There is no downside to psychological resilience.
Resilience has been defined as the act of bouncing back from adversity and developing the ability to grow from stressors and challenges. It’s the adaptive characteristics we adopt to cope and recover.
Helping highly sensitive people become more resilient is pretty much my professional reason for living. What I love about it is that it can be learned. Certain people are born highly resilient (there is a biological factor), but those who didn’t receive a fair sprinkle can absolutely teach themselves.
I recently took a class through the University of Pennsylvania Resilience Program and was surprised by just how much I loved being immersed in the research. Resilience is the most important factor in liberating ourselves from our own thought garbage, which hinders our growth mindset. Growth fuels our spiritual flight.
It’s what kept me functioning through a painful childhood, keeping me strong through the early loss of my mother. And it literally kept me alive during my harrowing psycho-spiritual odyssey / psychic opening (as I write about in Stark Raving Zen, my memoir coming soon).
I used to intensely suffer from OCD; one byproduct of my early chaos.
You’ve never experienced an earworm until your obsessive compulsive disorder locks onto it like a pit bull with a favorite stuffie. I’m dating myself here, but I think I had the jingle “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” stuck in my head from the ages of zero to ten. A child’s first lesson on resilience, courtesy of Fisher Price.
Trauma tried to pound resilience out of me, but it only resulted in a few good dents. It could never be obliterated; we were too bonded. I was born with a visceral understanding of it. If you know me, you know I believe everything has a spirit, and the spirit of resilience is one of my most cherished allies. I think it’s why I can teach it so well.
If you’re not familiar, allow me to introduce you.
To be conscious of something means to invite it and ignite it within us, so please open your heart to seven critical variables that enable resilience. I hope you’ll honestly evaluate where you stand with each point. Which ones have you mastered, and which ones need some attention?
How often do we hit the pause button to evaluate where we’re at, and how our perceptions may be serving us (or not)? How well do we track our emotions? (Empaths need to be constantly vigilant about which emotions belong to us, and which emotions are simply residue from somebody else?) Are we aware of our own body signals? Do we know our strengths?
Can we change our reactions when we know they aren’t helping? Can we commit to adopting skills to diffuse our triggers and calm our nervous system? Can we set and reach small, reasonable goals?
3.) Mental Agility:
a.) Can we look at things from another person’s perspective? Can we see multiple possibilities for how a person responded to us? b.) Can we problem solve? With every given stressor, can we determine exactly what is the problem and what might a solution be? (Rather than simply collapsing in our false knowing that the universe is hell bent on kicking us to the curb?)
Pessimists may dismiss optimism and call themselves realists (which is an inherently flawed concept as it pertains to individual perception, because everybody perceives their own version of what reality is), but the truth is, across every psychological study optimism has been found to be the engine of resilience. Optimism is simply the belief that despite previous evidence to the contrary, we believe in the possibility of a positive outcome. Optimists focus only on what can be controlled, vs. what cannot. Stressors are not seen as threats, they are seen as problems to solve. Practically every life-altering invention has come after a thousand failures. Innovators don’t see a thousand failures as evidence to quit. They see it as data. They don’t take failure personally.
5.) Self-efficacy or mastery:
This is the ability to truthfully and unapologetically see our own individual gifts, strengths, and assets. (We need to be so much better at this! It’s a constant frustration of mine that when I ask somebody to identify their own strengths they look at me like a deer in the headlights. Admitting our strengths does not make us narcissists. So many people–and a disproportionate number of women– are force fed an exaggerated version of humility to the point of obliterating their own self-esteem. It breaks my heart.)
The power of feeling awed by something greater than ourselves. Call that faith, nature, the cosmos, the universe, God/Goddess…or even a mission or purpose worth pursuing or fighting for. My singular professional purpose to teach Highly Sensitive People to free themselves and shine bright is a self-charging battery that powers my life.
7.) Positive Institutions:
This is described as being the love of family, community, deep friendships, or work that we love. Because I was born animistic, positive institutions for me also include the animal, mineral, and plant kingdoms. (This is also something that can be learned, because it’s our normal state. Many of us have been culturally programmed to believe we’re separate from the family of Nature, which is false.)
There can be no greater use of energy than the strengthening of our own resilience, especially where Sensitives (intuitives, empaths, HSP’s, even introverts) are concerned. Becoming resilient means we don’t have to engage in denial, or spiritual bypass, or repression as protection from too much pain. It’s our sacred duty to stay awake and engaged, compassionate and heart-centered. I’m not sure how else we do that unless we learn to harness our own challenges for the sake of becoming stronger and more alive, for the sake of making this world a better place for everybody. The alternative is shutting down and encasing ourselves in impermeable protection, closed off from our senses.
The tragedy of that becomes an absolute– it means we also protect ourselves from seeing or feeling our natural birthright which is the full reach of our senses and the gift of Mother Nature: The glorious enchantment all around us.
That is deadening and there is no true living in that.
As ugly as life can become, it also always remains that beautiful. That’s the truth of resilience.
(Stay tuned. In an upcoming article I’ll share some grounded strategies for strengthening our resilience.)