Over the past couple of weeks we have been covering Brene Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living. In setting the premise for this series, we had discussed the development of secure attachments in our relationships, and how learning to live a wholehearted life can help lead us towards security, connection, and intimacy. This week we are focusing on guidepost three “cultivating a resilient spirit: letting go of numbing powerlessness”.
Resilience, the ability to overcome adversity, is a crucial topic that I encounter daily when working with people. In order to avoid disappointment, many people lock their hopes and ambitions away and swallow the belief that they are not good enough to reach their goals. Living a life trying to avoid disappointment results in withdrawing/isolating ourselves, believing that we are not good enough, and finding ways to numb our fears and pain. This guidepost is so important for our relationships because one of the most common fears I have seen people struggle with is the fear of being alone. We all have a universal need for love and belonging, and when we do not have the ability to cope with uncertainty, risks and vulnerability, we isolate ourselves and become very disconnected. From what I have seen, the fear of being alone is one of the most crippling fears we have as human beings.
Luckily for us, resilience can be developed. We can move away from numbing and running away from fear and pain, to developing healthy skills and coping strategies in order to deal with uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Dr. Brown discusses several key factors that are essential to building resilience. These factors are: resourcefulness and problem solving skills, seeking help when needed, a belief that there is something that can be done to manage feelings and to cope, a social support system, connection with family and friends, and spirituality. Some of these may be familiar, but I just want to highlight two that in my experience people utilize the least. I have found that people who really lack resiliency lack the belief that they have some control over how they think, feel and react, and therefore they believe that they are simply subject to life and other people’s actions. This belief that they don’t have any control over life, leads to a sense of hopelessness. It is very important to acknowledge that we have some responsibility and power in the situation (even if it doesn’t feel like it) and to search for ways that we can change our behavior and/or improve our condition.
The other resiliency skill that is extremely important and that recently more people are starting to exercise is spirituality. Dr. Brown does not define spirituality as being any particular religion or denomination, but she explains that spirituality is “the belief in connection, a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion” (Brown, 2010, p 64). Practicing spirituality helps to build resiliency because it cultivates hope, encourages critical awareness and thinking, and it gives people the courage/ability to let go of numbing pain, discomfort and vulnerability. Additionally, spirituality helps us to cope with our biggest fear—being alone. When we look around at nature and have a belief in a higher power, the world doesn’t seem like such a lonely and hopeless place. Dr. Brown explains that spirituality and a belief in a higher power is absolutely an essential part of overcoming adversity in our life.
Resiliency is such an important skill to develop because without it we feel powerless and hopeless. We stare at the mountain of disappointments, letdowns and difficulties in our lives and relationships, and feel that there is no way to climb these obstacles. I assure you, there is a way. Developing the key components of resiliency in your life will help to develop hope. Dr. Brown explains that hope is very important because it gives us the ability to set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and helps us to believe in our own abilities. Hope gives us the ability and strength to tolerate disappointment, it gives us the determination and belief in ourselves that is needed to press forward, and it gives us the belief that there is something better for our lives and relationships.
Most of us spend our lives trying to out run or numb down disappointment, pain, discomfort, fear and vulnerability. Running from these feelings doesn’t cause them to go away; in fact when we numb and harden our hearts, we lose the ability to experience joy, connection, creativity and happiness, because it is impossible to selectively numb or block out emotions. Rather than numbing, let’s recap a few ways to build resiliency in our lives and relationships.
Cultivate your spirituality.
We have already talked about the importance of spirituality; it is absolutely an essential part of building resiliency in your life and relationships. Practicing spirituality teaches us many valuable attributes in life such as gratitude, hope, compassion, perseverance…etc. Trusting that something/someone bigger than ourselves has control over our lives provides a sense of safety, and allows us to focus on what we can control and trust that the things that we don’t have control over will work out. We will talk more next week about cultivating gratitude.
Discover where your hope comes from.
When working with people that are very depressed, hopeless and even suicidal, one of the things that we talk about is what keeps them going. What motivates you to hold on? The same can be asked to a couple who is at its wits end, but is still fighting to find a way to make the marriage work. In these situations there are underlying hopes and goals that give them the motivation to keep going. It is important that we identify what these hopes, goals and motivations are in our own lives, so that when things get tough we don’t take our eyes off the goal.
Learn what is inside or outside of your control.
Working with people I often see two extremes; the people who feel that they have no control over their lives, and those who try to exercise and gain control over every aspect of their lives. As you can imagine, both of these approaches have their pros and cons. The passive by-standers who believe they have no control, feel that they are not really responsible for how things turn out. This may seem great, ignorance is bliss as they say, but it also leads to a crippling feeling of powerlessness. The more rigid people, who exercise their ability to control everything in their life, feel like they have a lot of power and control. This sense of power feels great, but it is unrealistic to be able to control every aspect of our lives. Therefore, when vulnerability and unexpected events come their way, so does a great deal of anxiety, fear and discomfort. Finding a balance and learning what is realistically within our control and what is outside of it, really helps with our ability to cope both as individuals and in relationships.
Resiliency is often discussed in professional literature, but it is rarely addressed with the general public. Whether we label it as distress tolerance, disappointment tolerance, or resiliency, it all implies the same thing—we have to learn to lean into and deal with the pressure of life, rather than run from or numb our distressing emotions. When we practice these skills, our lives will be so much more satisfying and full of happiness and joy. I would love for you to comment and share the ways that you have learned to overcome disappointment and hopelessness in life; hearing others’ experiences and successes helps build our belief that we can overcome obstacles too.
Join me next week when we discuss the fourth guidepost, “cultivating gratitude and joy: letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark”.
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are. Centre City: MN, Hazelden