'I just don’t know if I can handle this much longer. How am I supposed to find the energy to do things when all of this shit is going on? I just don't think I can take much more...'
The American Psychological Association defines resiliency as ‘the ability to adapt well and recover in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant stress.’
Some believe that the more education, support and financial resources you have the more resilient you’ll be when difficulties arise. To be sure, it helps. But often, it’s not enough.
At times, the more people have and the easier things come to them, the more ‘entitled’ they may become. They can also be more ‘whiney’ when things don’t go their way and the more anxiety they feel at times during every day challenges, let alone big stuff. Kids who grew up having everything ‘fixed’ or ‘taken care of’ or who’s parents may have funded their education or large adult purchases can sometimes have a much tougher time adapting to difficult situations and changes later in life if mum or dad isn't there to fix it. This can also be true for adults who had humble beginnings and very little parental support but later became accustomed to a certain lifestyle. We tend to adapt to what we have and then create expectations of permanency when in fact everything in life is impermanent. That sentence alone tends to create anxiety for some and peace for others.
A good example at the moment is how different people are reacting to the restrictions of the pandemic. There are those who feel that wearing a mask or having to stay home is a massive infringement on their rights and that they're entitled to do what they want. But if we compare these restrictions to the hardships of some of our predecessors who lived through war and scarcity, it’s safe to say that we have so many more comforts to help us through these challenging times – like Netflix. ;)
Those who have very little or face great hardships can at times become more grateful and appreciative of the good that comes their way and they may be willing to work harder and be more creative and resilient during the tough times. But sometimes they also become resentful of those with more. It depends a lot on mindset & perspective. For example, there are countless educated refugees who have fled their native countries due to war and despite having had thriving careers (as doctors or engineers for example), have had to take menial jobs and live in simple accommodations in their new countries but are grateful for safety and the hospitality they may receive from others.
Scarcity and hardship can either make us hard or grateful.
My own childhood taught me some of these lessons.
While I had a roof over my head, there were times when I'd go to school only with a piece of buttered bread for lunch and we pretty much only had the basics. I never got to choose my room decor or meals and we rarely had new clothes. For this reason, I remember every single new piece of clothing my parents ever bought me as most of my clothes were hand me downs. I remember getting excited with every new garbage bag of used clothes that came our way!
One day, we were walking through Sears and I saw this navy sweater with flowers on it and I thought it was the most beautiful sweater I’d ever seen. (I really don't know why, I look like Charlie Brown in it ;)
I was bummed when I saw that it was $30 which was a lot of money for my parents back then. My mom looked sad when she saw my excitement and had to tell me that it was way too expensive. To not make her feel bad, I said: ‘that’s okay mum, I just liked looking at it’.
A few days later I came home from school to find the new sweater draped on my bed. I remember that my mom looked really happy, which was so rare as she suffered from depression. That day remains one of the best of my childhood. It also remains the gift that made me the happiest because I knew that my mom had to sacrifice something to get me the sweater and her joy in being able to give it to me meant the world to me. I kept the sweater all these years later because it’s a reminder of how grateful I was over something so simple and how grateful I want to continue to be for what comes my way, especially when life can be terrifically unfair at times.
While the feel-good sweater story taught me gratitude, there were traumas that I later overcame such as emotional and physical abuse, injustice, abandonment and depression - these taught me great resiliency.
I was forced to look within to find the strength and courage to move forward as there was no one to whine to and no one to save the day. Life so did not end up being like a Disney movie ending. Nope. ;)
'What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger' rings true but even better I think is the quote that my father-in-law once shared with me: ‘It can make you bitter or better’. Sure, you can survive difficult things but then how you allow them to affect you going forward and how you choose to live and treat others during and after those challenges matters.
There are really 2 choices when faced with tough times. We can either adopt a VICTIM mentality or a VICTOR’s mindset. One kills gratitude and resiliency while the other fuels it. I personally didn’t want to live my life as a perpetual victim or be labeled by health professionals as ‘broken’ (I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 23) nor did I just want to down pills to try and feel good while repeating the same patterns.
I think it's important to note that I'm not advocating that someone who feels depressed shouldn’t take meds. Meds can be very useful in resetting our outlook, particularly after we've been emotionally depleted by non-stop challenges. At times we're hit hard with one difficult situation after another and this can affect the chemical balance of our brains. If we feel depleted and lose interest in what used to make us happy, then this is not victimhood, this is depression. That doesn't make us weak. It makes us human.
- Exercise becomes really important as it helps balance the chemistry of our brains. Even a 10 minute walk a day gives us a shot of dopamine according to studies at Harvard.
- What we eat is also ridiculously important. We either contribute to brain fog or brain energy by what we choose to feed ourselves. Too many carbs, processed foods and sugar can make us feel lethargic.
- Water vs booze. Most of us are dehydrated. Coffee, beer and wine seem to be the North American go to for stress and depression and yet good old fashioned water is what helps most: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink
- And anti-depressants can at times help get us through a tough period and stabilize chemical imbalances, sometimes required for a lifetime. But meds alone aren’t enough.
We have to change our PERSPECTIVE and often our ACTIONS if we're going to get out of victim mode.
I learned, the hard way, that I had to be the change I wanted to see in my life.
I couldn't wait for someone else to make it better. I would have waited forever. Overcoming challenges isn't just about surviving. You can’t really say you’re a victor if you’re plagued by feelings of bitterness and resentment.
There's a difference between being a Survivor and someone who is Thriving.
There is an upside to being a victim though, and at times, it can become quite addictive.
Upsides to being a victim:
- We have someone, a label or something else to blame.
- We feel excused from having to take action.
- We get attention when people feel sorry for us.
- It gives us an excuse for other unhealthy behaviors: addictions, self-sabotage, poor choices etc.
- We can have pity parties.
Upsides to having a victor mindset:
- We take ownership of our own thoughts, choices and lives knowing that from this day forward we can make changes.
- We actively strive towards what we want, no excuses, no one to blame, we become accountable for our choices.
- We learn to self-validate and recognized that we don’t need attention from others or their approval to feel good about ourselves.
- We accept constructive criticism with grace, challenging ourselves to grow.
- We leave behind unhelpful criticism that comes from a place of low self-worth or resentment in others who need to put us down to feel better about themselves. Rather than be on the defensive, we begin to feel empathy for them.
- We stop comparing ourselves to others and instead weigh our actions against our inner compass and values.
- We exercise self-love, stop accepting the unacceptable and make healthier life choices knowing that it will lead us to a more fulfilled life.
- We accept our imperfections, are kind to ourselves when we aren’t at our best and then do what it takes to reframe our challenges so that we can overcome them.
- We’re also a lot cooler to hang out with :)
Bitter or Better?
The choice is ours. Sometimes we just need a little help reframing our reality.