We tend to think that children are resilient and can bounce back from misfortunes, but the people I see in therapy know that it took much more out of them, and they certainly didn’t just rebound once circumstances improved. In therapy they often see these early adversities as the foundation for later difficulties they have experienced in life, and fear they will be ‘stuck’ forever. This need not, however, be the case.
The future has yet to be written and we can always write a better story about ourselves. What I mean by this is we can refuse to accept the way we were defined when we were younger. Many of us grew up believing things that other people said about us, such as ‘I am stupid’, ‘I am a burden to my family’, or ‘I will never amount to anything in life’. As an adult, however, you can develop some inner defiance and decide to refuse to believe this nonsense; you are not the sum total of these narratives, and you can begin to re-write them now you are old enough to know better.
Overcoming the adversities of your childhood is an ongoing process, but like most things, you become better at it the more you practice, and the less you allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the ‘fight or flight’ feelings and anxiety of stepping outside your comfort zone of damage. The more resilient and toughened you become, the more you can seek out new challenges for success, and so it becomes a cycle of recovery. In fact, you can become more successful than others around you BECAUSE of your early adversity and the work you put into becoming greater than the sum of those early parts.
So, what can we all learn about becoming more resilient in the face of life’s difficulties?
- Take on challenges you can overcome, such as learning a new instrument or language, or accepting a task at work that will push you to new levels – any project that will be difficult but not emotionally fraught. This begins the process of practicing for challenges in life that will be harder to face.
- Learn to develop an optimistic and brave outlook. When life knocks you down, as it inevitably will at some point, force yourself to get back up again and see yourself as stronger than you know. You need to be a fighter who never loses hope. Remember, you only need to do things one day at a time, so don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead.
- Find support. Truly resilient people know when to reach out to those they can trust, or to objective professionals who care and will help you to develop better coping strategies.
- Find areas where you can take control, or begin to feel that you are. Nobody does well when they think they are stuck on a runaway train, so break your challenges down and find any area, however small, where you can make a realistic plan to be more in control, and then work towards it. This will empower you to keep going.
- Do not think back to times when you failed or fulfilled those negative narratives about you. Focus instead on times when you did overcome a challenge and think about how you did it. Then figure out how you are going to do that again in the future.
- And finally, take care of yourself on a daily basis. You are the one person you can count on to take good care of you, so don’t let yourself down. Eat mindfully, get enough exercise and sleep, be kind to yourself and when you accomplish something, give yourself a reward!
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Contact me to set up your first free appointment.