Picture your stomach being twisted like a balloon in the hands of a clown. Imagine your heart being squeezed in the clutches of the Hulk. This is what it feels like to hear those words. The words we have all heard at some point in our lives that sucks the breath right out of us. It could be the announcement of a death, an affair, a lost job, or money that evaporated. Do you remember those words? If you repeat them to yourself, the old feelings come rushing back like a flood. The words are different for everyone, but the effect is the same: you struggle to focus, your soul feels heavy, and unpredictable flashes of anger surface like spikes out of your heart. Some people understand what these feelings mean, some don’t. Some jump into action to move forward and some run in fear from feelings this strong. Not a single person gets through unscathed.
I, like all of you, have had several moments in my life involving these words. Words that give me whiplash and leave me panting even through I have not run a single step. I hate them when they come and I hate the idea that more are likely on their way. I struggle to balance the knowledge that my future bears the weight of both horrendous and happy days and, if you are like me, you catch your self wondering where the ax will fall next instead of being grateful for each moment.
At its heart, this struggle strikes at the center of a very important psychological concept called “resilience”. Resilience is a person’s ability to adapt to bad things happening in their life. If you have high resilience, you are likely able to handle stress, change, or bad news in stride. You are more likely to face the issue head on and come out the other side stronger than before. If you have low resilience, you likely live in fear of the future or maybe believe that the world is a cold and evil place. The harsh reality is that people with low resilience suffer more and more as life goes on while people with high resilience suffer less and less. The question then becomes how does one increase their resilience? Here are some suggestions:
Hold It Lightly
I remember white water rafting down the Nile River. We went down a class five rapid (which is a nice way to say it was the most ferocious water known to man). At the very beginning of this particular rapid is something close to a waterfall that sucks you down just before you hit a wave the size of a two story building. I grabbed a handle for dear life as our raft was helplessly flipped end over end. My futile attempt to hold on to the raft handle was quickly squashed as the torrent of water effortlessly ripped my iron grip apart and I proceeded to ride the following quarter mile of rapids underwater. Have you ever felt this way in life? Has life ever ripped something away from you despite everything you did to keep it?
One way to increase your ability to “roll with the punches” is to learn to hold things or people in your life lightly, rather than with an iron grip. Another way to say “hold it lightly” is to let go of expectations or entitlements. If we can surrender these, two wonderful things happen: we are not devastated when they are gone and we love more of the moments when they are still here.
Find The Meaning
As I look back over my life, I can see purpose to every painful moment of my life. Sometimes I was actively learning a lesson and sometimes I was being prepared to learn a lesson (since I wasn’t willing to listen quite yet), but every event or season of pain had a purpose. If you want to increase your resilience, practice finding meaning in the moments of your pain. Start first with your past. Sift through the rubble and discover the lessons. Next, work to find that meaning in the moment of your pain. As the fire is burning, choose to remember the value of the fire.
Build A Community
Research has shown time and time again that when trauma is experienced in the midst of a healthy community, both short term and long term effects are drastically decreased. Even emotionally debilitating events like rape can be over come much faster and more completely if the person has safe people they can talk to who don’t shame them for what happened. If you don’t have such a community, seek it out. Good places to start can be therapy, support groups, or church small groups. If you have a healthy community already, work to maintain that community so that it is there for you when you need it. This step takes a lot of courage and sometimes ends in failure, but you will find that community if you keep pushing and the pay off will make every moment before hand worth it.
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