What IS Resilience?

Resilience has become enough of a buzzword that I’m starting to see pushback against it, things like “Why do we need to be resilient? Why can’t we just be enough as we are?” and “Why is personal growth framed as problems to solve instead of self-acceptance?”

I feel like these questions arise from misunderstanding the term or perhaps the underlying paradigm.

Also maybe from cynicism around the whole personal development industrial complex, which often does seem more intent on selling the next new technique and mindset than it does on actually helping people. After all, if people actually heal all their suboptimal ways of being, then they don’t need to buy anything from anyone. That’s an unsustainable business model!

Personally, I would love to put myself out of business because no one else in the world needs the sort of help I offer. Like…that’s the dream. What can we as the human collective build and achieve if we are free from the bounds of trauma and the wounds of disconnection? If we have all paid the debts of pain that we inherited from prior generations and no longer live in service to the past, what can we buy with the coin of our time, energy, and emotional labor? I mean, I don’t know, but I sure want to find out! What other gifts of mine could I then put to use? What new frontier of understanding or vitality could I explore? Again, I don’t know, but I would love to find out!

I think a lot of people who work in personal growth and development have, or at least go into their career with, a similar ethos. But the Western world’s cultural habit of goal-focused thinking can easily transform healing work into a hamster wheel. We get addicted to “fixing” ourselves; if we think any flaws or mistakes are just improvements waiting to be made, we can find an endless to-do list. We chase perfection and lose sight of the real goal, which is creating a life we actually want to live. The pursuit of perfection, with its ever-changing goal post – it’s always going to be on the other side of this next improvement – becomes a different form of the same self-rejecting, self-critical mindset that we went into personal growth to try to break out of. And if the people who are trying to teach a better way get caught in that trap, how can they avoid teaching it?

I can easily see why the criticisms get leveled. Why do we need more resilience? Why can’t our non-resilient way of being be enough? Why can’t we be enough?

But…resilience is the primary quality which allows us to be enough as and where we are.

Resilience is fundamentally about being able to embrace change and carry hope even in hard times. (And if you want to tell me there is no such thing as hard times, I am just going to laugh. There are objectively difficult experiences that even someone who doesn’t reflexively see the negatives or the lacks can live through and find painful and hard to cope with.) From my experience and perspective, lack of resilience manifests as fear of not being able to adapt to change or survive a change. These fears, whether conscious or unconscious, keep people clinging to patterns, beliefs, ways of being, etc., that have outlived their purpose. Obviously the psyche has a purpose for them – “These habits or coping mechanisms make me feel safe” – but what I mean here is when that orientation is causing a different part of the self to be abandoned, suppressed, or atrophied. The wholeness or integrity of a person is compromised for the singular goal.

Resilience is what allows us to take a hit, absorb the blow, and rise above the pain of it to act from a considered, deliberate place instead of reacting from our emotions, defenses, or instincts. Resilience is built on trust in ourselves to adapt to changes and to come back into alignment with our highest good.

I know the push to view all experiences as “teachable moments” or growth opportunities can become constricting. That philosophy reframes everything into positive terms, and it can also begin to feel like blaming or shaming. If you’re having a bad experience, you are the problem, because you can’t accept it or reframe it into some beautiful lesson. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes bad things happen that are not our fault and that no amount of mindset work can turn into something positive. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from those experiences or find a way to come out from them better; but the inner strength that allows us to do that? To walk through hell and come out with hope? That’s resilience.

Allowing yourself to experience only positive emotions leads to living with blinders or with a non-acceptance of discomfort. For me, inner resilience is what allows me to find value in the painful things, or the boring experiences, the uncomfortable growing along with the fun expansive parts. Resilience is what allows me to be fully human and fully present to the life I have, the life I am living, not chasing perfection or waiting until I and my life are both perfect before I can really live.

So when I say we need more resilience, what I mean is that we need more acceptance and more willingness both to be where we are and to acknowledge that where we are will change – and we can help change it.

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