A few years ago, I participated in the Biggest Loser Off-road Challenge. The challenge, as I found out, is a 3.5-mile section of an actual Spartan race. Yes, THE actual Spartan race.
Biggest Losers and Spartans racing together…who came up with that brilliant idea, right?
Seriously, the race was hard. It was really hard, but it was an incredible experience at the same time. For all the healing work and hard ‘stuff’ that I’ve worked through in my time on Earth, I think this race tested me the most. The test came when I realized how easy it would be to just stop when I was tired (which was pretty early on). Easy – to walk over to the side of the course and be done with it. Who wants to carry heavy things, flip heavy things, drag heavy things, and pull really heavy things while being covered in slimy mud, pricked by barbed wire, and heckled by bystanders anyway? Well, me…apparently.
Inspired by my son and his girlfriend (now wife) and encouraged by my BFF, I kept on going even though I was totally unprepared for the fight when I walked to the starting line. I was approaching 50 years old and, at 40 pounds overweight, I wasn’t strong enough to do it. But, even though I have a tendency to whine when things get tough (sorry, mom), I almost always push through – and I pushed through on this day. I reached the end of the race bone weary, covered in mud and holding my friend’s hand as we jumped over the fire and across the finish line. It was amazing! Incredible! Fantastic!
And, because I’m a ruminator and like to overthink things, it was extremely thought-provoking.
The race experience that day got me wondering about people who face much more difficult obstacles in everyday life – abuse victims, mostly – and their ability to persevere. I get to see them every day. In fact, one of the most heartening things about being a counselor and coach is the opportunity to daily observe stories of tenacity and overcoming by everyday, ordinary people – superheroes in disguise, I think.
I am honored to hold the hand of a woman as she confronts her abuser. And to silently join her in shouting at the sky when she finally finds her voice. I get to see her be kind to herself for the first time in 60 years. It’s miraculous.
I feel like a sacred observer to a process which is both holy and awe-inspiring.
In the nine years that I’ve been a psychotherapist, I’ve been blessed to witness over a hundred such stories and I’ve been taking notes. I want to know, why are some people able to face their stories and struggles, some of them with the utmost grace, and others crushed by the weight of them? What are the keys overcoming?
RESILIENCE IS THE KEY TO OVERCOMING
I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you in hopes that you can recognize within yourself some of these traits that, when practiced regularly, lead to resilience and the ability to face hard times with strength. Additionally, they will provide a roadmap for growth if you realize that you could use some practice before being put to the test.
Resilient people take the fast track to acceptance.
Nothing will keep you stuck faster than wishing for circumstances to be different. Yes, there are stages to the grief process and you’ll need to progress through them, but recognize that acceptance is the goal. When you focus on the negative, you stifle hope and forward movement. By changing your mindset to one of acceptance, you open yourself up to possibilities for action and change.
Resilient people are open to possibilities.
OK, so I’m going to let you in on a secret. It drives me crazy when I hear, “No, that won’t work,” or “No, I can’t try that.” Both of those are tools used to shut down possibilities as quickly as possible and shutting down possibilities will make you vulnerable to a victim mentality and acute stuckness (yes, that’s a word). There is an entire theory around the psychology of possibility but suffice it to say that when we are open to possibilities, we are open to hope.
Resilient people recognize their own powerlessness.
Wait, you might be asking, didn’t we just say that a victim mentality is a bad thing? Well, yes, but objective powerlessness and a victim mentality are two different things. A victim says they are powerless when they aren’t – a resilient person recognizes where she is powerless and, therefore, lets go of needing to control an outcome and comes to acceptance (see above). Note that a belief in a loving God is really helpful in this regard.
Resilient people practice self-care and self-soothing.
Life will get you down, man. If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) like many of us, you see the pain everywhere and, sometimes, take it on yourself. And even if you’re not technically an HSP, simply living on this planet we call home, you will run into some awfully hard things. Self-soothing and self-care are ways that resilient people recharge and get themselves back to a state of contentment when life gets hard.
If you feel like you need help learning how to self-soothe, consider requesting my Personal Prayer Retreat Schedule. It spells out, hour by hour, a one day DIY retreat where you can connect to your own heart and the heart of God and practice turning down the noise, returning to peace, and being still. You can request a copy using this link.
Resilient people have a strong support system.
I just can’t say too much about the value of having a strong support system – even if it is a small group of people. We were created for relationship and friends and family who celebrate and encourage you, who see you and support, who know your story and don’t judge but love unconditionally, are invaluable.
Many empty nesters struggle so much when the kids leave because they’re not only transitioning in their parenting role but they’re losing their support system. I haven’t studied the phenomenon, but I think it’s a fairly recent occurrence, sociologically speaking, that children have been the emotional support for their parents. Either way, this dynamic makes the transition even more difficult. Those who do well during this season have other people to support them – friends, family, spouse, partner.
Resilient people are willing to take action.
In my codependency group, we’ve added a little extra line to the Serenity Prayer that we pray each week. It goes a little bit like this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to know the difference, and the willingness to take action. We do this because we recognize that without action, all the wisdom and understanding in the world isn’t going to actually change anything. So, when I have someone who comes to me with a concern, together, we ask, “What are you going to do about it?” That’s when they start the overcoming.
Resilient people are tenacious.
They do the work even when they don’t want to. Often, they pray, “God, make me.” They do the work scared. And they do the work even when they think they’re going to die from the sorrow. They acknowledge the resistance, they ask for help, they get out of bed and they do it. Every day, they choose this messy, mean, painful, beautiful, awe-inspiring life.
And you can, too. You see, most of these people that I’m talking about weren’t just born resilient. They weren’t born go-getters or super achievers. These resilient people faced struggle and made a choice.
You are resilient.
I learned in grad school that the number one indicator that a person develop resilience is that there was ONE person in the world who believed in them. Just one. Maybe it was a school teacher who saw her struggling and dared speak words of kindness. Maybe it was a best friend who extended her hand to say, “You can do it.” Maybe it was an elderly, neighbor lady who said, “I love you,” and truly meant it, meant it.
So let me just tell you this, if you’re bearing the weight of the world, if you’re hurting, if you’re lost – this one overly wordy, hyper-sensitive, wears her heart on her sleeve counselor believes in YOU! You have what it takes to face tomorrow…go do it.
When my dad passed away in 2001, this verse helped me persevere, maybe it will speak to you, too.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5 ESV (emphasis mine)
P.S. If you feel like you don’t have these resilient traits and need someone to talk to, please contact a counselor in your area to help walk you through your hard things. And if you enjoyed this article and want to hear more, please connect with me by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. I think you’ll be blessed by it.