A New Direction for My Life, #2: Resilience Amidst Change
This is the third blog in my series on “finding a new direction” as we slowly begin to emerge from the pandemic and from lockdown. In this post we look at the importance of resilience as we go through this process of change.
As with several of the themes in this series, resilience is a matter of great importance at many points in our life journey, but is particularly relevant when we go through major life transitions. Change asks a great deal of us, especially when it’s the kind of change that we don’t initiate, but that originates in the external world, to which we must adapt. For our purposes we can define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity or significant sources of stress. It matters a great deal to be able to find resilience at challenging times like the present moment.
Whenever in life the situation is constantly changing, it’s easy to feel battered, and like we’re continually on the run. We’re all used to the message now that change is good, that it’s the new normal and that we should embrace it, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. As humans and as mammals, our biology and our psychology are strongly oriented to having some fixed stable things in our environment that we can depend on. When some of those things are called into question by external situations where there’s a lot of rapid change and uncertainty, it can be hard for us to keep our perspective, and to keep moving toward the things that we really value in our lives.
Resilience, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity may well be needed when we face family or relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace stressors or financial strains. All of these things are often part of the regular fabric of life, and if the people I interact with are at all typical, such issues have only intensified as a result of people’s COVID experiences. So life is calling us to find our resilience.
But What Actually Is Resilience?
We gave a working definition of resilience above, but what is resilience, actually? What does it actually look like?
It’s very important to clearly state that resilience is not something extraordinary or heroic. It’s not the few who are capable of being resilient. A person’s capacity for resilience is capable of development, and we see that very many people do develop it, as when people rebuild their lives after a major setback or tragedy. We see this when we see people re-orienting and rebuilding their lives after events like 9/11, or after a flood or a major disaster like the 2016 wildfire in Fort MacMurray, (widely regarded as one of the most extensive disasters in Canadian history). We probably know people who have been able to demonstrate resilience in the aftermath of grave personal setbacks like illness, accident or job loss.
In the course of meeting the many challenges of a lifetime, we probably will all be called upon to find our inner capacity for resilience. For many, as we move forward from COVID-19, that moment might be now.
Running on Empty
Yet, a lot of us don’t feel like we have much resilience at the present moment. For many people in the health care professions, in education, in the performing arts, in the hospitality field, in areas like business to business sales and in many other fields and individual cases, this last year and a half has been an extremely demanding time. People have felt like they’ve had to draw on extraordinary resources to get through.
Consequently, many people are feeling shell-shocked. They feel pummeled, like they’re taken blow after blow. And in many cases, peoples’ anxiety is making them feel like the present situation will just keep going on and on and on—with no end in sight.
The Process of Resilience
It may be our perception that we’re deeply stuck in something that we can’t escape, but that doesn’t mean that our perception is accurate! We can do things to actively enhance our resilience, to increase our capacity to deal with the change and uncertainty, and to “get through”.
One thing we can do is believe in, affirm and use our own power and agency. Resilient people are people who know that their own actions and their own choices have a profound effect on outcomes. They are also aware that we can create or exaggerate stressors in our own minds, if we focus on those stressors, rather than on the places in our situation where we can use our ability to influence outcomes.
The opus consists of three parts: insight, endurance and action.C.G. Jung, Letters, vol. 1
Another thing that we can do is to strive to appreciate and affirm our own personal worth, while striving to be more in touch with our personal values and the core things that have meaning in our lives. Our ultimate direction in life and our focus, is always home, towards the things that we cherish and value most deeply, and towards the things that make our lives more meaningful. Rather than being completely overwhelmed by the present situation, there is always a sense that we are moving more and more toward what has meaning. This may well involve our highest spiritual, religious, philosophical and/or aesthetic values.
We also need to emphasize being adaptable and pragmatic. It’s important to be able to be flexible and responsive in our approach to things, rather than getting locked into black and white thinking. It’s also important for us to focus on the things that we can concretely change and the problems that we can solve, rather than the things we can’t.
A final and particularly vital attribute of resilient people is that they’re able to extend compassion to themselves. They are kind with themselves when they make mistakes and errors, and they work on avoiding self-critical inner dialogue. They are realistic and practical about their expectations of themselves, and they recognize and give themselves the things that they need.
Resilience and a New Direction
These attributes of resilience are key to having the endurance to find and move in a new direction in a time like ours. We need the flexibility, the personal power and the compassion to move beyond a victim role into the possibilities of the future. One of the best ways of cultivating these personal qualities is through work in a secure trusting, supportive relationship with a Jungian /a-midlife-transition.
With every good wish for your personal journey,