Psychological resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity. Stress and adversity can come in the shape of family or relationship problems, health problems, or workplace and financial stressors, among others.

“Little by little one travels far” (Spanish saying stolen by Tolkien)

A little at a time.

Almost every day someone, somewhere, asks me the same question. When? When is this going to change? When am I going to find relief? When am I going to win at something?

Lately I have been fond of dispelling misconceptions about psychology and counselling. I have written about the desire we all have to get the “magic pill”. We are saturated by the many distortions and cheap sales jobs by internet gurus and self-help magicians promising quick fixes and miracle drugs. So many placebo remedies and sugar pills, unrealistic claims and bad science. Such bad advise, often from some really lousy professionals, highly paid but misinformed.

One of the topics that gets a great deal of airplay around here is the idea of time. Few of us begin to take a serious look at our lives thinking that this will take years or decades. There is within all of us, I’m convinced, that desire to seek out the simple and quick, even at the expense of the good and the right. I love shortcuts. I absolutely adore reaping a reward with little or no effort. It’s one of my favourite things, to be honest. Easy solutions that are fun are also greatly appreciated.

Most non-profit counselling services offer what is deemed in the industry as a “brief intervention”, usually maxing out at around 12 sessions. It is believed that cognitive-behavioural therapies will produce results in around 12 sessions or 3 months. I have seen evidence of this change literally hundreds of times and the experts are absolutely right – many of us begin to see change in about 3 months, give or take a year…

At issue is what we define as change. I have witnessed many clients and friends change in 3 months, though I would be hard-pressed to identify quantitative evidence of permanent and definitive difference. Many of us have spent years and decades getting this screwed up and we are professionals, I’ve seen our work. If you have been struggling with anxiety for forty years and some idiot with a badge tells you that he/she can fix you in 6 sessions, chances are they have a carnival ride for you to try. You have not put in the requisite time to neurologically/emotionally/psychologically and spiritually change on a fundamental level. Brief interventions only work if your issue is timely, or leads to something not so brief after all.

i-have-no-special-talents-i-am-only-passionately-curious-albert-einstein-quote-1024x682You don’t need to see a professional, necessarily, but I do recommend that you spend a significant portion of your future learning. Read or listen to audiobooks. Turn your Facebook news feed into a glorious reader – I get feeds from Ancient Origins and Brain Pickings and BBC History and Psychology Today and a dozen more, some of which are in keeping with what I do professionally, others because I want to develop my curiosity. I have unsubscribed most of the people who bore me and now it has become a treasure trove of wonder. Einstein is right, as usual.

So here’s the rub – little by little. I’m often wrong, but it seems to me that most change comes in a dream. I tend to become without fanfare or even notice. One day I realize that something has changed, inside of me. That’s it, that’s the epiphany. I was hoping for bright lights and a cheesecake but it seems that little by little, we move forward if we want to. It is the accumulation that counts, not the parade. Momentum seems to be important and momentum takes… well… momentum. I’m a poet.

So I read and I write and I learn and try to become a Jedi – science and philosophy and psychology and faith and history and any cool story on my feeder. Little by little, counsellors tell us, we begin to build something called resilience as we learn how to put our lives together and turn down the emotional volume that keeps screaming into my ears. We learn to lower our expectations, again. We learn to call bullshit on our personal cognitive distortions and the lies to which we are so passionately invested. (Yes that is a link to an article about herpes). We learn new skills, new perspectives, and new coping mechanisms. We unlearn the sick ways we have long trusted to keep us alive but unhealthy. This is not a short process and I am not there yet, though some of you may be. I am constantly resurprised by my own stupidity and immaturity. It’s embarrassing how childish I can become, if pushed.

So we press on. As we often say, unless I start getting high again I really cannot imagine a Plan B.


11 thoughts on “Resilience

  1. You discuss the issue of resilience so well that it was difficult for me to choose a point from among the many thoughts in my head. The only way for me to do so is to go back to what I think of as my first steps. I had been long over my husband when I started to change, and I knew the change was leading me out the door. I had a plan and I looked forward to the moment I could drive away from him. Just as I was ready to bolt, my mother had a heart attack, and that was just the first pebble in what would become a mountain of responsibilities and negative surprises. It was another 4 years before I had that mountain clawed down, but once again I mustered a sense of adventure. I had not a speck of loss over the relationship, moved forward and kept a sense of joy even while I had reasons to be fearful I’d make it at all, out here at age 49. I have struggled on my own now for 9 years, pushed forward, and more often than not been faced with just more struggle. I don’t think my moving forward after the end of my relationship has been typical, at all, and I do not know why it has been so very difficult. I’m known as someone who always has a smile and a great attitude, and just keeps plugging along, but recently I became very disappointed by a friend. I must make more money to survive and have begun to problem-solve how to accomplish this. I have bounced ideas off friends, but one friend has decided that if I don’t obtain loans and grants, quit my job, move to a college town to work and go to school to get a degree in a field of my dreams, then “It’s your attitude holding you back” and “You’re not listening, hey somebody wap her upside the head for me!” Oh, I’m listening, but I have a right to believe that her plan for me is unrealistic. I have, quit simply, not one fallback person in my life to help. Even if I somehow managed to accomplish this, I would graduate around age 62 and be competing for a job to hold for the rest of my life, with 20, 30, 40 and 50-somethings. Ageism does exist. Besides that, I’m already exhausted at the end of my five, 8-5 days, I cannot even imagine trying to work and attend college for several years. Bottom line: No one wants to spend–as I did–a total of 13 years now, plowing head first through every crap storm that life has thrown at me, and with a smile on my face, only to be told by a friend that I have a “bad attitude” if I don’t go back to college at age 58. Perhaps what I’m finally trying to say here is that the best thing you can do for a friend who is still healing and growing, is to be silent as far as judging, and loud on supportive problem-solving and encouragement. You can’t really know someone else’s struggles nor how resilient they may have already demonstrated themselves to be. A true friend must be open-minded enough to understand that if a friend isn’t ready to take your advice, she may have a better, and more realistic, understanding of her own abilities by now, than you do!

  2. Scott

    Good article. I was actually thinking about the idea of resilience this last week or two. I never really thought about it as being time related. How it changes, ebbs and flows, with the course of life and circumstances.

    I thought that I had developed a lot of resiliency over the years, but I recently dipped into the contents of my ‘resiliency’ bucket to find dust bunnies where I expected Rambo. I was completely unprepared.

    As someone with a chronic illness, I got cocky enough to think I was getting it right. I was managing my illness. Or so I thought. But I emptied that bucket nonetheless, leaving myself surprised, on my knees and sunk in depression and anxiety as bad as I remember the last time I had it, some forty years ago.

    As someone who likes to believe I am fairly self-aware, the fact that I didn’t even see it coming was a pretty overwhelming revelation, along the lines of a gigantic cosmic kind of mind blowing event. It completely busted up my rose coloured glasses.

    It just goes to show that I have some more therapy to dip into and that what I thought was a shadow in the room turns out to be the proverbial elephant. What a fool was I.

  3. Decades of time, hours of reading, changing what you tell yourself…..there is no end.
    It’s exciting!
    Love your articles.

  4. There is a great advantage of being 76 years old and taking inventory. Everyday I realize that even though I sometimes condemn myself for past stupid or immature moments, a lot of time they made life exiting and interesting. Never lose the mind of a child and its wonderful simplicity. I love being childish.

  5. ”..the experts are absolutely right – many of us begin to see results in three months, give or take a year”. Lol, or five. Great article.

  6. Resilience ..a silence that will bring change..within minds and attitude. Age..and living a habit has an effect ..but then..people plan to change few times and mostly get changed with time..Better or worse..

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