A guest post by Gail Brenner of A Flourishing Life
Elizabeth Smart is an absolute inspiration. She is the 21-year-old woman from Utah who was kidnapped at 14 and subjected to daily physical and sexual abuse during nine months of captivity. In a recent interview, she was so impressive: poised, graceful and clearly thriving, as she said, “I’ve never let it hold me back. We all have our trials and difficult times. I don’t think we should ever let it disable us from doing what we want to do.”
Elizabeth Smart is the paragon of resilience, which is the ability to move through adversity and emerge whole and thriving. People who are resilient accept what happened, but resist defining themselves by it. Resilience is the child from an abusive and disadvantaged home who graduates from college at the top of her class; the severely disabled man in the film My Left Foot, who became a writer and artist; my father who has experienced numerous medical crises and still appreciates every day. These are ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances who found within themselves the capacity to prevail.
Resilience is not about a falsely optimistic, pollyanna view of the world. It is about being realistic with what happens, feeling intense feelings, and not turning away from struggling. Resilience is about engaging with life. It involves authentically being with our experience to come out the other side, rather than circling around it or wishing it would disappear. It is common, apprehensible, and available to all of us. In fact, once we are aware of it, resilience can infuse our daily lives and take us from merely holding on to flourishing fully with our hearts wide open.
The Essence of Resilience: Not Being a Victim
How to be resilient? The short answer is: don’t identify yourself as a victim. Resilient people understand that anything can happen. They realize that the world isn’t fair and that difficult things can happen to the most wonderful people. They feel their emotional reactions, then figure out how to pick themselves up and move forward. It might take a long time and happen in tiny increments, but the predominant movement is toward living and not just existing.
Being resilient means understanding that we cannot control what happens to us, but that we can control how we relate to what happens. We get to choose. We can carry around the tragic events of our lives, letting them color the way we view ourselves and the world, or we can prosper.
The good news is that victimhood is perpetuated by the stories we tell ourselves. Why good news? Because being a victim is not inherent in the events that actually befall us; it is a choice we can make by the thoughts we support with our attention. Paying attention is like giving fertilizer to a plant – what we feed is what becomes our reality. Elizabeth Smart knows this first hand. She said, “If you sit there and think about it all the time, you’re giving them more power over your life.”
If you are giving away your power, you are doing so in your mind. What are you feeding with your attention?
Discover Your Inner Resilience
Studies of resilient people have revealed a number of qualities that encourage thriving, no matter what circumstances occur. See how you might actualize them in your own life.
- Strong relationships with people who support, encourage, and reassure;
- The willingness to allow strong feelings – anger, grief, fear – without avoiding them;
- The ability to make a plan and carry it out;
- Confidence – an attitude of “I can,” rather than “I can’t.” Trusting oneself and one’s abilities;
- The capacity to learn from life experiences. People who emerge from challenging circumstances often report insights such as greater clarity about life and appreciation for loved ones. They feel gratitude for what the experience has brought to their lives.
- Self-care. Resilient people are attentive to their own needs. They nurture themselves, and seek out help when needed.
Ordinary people, just like you, are able to move on and flourish in their lives despite tremendous difficulties. We are so fortunate that the opportunity is available to all of us, in every moment, to choose life. What do you choose?
Are you resilient? What have you learned about dealing with difficult life circumstances?
Read more from Gail at her blog, A Flourishing Life.