Shawn Maxam illustrates why developing our ability to be resilient helps fulfill our emotional sense-of-self and reaffirms our humanity.
A stone when struck resists. If its resistance is greater than the force of the blow struck, it remains outwardly unchanged. Otherwise, it is shattered. While the living thing may easily be crushed by a superior force, it none the less tries to turn the energies which act upon it into means of its own further existences… It is the very nature of life to strive to continue in being. Since this continuance can be secured only by constant renewals, life is a self-renewing process.
Resilience: the individual’s capacity for adapting successfully and functioning competently despite experiencing chronic adversity or following exposure to prolonged or severe trauma -Dante Cicchetti
One of the most popular examples of resilience has been documented in Victor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Frankl describes his time as an prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II and how he developed a method for finding a reason to live. Victor Frankl developed logotherapy as a result of this experience.
Logotherapy is defined as “the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans.” A person does not need to have an experience as profoundly traumatizing as surviving one of history’s worst genocides to become a resilient individual. Any circumstance can be an impetus for the deep self-reflection and existential analysis used by Victor Frankl.
I personally define resilience as using even a minor crisis to develop emotional muscle memory to have the psychological reflex—aka the ability to bounce back—from emergencies and the stress of modern life. To train yourself to become resilient it is vital to recognize the emotions that arise when life presents difficulties and obstacles and to develop an internal language to describe what is happening psychologically.
“Psychological resilience refers to an individual’s capacity to withstand stressors and not manifest psychology dysfunction, such as mental illness or persistent negative mood. This is the mainstream psychological view of resilience, that is, resilience is defined in terms a person’s capacity to avoid psychopathology despite difficult circumstances.”-1
Every person must realize that he or she can survive and thrive when challenged by life. Of course having the ability to communicate our emotions and feel validated is a valuable precursor to recognizing this ability. For men this means avoiding our socially constructed desire to minimize or ignore the spectrum of emotions that we may encounter when faced with a crisis.
Young boys (and young girls) need to be taught the importance of engaging in proactive positive mental health. We have to replace our tendency to only be reactive, which means waiting for crisis or difficulty to happen before we apply emotional tourniquets. That means teaching ourselves and others that we have emotional strength and realizing that acknowledging our emotions, especially during challenging times, is not a weakness.
It also means teaching ourselves and others the ability to express strength and vulnerability without being “tough” or projecting a facade of being “okay”. This means that trauma and emotional scars don’t have to be interpreted only as emotional damage. No matter how negative our history or current circumstances are, we don’t have to discard prior experiences. Instead, we should use them as reminders of our ability to exhibit perseverance.
Emotional resilience for men specifically resides within the intersectionality of several educational components which include literacy—the stories written about our humanity, vulnerability—the safe spaces created for expression of our humanity and masculinity—the spectrum of what it means to be a man, which runs from the antiquated to the ever-evolving progressive viewpoint supported and explored at literal and virtual venues like The Good Men Project.
Developing resilience begins with a robust empathy of self and compassionate self-reflection. Participating in this behavior psychologically and spiritually results in emotional maturity, which allows processing and thus the development of resilience.
It is important to note that resilience or one’s “bounce-back factor” operates on a spectrum. As men, we tend to invest in our external needs, wants and desires but neglect our internal needs, self-care, mental health and emotional well-being.
In humanistic psychology, resilience refers to an individual’s capacity to thrive and fulfill potential despite or perhaps even because of such stressors. Resilient individuals and communities are more inclined to see problems as opportunities for growth. In other words, resilient individuals seem not only to cope well with unusual strains and stressors but actually to experience such challenges as learning and development opportunities. -1
Stress is assumed to only exist outside of ourselves but this assumption is a mistake. Stressors can have intrinsic origins as well extrinsic. The resilient individual integrates this false dichotomy of experience to further his or her emotional growth.
Utilizing a personalized toolbox and unique skill-set as methods to engage in proactive self-care to develop resilience and overcome life obstacles.
Toolbox: 1) Therapy 2) Support group 3) Healthy coping mechanisms e.g. journaling, exercise, reading, cooking etc.
Skill-set: The methods we use to take care of yourselves. But we have to have the freedom and the ability to articulate the spectrum of emotions we have as human beings. Men are usually are not taught how to discuss their emotions or given the safe spaces to express fear, doubt, glee, surprise and so forth.
A host of experiences can serve as a catalyst for fostering resilience within ourselves. It may be helpful to use extrinsic circumstances as intrinsic motivation and to connect our external experience with our internal desire.
Positive Experiences/Life transitions – 1. College 2. Moving 3. Job changes/promotion
Crisis - 1. Divorce 2. Death 3. Loss of home 4. Abuse & Trauma 5. Being laid-off
Challenging emotions – 1. Fear 2. Doubt
Long-term endeavors – 1. Parenting 2. Marriage
If you need an expanded framework the book The Resilience Factor has methods and techniques by two expert psychologists that helps develop the skill that is resilience. Examples of what the system teaches includes:
• Cast off harsh self-criticisms and negative self-images
• Navigate through the fallout of any kind of crisis
• Cope with grief and anxiety
• Overcome obstacles in relationships, parenting, or on the job
• Achieve greater physical health
• Bolster optimism, take chances, and embrace life -2
The American Psychological Association has a free resource ‘The Road to Resilience’ that illustrates methods and techniques that helps individuals deal with difficult life-altering events. The brochure includes 10 ways to Build Resilience:
Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience. -3
I like to internalize the concept of resilience into a more nuanced form of the well-known cliches of “positive thinking” or “bouncing back” as learned optimism. Based upon the school of positive psychology the concept of learned optimism is the belief that anyone can cultivate positive re-framing as a skill or tool.
Learning optimism is done by consciously challenging self talk if it describes a negative event as a personal failure that permanently affects all areas of the person’s life. Reports of happiness have also been correlated with the general ability to “rationalize or explain” social and economic inequalities. -4
An additional method of framing resilience via positive conceptualization is J.B. MacKinnon‘s ‘Vertical Agitation’-5 which “according to MacKinnon, means focusing on only one portion of the problem at a time, and holding oneself accountable for the solving of that problem”. This was primarily created to promote social change within eco-activism circles but in my opinion is wholly transferable to the realm of personal problem solving as well.
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