Dr. Salvatore Maddi, a licensed Clinical, Health and Forensic Psychologist, defines resilience as hardiness or the courage to grow from stress. Self-determination and the ability to choose is critical for our mental and emotional health. When tragedy strikes, illness takes a family member, an accident steals health or wholeness; we can feel manipulated by our circumstances and that things are happening around us that are out of our control. This is a horrible feeling. We don’t choose to suffer from difficulties or seek out tragedy. However, when tragedy strikes, people recover or respond in different ways. Some rebound and withstand, while others fade away and seem to dissolve under the weight of the stress. Why? Is it because of a more positive outlook, the ability to regulate emotional experience, the capacity to forgive? What makes someone seem more resilient?
After a death, a loss or a tragic accident, can we choose our way towards hardiness? If courage means taking a risk to grow from stress, the path will be through the pain. We will not grow hardy avoiding the suffering, but facing it full on with courage. Meet, my friend, author, and counsellor, Dana Goodman. Dana lost her husband to cancer and then, 8- years later, their firstborn son, Zach, who was just 13yrs old, died from the same aggressive brain cancer. The suffering was unbearable and dark. She writes that there will be parts of her that will never be right again. Grief like that endures, there will always be an ache but Dana has been changed through the pain and continues to grow courageously. Dana writes on her website about her inspiration to share her experience:
People tend to think we are doing well when we are “getting over’ our losses or ‘moving on’ when in fact we are secretly dying inside. I wanted to put a face on grief, to take my internal journey and share it so others would feel less isolated in their pain. Through the authentic sharing of the mourning process, there is healing and beauty comes when we lean into grief instead of avoiding it…
You can read more about her story and find out how to purchase your copy of In the Cleft Joy Comes in the Mourning, by Dana Goodman at http://www.danagoodmaninthecleft.com
Psychologist Dr. Zindel Segal states resilience is the ability to endure and not to be fragmented by setbacks or losses. Those who focus on changing through adversity, find and express a hopefulness that they can recover from the tragedy or loss. Like Dana, who shares her experience of loss and grief, by becoming a bridge for others to cross on their pain-filled journey. It would seem that individuals who find meaning through their suffering and align it with their values tend to impact others and become more resilient.
Resilience in the face of tragic circumstances looks very different for every individual. Psychologists and mental health providers have unique, varied perspectives on this concept. While no two individuals respond the same way to a similar tragedy, no two individuals will heal or repair in the same way, either. There is no manual to follow when faced with adversity. Although, a common theme is heard from those who have endured tremendous grief and loss: Keep stepping forward…if you are going through hell, don’t stop,…just keep going.