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Why I hated ‘Resilience’

I’ve been delaying writing this post. So much has already been written about Resilience, how to foster resilience in our children, how it’s a good thing, and a predictor of success. And I would cringe at the sound of it. As much as my rational brain knew that the science behind resilience made sense, I recoiled. Odd because, after all, who would want the alternative? Who would want to NOT be resilient? Who wants to crumble under adversity?

Yet I hated what I saw as the ‘push’ to get kids resilient, the privileging of the resilient over those who felt their suffering more keenly. I hated that stories were silenced because their authors ‘should’ have been more resilient, and transformed the narrative from pain to positivity – like Rumpelstiltskin’s gold from straw.

Resilience is a particularly popular buzz word for Third Culture Kids, those children raised abroad due to parental employment, and their expatriate communities. For anyone who has loss or transition built into the structure and fabric of their lives, resilience can be an attractive concept.

And yet I hated Resilience because resilience implies the presence of pain. And I don’t want to see people suffering. When I heard people applauding resilience, I heard them encouraging exposure to pain. “After all, it’s good for them. They’ll develop resilience.” Resilience felt like a get out clause… an excuse to not adequately protect children from suffering. Resilience symbolised the abdication of caring responsibility.

I hated Resilience because the image it conjured up was of fatalistic thinking, of a person bracing themselves against a gale, not allowing it to blow them away, but making no gains either. Resilience was being stuck in perpetual tension and immobility, reaching only for exhaustion.

I hated Resilience because it sounded sad. It sounded lonely and joyless. A resilient person sounded walled up, protected from the bad, but holding out no hope for the good. Resilience meant unwept tears and a British ‘stiff upper lip’, an attitude that saw suffering as all there was to life, one that was simply trying to make the best of it.

And yet…

Pain is not something we can avoid. It is true that the suffering of many is heightened by their communities, or even their families. And yes, some of the pain we meet as children could have been avoided. And yes, childhood pain will echo into our present day lives. Pain is significant part of our reality. Resilience is a response to pain, it doesn’t need to be seen as the cause of our exposure to it.

I went running with a friend last week. It was an insanely hot day (this is England we are talking about here!) and my friend was struggling in the heat. This friend is a better runner than me, hands down. I mean, she does marathons, and runs pushing her child in a buggy. She is strong. But the heat was knocking her. Meanwhile, while I wasn’t enjoying the heat, I was coping fine with it. In fact, I was running stronger than my friend. But you see, I was raised in West Africa.

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Something my body, in my psyche even, knew that I could survive this heat, and worse. That sweaty discomfort was somehow familiar, and because it was familiar, I knew I would get through. My friend felt like she was dying, while I knew I wouldn’t. That is Resilience. We suffered the same challenge, but because I had suffered this challenge before, I knew I could and would get through. Resilience is what happens when we know we can get through. And this is a powerful, wonderful thing.

Resilience is not just a bracing of the self against the inevitable and unending storms of life. Instead, Resilience is this sense of power, of ability, of having the resources to get through the storms triumphant. Resilience harnesses knowledge and strength built through previous storms, and conquers the present one with grace and dignity. Resilience says, “I survived that loss. I will survive this one. But this time, I know how to handle my grief.” Resilience is not immobile. Resilience advances.

Resilience is not isolation and suffering in silence. Resilience is not fatalism. As long as we take the time necessary to notice our strength building, Resilience is Joy. We can take deep joy at our own ability to connect the past with the present, learn from it, develop skill-sets and rejoice in our own creativity in the midst of challenge and pain. And when our Joy, and our acceptance and delight in ourselves, bubbles over, we connect with others… we are infectious and extend our warm embrace of ourselves to those around us. For all that we thought we couldn’t, WE CAN!

I love being wrong about stuff like this. Resilience used to cause me to cringe; it represented a perceived expectation that I should just brace myself for life’s challenges with stoic courage, courage that doesn’t cry. Now, Resilience is power, confidence, and a deep Joy.

It’s worth spending a bit of time with the ideas or concepts that cause us to recoil. As we sit in the discomfort, we are challenged to reflect on the reasons behind our revulsion. We are asked to problem-solve and reconfigure our thinking so as to conquer the fears that lie behind the reluctance to engage.

What do you think of Resilience?

What other ideas, concepts or expectations do you find challenging: Home? Settling? Long-term friendship?

How would it be if you sat with them for a while? Do you need company?

If you would like to pursue a safe space to explore your areas of discomfort, get in touch here. I’d love to journey with you and hear your story!

4 comments

  1. Dan says:

    Dear Dr. Rachel,

    A few years ago, a presentation to adult MKs touched on this topic. The speaker, a career medical missionary (doctor), made his comments in regard to the difficulties the MK experience causes for the MK. He served in West Africa, and raised his own quiver-full of “blessings” in that context. So I listened intently to his perspective on the topic. His bottom line distilled down to “Children are resilient; most of them come through the MK experience OK.” Some in the group thought his position to be rather cavalier. I do think the various sorts of separation from parents to be very impactful, with widely varying results according to individual personality and circumstances. Resilient, yes, but limits exist.

    Dan

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thank you for this, Dan. Yes, this illustrates one of my hangups about the term… it’s too often used as a way of saying, don’t worry, they’ll be fine. Resilience isn’t something to be tested in, like you say, a cavalier manner… it’s a delicate, though strong, achievement… and takes time and support to develop… We joke (and reassure ourselves!) that children’s bones ‘bounce’, but we don’t drop them down the stairs on purpose!

  2. Jilly says:

    I feel the same way when people call me a *survivor. They mean it as a compliment, but it feels like a grim reminder that I’ve lived through things most people can’t even imagine. It reminds me of all the hurt and pain, and how I’ve had to claw my way out of it on my own.

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Hi Jilly, thanks for stopping by! I’ve always felt similar about ‘survivor’… in some way it seems to define you by those particular experiences over which you had little, or more likely, no control. Which isn’t typically how we like to construct our identities. We want identities we have chosen, embraced and feel power about. I’m sorry you have gone through what you have… perhaps the clawing you have had to do could define you more in terms of triumphant, or extraordinary, than a survivor… but either way, you are you in reference to ‘now’ too… not just ‘then’.

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