There is some mystery involved in the question of why, following a loss or a breakup or a traumatic event, some people have more difficulty rebounding than others. Suffering comes to all of us, and apparently we are equipped differently to deal with it. No big surprise there.
The problem is that sometimes these differences in resilience are misunderstood, and used to blame those who are slower to recover. One who grieves longer than average for a lost love or a lost identity is said to be having a “pity party”. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a normal (but not universal) experience of veterans and crime survivors, but it goes underreported and untreated because of the common belief that normal people just spend a week in the country, or a night in a bar, and get over these things. If natural resilience is not enough, it may seem safer to hide. People can get stuck there.
Some part of the story of how resilient we are, has something to do with the hand we have been dealt long before the bad thing happens. People who are fortunate enough to have a wonderful, supportive family, reliable friends, financial security and a rewarding job, tend to be more resilient in a crisis. Great, right? People who have had a history of prior traumatic experiences, tend to have more difficulty. None of this is a reflection on a person’s character or motivation. A happy history is protective, but not a guarantee of resilience. Some news is just more than a caring person can stand.
Whatever our history, we must nurture our resilience, if we intend to get any useful work done.
We can seek out a supportive community, a few people who genuinely care about us, and we can make an extra effort to maintain those connections. Perhaps our use of social media can make a difference in how we weather the next crisis. If we do this, at least we are in the difficult times together.
We can be a source of help to others, and we can allow others to help us: this is the meaning of interdependence. It is enormously protective to be part of a larger, shared effort to repair the world. Therapy is part of the repair of the world.
And we can nurture our spiritual lives. It turns out that seeking meaning in difficult experiences really does make a difference in how we weather them. This is not a Pollyanna message, minimizing our suffering or looking for a shiny silver lining. Rather, it is searching with all possible conviction for a way to make something good come from a devastating experience. Nurturing one’s spiritual life is not limited to the religious; anything that reminds us of our humanity, our capacity to help others, and our capacity to experience sacred moments in the strangest of circumstances, is spiritually significant. Recognizing the signs is the easy part. Accepting them is the hard part.