“The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more — except his God.” ~ Viktor Frankl, WWII concentration camp survivor & author of Man’s Search for Meaning
He doesn’t remember much about his childhood, other than the fact it was absent a father. His mom didn’t attempt to make up for the lack, being she was consumed with her bitterness and drug habit. In that sense, he grew up motherless as well. Now that he is an adult, he has children of his own. Five, in fact. With multiple mothers. He doesn’t do much parenting either, choosing to lose himself and his painful memories in substances and questionable friends.
In another city and state, a woman sits with her graying husband, quietly remembering decades of life together. With two children and nine grandchildren, her heart is full, a dream realized and often savored. Rewind 60 years, however, and you’d see her the youngest of three children living a horrific nightmare. Abused by an alcoholic father and abandoned by a promiscuous mother, she volleyed between households, each equally traumatic. Although thought of those years can occasionally bring back a twinge of pain, it long ceased ruling her existence. She’s happy. More than that, she’s buoyant with joy and life, and sorrow finds no place to land in her soul.
I know both of these people well. And as I’ve watched their lives unfold over years, I always come back to a singular question: What led one to overcome and the other to succumb? The woman endured far worse trauma of the two, and yet she is the most alive.
The concept of resiliency is intriguing to me. According to Merriam-Webster, it can be defined as follows:
Re*sil*ience (noun): 1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; 2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
In my encounters with people all over the world, I’ve discovered two camps of people: those who barely survive and those who thrive. Those who thrive show joy unequal to their circumstances, courage in spite of every reason to fear, and determination in spite of countless obstacles. What’s the key to their resiliency?
- A positive outlook: the ability to believe things will work out, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
- Physical exercise: a commitment to physical health and activity, no matter what
- Problem solving capability: creative capacity to work through a challenge in various ways
- Social connection: a network of resources and support, via friends, family, church affiliations and other relationships.
- Flexibility: an ability to cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally adapt to unexpected scenarios
- Ability to express emotions: honest identification and communication of emotions without habitual negativity or compromise to a positive outlook.
- An eternal perspective: Without losing the ability to enjoy the present, a sense of eternal purpose and destiny that trumps all earthly challenges with an eternal promise.
Whether the challenge is a childhood trauma, cross-country move, divorce or job loss, how you and I approach misfortune or change will have a significant say in the people we eventually become.
As I continue to watch the lives of the man and woman as well as so many others, I’m coming to understand the sacred importance of developing a resilient spirit. As we know, the unexpected is expected. I want to be the kind of woman who overcomes rather than succumbs, who thrives rather than merely survives.
How about you?
Which of the keys to resiliency is your strongest asset? And which needs the most attention?