According to the dictionary resilience is defined as:
- the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
- the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
Resilience is the aspect of ourselves that bounces back when something pushes us down, supports our buoyancy in the face of adversity, and gives us flexibility. If I only have one or two ways to approach a struggle (i.e. work harder or shut down) those will work some of the time, but not always. Resilience is a toolbox we can add to, yet we are all born with resilience because we wouldn’t be here without it. Even the things we may characterize as “maladaptive” or “problematic” have times they are helpful and even necessary. For example, sometimes people feel numb after experiencing a trauma. Numbness is the body’s protective mechanism when situations or experiences are too much for the body/mind/heart to handle. Numbness helps the body survive. If numbness is the only mechanism to deal with stress and trauma will this have consequences? Yes. Prolonged numbness can lead to disconnection in relationships, physical injuries (due to not being able to feel the body) and confusion or disorientation when an emotion arises, but numbness is still a form of resilience.
Resilience can also be looked at as a resourcing anchor that keeps me steady and centered in the middle of a storm. These resources can be what you do to soothe yourself, whether that is driving in your car, listening to music, petting your dog, going to a place in nature or talking to a friend. Generally anchors are people, places or beings (i.e. animals or spiritual figures) that invoke a sense of connection, security, ease, peace, or love.
Here are some questions to contemplate around your own resourcing and resilience:
- What helps me bounce back when something pushes me down?
- Where do I have flexibility in my responses to challenges?
- What are my resourcing anchors?
Sometimes these are all the same thing. For example, going for a walk in your favorite park after something stressful happens can support you rebounding from a challenge, it may be a different response than a pattern of yelling at someone and it may feel safe being surrounded by trees as a resourcing anchor.
There are misperceptions about what resilience is as well.
Resilience is not:
- Never struggling
- Putting on a happy face
- Gritting your teeth and powering through
- Not having emotions
- Denying problems
- Being grateful for whatever happens
- Never needing help
Being resilient does not mean there will not continue to be stress and trauma in our lives. Whether it is illness, racism, losing a loved one or arguments with your partner, challenges are inevitable. It is how we navigate those challenges that can increase our ability to thrive instead of just surviving.
We ALL have inherent resilience, even if it doesn’t always look or feel that way. Sometimes our strategies for surviving also cause us pain, yet at some point we needed, and may still need, those tools. Imagine working with a personal trainer who is supporting our body to be strong and flexible. In the same way we train our muscles we can also strengthen and bring adaptability to our resilience muscles. I may notice that I overuse my hamstrings but my quadriceps are underused. I can acknowledge my strong hamstrings while I might challenge myself to strengthen a part of my body that is underutilized. The same is true for resilience training. We acknowledge where we are already strong and we keep adding to the toolbox.
Take a moment to look at the resilience tools you have learned through your life and the resources you rely on. What would it feel like to offer gratitude for the ways you have supported yourself through the challenges and traumas you experienced? Acknowledge the ways those responses helped you navigate difficult experiences and survive. Acknowledge those people, places and/or beings where you can go for support. Resilience is not about struggling through something alone, but knowing where and who we can go to when we need help. Even if you have just one place or one person that can be enough. In this Harvard research study it shows that one strong adult relationship can be a contributing factor in a child’s resilience. We can also have strong relationships with pets, our faith, or a place in nature, and these can be just as powerful. What happens when you think about being grateful for the resilience and resources you already have? What happens when you offer gratitude to your anchor(s)? You might notice something in your body (i.e. a settling or warmth), your breath (i.e. deeper or more relaxed), and/or your mind (i.e. pleasant memories or happiness). It might feel tender and sweet to offer yourself gratitude for the ways you have learned to be resilient, and it also might feel hard or impossible. There is no right or wrong way to feel and if we can come to the practice with curiosity it opens us to the flexibility of resilience rather than expecting something to be a particular way. Your resilience and resourcing will be unique to you, and finding those ways to bolster and support your resilience is a powerful part of the journey.
If you want to explore your relationship with resourcing and resilience in more depth check out Resourcing and Resilience: A Yoga Therapy Immersion, starting in September, 2022.