Nelson Mandela: the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Lucy Horne is a resilience researcher whose daughter died in a car accident and you can watch her top tips on resilience in more details here (TED publications):
She studied people and found out what resilient people had in common was not that they suffered less than your ‘average Joe’, but that they are more skilled at challenging our brain’s habit of looking for threats and weaknesses (Yes, our instinctual brain LOVES spending time in the brewing danger zone, trying to keep us safe, hopefully you gleaned that from reading about trauma!). They heard the threats, but also gave space to focus on the opportunities, the learning, the strengths that had taken place whilst and after the difficult situation they had been through.
Remember the Owl and Mouse study I mentioned earlier? Well, understandably some people through their difficult experiences develop an ‘avoid’ approach in their brain and others an ‘approach’ one. When we encourage ourselves to ‘approach’ life with it’s hurdles and unfairness and limitations, we are more able to focus on the goal to search for and enjoy the good things that happen.
In no way am I saying that this is an easy thing to do when living with disability. It almost feels a little bit masochistic, to keep standing up and trying again , sticking your head above the parapet, only to get knocked back down again, doesn’t it? I guess it’s about choosing wisely, in which situations with which people it’s worth taking the risk and if you don’t get knocked back then you take another risk and so you build more and more trust as you are more and more open and vulnerable with another person.
One of the difficulties of disability is that you are forced to be open and vulnerable with people when you know it is not helpful to do so, for example with healthcare professionals. These experiences naturally tell our risk-averse brains to stop doing that with anybody. So it’s a slow and gentle process to encourage ourselves to take more risks with the right people.
Encouraging resilience is about deciding: Is what I am doing/thinking helping or hindering me? It’s about choosing what to focus on and what to ignore. It’s about choosing things that put the charge back into our battery. It’s about reminding ourselves of what we CAN change and what we CAN be grateful for. It’s also about thinking we are NOT alone.
Social media has a lot to blame for in making us think that we are alone, that no one can understand our suffering. We believe it when we see other people’s posts of their holidays and fun times. Do any of us have photographs at home of sad or angry times? I don’t. And if I did I wouldn’t be putting them on Facebook!
Asking yourself when something is helping or hindering us is a very helpful question that I use a lot in therapy for myself personally. Identifying what is hindering us almost fuels our motivation and gives us energy to try and change it. Also, the pay it forward that we see so much of within the community, such as disabled individuals and families supporting others, helps to build resilience. It helps to remind us of the progress we have made and the shared vulnerability that comes from opening up to another person. This leads to learning all round. By having more positive relationships in our lives it becomes easier to focus on joy and replenishing our batteries instead of focusing on the challenges and drains of negative people and situations.
I think resilience also helps us when it comes to finding meaning in our experience of disability. On the face of it, society teaches us there is no learning, there is no meaning, disability is only horrible suffering, helplessness and lack of control. However, being part of a community and sharing these experiences can help to understand that there is another side disability, there is the opportunity for personal growth. That’s what we’ll cover in the next section.