcoming them are better. For example, have you ever noticed a person who went through a divorce and twenty years later they are still eager to blame their ex and their anger has not subsided. They have learned nothing from the experience, mostly because they have not tried. It is much easier to blame others than to take responsibility for our part in our failures.

Our time spent after a job loss or relational break up is much better spent determining why it happened, owning our part in it, identifying a new path and then looking for new opportunities to improve our lives. But that doesn’t often happen. Some never complete the classic stages of managing loss: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, self-care and then acceptance. Most never make it to acceptance. They get stuck in anger and denial and camp out there.

One reason for this according to research, is that we usually take too much credit for our successes, and assign too much external blame for our failures. This protects our egos, but at great risk to our opportunity for growth and learning. We rarely examine our own role in our problems.

One thing that prevents us from looking inward rather than blaming is the reaction of others to our misfortune. Sometimes we get alot of attention by playing the victim. Others tell us we should be angry and we deserve better and then we wallow in that place, rather than considering our own responsibility and breaking free of destructive behaviors, which derailed us in our jobs or marriages.

If you encounter a person who is eager to point out the injustice of the boss that fired them, or the spouse that left them, you can bet there is more to the story than you are receiving. Encourage them to look inward and grow from the experience, rather than remaining stuck in anger and blame. When they actively explore how they contributed to what went wrong and evaluate their own reaction, then they can turn their bad experience into one that grows them. Frank conversations such as this with friends and family are difficult , yes, but we can do hard things. This is so much healthier than joining in with a family member for a life time of badmouthing an ex spouse or boss.

We can help others objectively weigh their potential for turning loss into wins through authentic conversations, that challenge their perspectives and help them face reality. Reframing losses as opportunities and realizing who you are, what you want and deciding what behaviors you need to let go of can be pivotal in being resilient and living your best life going forward.