What is Resilience? Hero Making. Here’s how.

In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice….It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.  Viktor E. Frankl*

Resilience is bending but not breaking under stress, or:

…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. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. American Psychological Association

My family had a mantra, “It’s not Cancer,” which we used to put things in perspective to cope with whatever it was. Except sometimes it was cancer and sometimes it was worse; for example, the sudden death by stroke of my dad when I was 15 years old.

That was pretty bad but, typically, we humans do go on. The famous study on the relative happiness of lottery winners v paraplegic accident victims is pretty good evidence of that. Victims were found to experience even more pleasure in mundane daily life activities than the lottery winners, rather than the other way around.

The SEEDS of resilience include: Social networks, Exercise, Education, Diet, and Sleep. Surely we know by now (whether we do it is another matter) that taking good care of ourselves under life changing stress is a good way to help us bounce back.

But some people do more than bounce back. Some overcome their adversity to leap tall buildings in remarkable ways. JK Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela…come to mind. And, of course, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who, after losing his entire family in the Holocaust, gave us lessons for spiritual survival that I reflect on and share with my clients practically everyday.

One woman I know,** we’ll call her Melissa, was involved in a difficult situation with a man she dearly loved. Melissa had struggled for years to accept and understand the situation from his perspective, even though she felt throughout that the situation as it was being conducted was inconsistent with her own deeply held values. What we resist persists with all its might. So, in one session this woman, who was typically kind of snarky when in pain and rarely wept, surprised herself when she finally began to cry.

When asked what her tears were trying to say, she realized who she was and what sacrifice she would need to make to be true to herself and everything she stood for down to her toes. That is, she knew in that moment that, despite her true love, she would have to give up all of her hopes and dreams about a life with this man.

In that moment, Melissa became her own hero – Joan of Arc. She did not burn at the stake, but her suffering did, as she took a stand for her values and women everywhere who may suffer corruption in similar ways. This is the meaningful sacrifice that Frankl said makes suffering not be suffering anymore.

Melissa now has fewer and fewer waves of sadness. Attachment is physiological as much as it is anything. So in the early stages of love lost we may even feel sick, until we heal and get well. She is tending to the SEEDS of resilience noted above; social supports, plenty of rest, and so on. But what has helped to up level her mood and her life more than anything else is the meaning she grafted onto this life changing adversity in love, which she would no longer deny nor avoid.

The miracle for Melissa was in the meaning – meaning that could not be given to her, nor imposed on her – but rather meaning that had to spring from deep within her, from the depths of her soul about the woman she was.

So here is another favorite Frankl quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Practice, Practice, Practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Washington Square Press (1959). https://www.amazon.com/Search-Meaning-Introduction-Logotherapy

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



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