At Different Look at Resilience

Mental health symbol Puzzle and head brain concept as a human face profile made from crumpled white paper with a jigsaw piece cut out on a rustic old double page spread horizontal wood background.

In my last blog I commented on the concept of resilience and some of the issues about it based on my own observations that were beautifully validated in What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing by Dr. Bruce Perry and Opera Winfrey. I shared how Dr. Perry explained what is behind this push to emphasize resilience and why it is missing the mark for the realities of trauma.

Too often the need to believe and then encourage people to claim their abilities to be resilient has more to do with how uncomfortable it is knowing someone continues to struggle with trauma-related issues. Promoting resilience can originate from others’ need to feel like they are able to talk someone into believing they can bounce back from their traumatic experiences, especially those in childhood. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame and promotes isolation rather than healing.

PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - White Word on Red Puzzles on White Background. 3D Render.

Dr. Perry makes it clear that those with significant early childhood trauma can work a whole lifetime to overcome the devastating symptoms of their PTSD because the brain forever holds onto sensory memories of trauma. At the same time, there is a lot of good news about healing that focuses on our innate powers to be resilient.

He describes that the irony of all human communication is characterized “… by moments of miscommunication and getting out of sync, but then repairing things”. A good friend of his, Ed Tronick teaches that, “… interpersonal rupture and repair is good for building resilience. These ruptures are perfect doses of moderate, controllable stress.”

Dr. Perry goes on to say, “Conversation, for example, promotes resilience; discussions and arguments over family dinners and mildly heated conversations with friends are—as long as there is repair –resilience building and empathy-growing experiences…repair the ruptures. Reconnect and grow. When you walk away, everyone loses. We all need to get better at listening, regulating, reflecting. This requires the capacity to forgive, to be patient.” He adds, “… Ideally, if a child is growing up in a relationally ‘wealthy’ home, with lots of opportunities for safe, stable, and nurturing interactions, they will be building their connectedness and resilience.”

Oprah ends her part in the book stating that for all the reasons she and Dr. Perry shared, she believes that in the moments of highly stressful things happening to you, “….you were building strength. Strength times strength times strength equals power and what happened to you can be your power.”

Scared little girl sitting in bed covering her face with hands holding her teddy in fear afraid of monsters in darkness in bedroom in Child nightmares imagination and psychological distress concept.

It is not that we should be disparaging of the concept of resilience. What we need to be is appreciative and realistic about what real resilience is all about. This respectful appreciation of resilience acknowledges both the long-term impact of trauma on a person’s brain architecture and functioning along with the power of strong, healthy and safe relationships that promote degrees of recovery over time. This is a clearer and more accurate description of what real resilience is.

In referring to trauma, the outstanding documentary by Gabor Mate entitled The Wisdom of Trauma, will be available for free viewing from October 4th – 10th. Here is the link that will allow you to access it.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. To what extent does this information clarify your understanding of real resilience versus the kind that is more superficial and primarily for the benefit of the person encouraging another mostly because they are so uncomfortable?
  2. Can you think of some examples of times when you were encouraging someone to claim that resilience that you now realize might have been more for your benefit than theirs?
  3. Can you picture ways you can incorporate the principles of real resiliency into your interactions with others?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute