Three Levels of Resilience: It’s More than Just “Bouncing Back”

October 2, 2018

Sometimes life throws challenges at us when we least expect it. There can be upset and harm (or worse) to people we care about, as well as ourselves. These are often the most defining moments which have potential for personal growth, even though we would never choose the events which lead to this.

A painting of the back of someone's head facing 2 pieces of art in the background.

“Which One” by Alexandra Yakovleva

A pivotal moment for me was in 2002 when my husband and eighteen-month-old son were involved in a serious car accident. Thankfully they both turned out to be ok, but the trauma was horrendous and I will never forget what it was like to be there at the scene of the accident. In the weeks that followed a lot of earlier “stuff” I had subconsciously been burying started to surface, mainly relating to my husband’s MS diagnosis five years earlier. At the time I’d got on with it pretty well but I think I was holding things in to cope with day-to-day life. Being stopped in my tracks at this later stage was the best thing that could have happened under the circumstances—facing the full reality and building a way forward from there.

This and other experiences have been so valuable and life-changing that it has now become my passion: working with clients to rediscover their own resilience and building the life they choose from there onwards.

I have done a lot of research, talks, and workshops on the topic of resilience, and it’s amazing to be able to facilitate an experience where people light up as they realise that they have all they need to be resilient and successful.

Resilience is often described as the “ability to bounce back”. I believe that’s true, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. I’d like to share with you three main types of resilience I’ve found so far. I am saying “so far” because I am open to discovering more insights as I learn more and more about it.

Bouncing back—we put our chin up, put a brave face on, and get on with it. It serves us well in the short term being able to fulfill our responsibilities and can protect us from outbursts of emotion at inappropriate times. It takes great strength and resolve to do this. But there can be consequences over the long term: if we are not looking inwards to build a deeper sense of what’s going on and address it, we can form a damaging pattern of avoidance and store problems up for later.

Pausing to understand and work through it—this is tough, where we might choose to take time out to turn towards the difficulties, or we may be overwhelmed and have no choice but to STOP. As we turn our attention inwards, it takes courage and openness to be vulnerable. We may discover things we are not equipped to deal with. Personally I would recommend professional support, such as consulting with your GP, and looking into support services like counselling or coaching. I’ve benefited from both at different times.

Staying resourceful and resilient—reaching a level of awareness and resourcefulness where we are well-equipped to deal with challenges and opportunities, most of the time. At this level we can thrive, and relish opportunities for growth, holding the belief that we have all we need to be successful. There’s no quick or easy route to this one! And that’s where the deepest value and learning is.

Think about people whom you associate with resilience. They’ve usually been through a lot, and will have steered into the darkest corners of their experiences and emotions to be able to build the awareness and strength they have today.

There’s no right or wrong, or judgement over what we’re able to deal with at any particular time. We may move in and out of the different levels when the context changes, depending on how resourceful we perceive ourselves to be. And sometimes we’re just not ready to deal with the deeper issues. It’s a personal choice and I work with clients on the basis that they have the resources they need, and will know when the time is right for them.

“It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery, rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives” (Marianne Williamson)


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