Living with resilience

I have mentioned resilience briefly on My Zen Path earlier, once in What keeps you going? while discussing what helps Elizabeth Gilbert to keep creating despite success & failure, and second time in Grit, discussing Angela Lee Duckworth’s theory about passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

What is resilience?

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. (Source: APA)[1]

More importantly, in addition to ‘bouncing back’ resilience might also show ‘coming up stronger’ with some deep insights and profound personal growth. When I saw this moving TED talk by Dr. Lucy Hone, I realized that she is not only a qualified resilience expert and researcher, she indeed exemplifies living with resilience herself.

Understanding resilience – Dr. Lucy Hone’s story

When people who have deeply experienced personal darkness talk about that darkness to help others, their authenticity is evident as well as convincing. Their understanding of the gravity of the problem, suffering is neither superficial nor purely academic. The empathy is genuine. When such people contemplate & narrate from the depths of their own personal experiences, those words resonate deep within and leave an impact. The stories, the coping strategies that emerge from such personal depths have potential to offer life-altering insights. One such legendary example of personal experience driven theory is holocaust survivor psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and his Logotherapy, to find a meaning in one’s life. There are many others.

Dr. Lucy Hone has worked with professors in Philadelphia to train over 1 million American soldiers to be mentally fit, to be resilient. However, her own life-changing, unfortunate moment came when she lost her 12-year daughter Abi in a shocking car accident along with her friends. The PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) of parental bereavement is one of the most challenging PTSD situations for the parents as well as for the therapist to handle. The trauma of losing her daughter put all her learning, all that she has been teaching about resilience to some real test – and that wasn’t easy. This is how she describes it –

Suddenly, I was the one on the receiving end of all the expert advice — and I didn’t like what I heard one little bit. In the days after Abi died, my husband, Trevor, and I were told we were now prime candidates for family estrangement, we were likely to get divorced, and we were at high risk of mental illness. “Wow,” I remember thinking, “Thanks for that, I thought my life was already pretty shit.”
….
I didn’t need to be told how bad things were; I already knew things were truly terrible. What I needed most was hope. I needed a journey through all that anguish, pain and longing.

Unlike most other TED talks, this has a strong undercurrent of grief and unmistakable intensity of Dr. Hone’s narration. I urge you to listen to her story describing how she is coping with her loss in her own words –

Learning from her own experience of coping up with the tragic loss, Dr. Hone has figured out these three strategies for being resilient –

  • Know that suffering is part of life.
  • Carefully choose where you’re directing your attention.
  • Ask yourself: “Is what I’m doing helping me or harming me?”

It is immensely beneficial to understand her experiences, her own research and rationale while arriving at those strategies as she dealt with the devastating loss. More than a learner or a teacher of resilience, she has now grown into a resilience practitioner, and that makes her insights quite powerful. My eyes moistened when she narrated how she used the third strategy (“Is it going to be helpful?”) and avoided attending the trial of the driver who accidentally killed her daughter, or how she stopped watching her late daughter’s photos over and over again. Please listen to her talk, close your eyes and ponder what she must have gone through. I believe her book ‘Resilient Grieving’[2] must have elaborated more on her traumatic experience and invaluable insights emerging from her efforts to grapple with that.

Building resilience

The losses that some of us might be experiencing may or may not be as grave as the ones experienced by Dr. Lucy Hone. Nevertheless, we all are living in an unprecedented situation currently due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other things, it is likely to pose economic problems for a long time to come. Many of us have suffered financial losses, some might have even lost their jobs, and we’re staring at uncertainty ahead. We don’t know what “new-normal” might evolve/emerge from this situation. It is all the more important now for us to build resilience to deal with life that would keep happening to us while we are busy making other plans. We all already have resilience in us in varying proportions, and as Dr. Hone asserts, it is possible to develop it further – we don’t have to wait for a disastrous loss to bounce back from. The three strategies that Dr. Hone has outlined above could form a solid framework to build resilience with deliberate practice. I am seriously contemplating delving more into this.

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley suggests some good research based methods, practices for building resilience – Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.

My friend, positive psychology practitioner, and contributing author at My Zen Path Sandeep Gautam recently conducted an online course on building resilience for teenagers.[3] I hope to persuade him to write an article here about his work on resilience, and I am sure he’d do a much better job explaining it than what I can ever hope to do on this subject.

Lastly – Adversity doesn’t discriminate. Indeed! We all are gonna have our own share of sorrows & setbacks – that’s life, but it is up to us to build the resilience, to emerge as a much better person. To conclude, here is an excellent quote from philosopher and author Alain de Botton that sums it up quite well.

A good half of the art of living is resilience. ~ Alain de Botton

Recommended resources:

  1. Building your resilience by American Psychological Association – psychologically accurate, and easy to read write-up.
  2. Resilient Grieving: How to find your way through devastating loss – a book by Dr. Lucy Hone
  3. Developing Resilience: becoming stronger and happier online course conducted by Sandeep Gautam

Featured Image:
The Joshua tree in the arid desert photo by sspiehs3 from Pixabay, the Alain de Botton resilience quote is from AZ Quotes and I am using both of these here with gratitude.