How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events: these are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.
Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so? It involves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps.
Resilience is one of my favorite words when speaking on the topic of personal growth and self-discovery. It defines the essence of what the human spirit can be, the ability to get back up, dust yourself off, heal the wounds, and ready yourself for another day, despite the uncertainty of what the day will bring. Living in a time, when large scale change has become the norm, requires that we learn how to be resilient. It is about getting in touch with a basic aspect we all share, the will to survive, and ultimately to thrive, wherever or whatever we are at that moment in time.
Resilience is a choice we can make, one in which helps us to initially cope and then overcome the emotional, physical, mental and psychological impact that change can have. I often think of a boxer (forgive me for my choice of analogy), because after several rounds (of life), getting hit numerous times (high impact change, trauma, abuse, illness), we become bloodied and wounded (stress, pain, emotions) and eventually fall down (suffering, depression, anger). At that point a well trained boxer is able to put aside the pain and agony, and muster up a source of internal strength to get back up and continue the fight.
The other choice we have during these times is to define ourselves as a victim and remain a victim. This is NOT to dismiss that this is a bad choice. After all, change happens to us, causing us to initially become angry that our life has changed in a way that we did not want it to. Feeling like a victim is normal and natural. Resilience is the ability to recognize that you always have choices, beginning with one of the most powerful choices we all have direct control over, our attitude!
With so much struggle in my life, I often wonder why I did not fall prey to becoming a victim, blaming others for my misfortunes, problems, issues, etc. There are many people and experiences that I owe my life to for helping me get back up, support me, and eventually challenge my belief that I was wronged. It was during my modern day vision quest (backpacking and volunteering domestically and abroad), that I met a man that helped me realize in part the meaning of life, being resilient. I had traveled to South Africa and made it a point to volunteer in some of the very difficult settings. One such experience was in a township north of Capetown.
We share the same name, Michael. He had lost his leg and was on the ground amongst the rubble of what was his home. It was only a month ago that a gang war had started and his home was in the middle of it. During the fight numerous weapons were used and bullets went everywhere. One bullet had hit his leg, which caused him to fall which ended up saving his life.
However, his wife and daughter were not so lucky. They were both killed that night. And there he was, putting the pieces of his home back together. I asked him why he was doing this, would it not happen again? He reminded me that he had nowhere to go, this was his home. Although he wished that he had died that night, he said that he found the courage to live on from the memories of his wife and daughter, who would have wanted him to keep going. What made it so powerful and profound was that I was right there, seeing it with my own eyes, and with the person who had become my teacher.
Later while on my spiritual quest, I met another amazing teacher. He shared only a few words. Upon asking me about my life, he interrupted me several times as I spoke about difficult events and asked me, “So what did you learn from this?” I may have rattled off some B.S. that I thought would make sense, but it was not until months later that I began to ponder this question. Could it be that life itself is indeed a teacher, and that the events we experience here are for our purpose of growth?
There are several models used to provide a framework for being resilient. They include elements that a resilient person tends to have in their life. Many of these I had to develop beginning with self-esteem. One of the most profound is the willingness to learn from your mistakes. We all make them and will continue to make them. They are in effect opportunities to provide us with lessons. The choice is whether we choose to do so. In an case, this is a great list of ingredients that one can develop to become more resilient.