What is it that we can learn from these myths about resilience?
That resilience is often misunderstood.
And this is a big problem when it comes to our ability to cope with stress and bolster our mental health.
I used to think resilience was about being tough.
Sayings like just “bite the bullet”, “grit your teeth” or “grin and bear it” would come to mind.
I also used to think resilience was something you did alone.
And this meant keeping whatever you’re struggling with bottled up inside without the thought of sharing it unless, obviously…
You wanted to be perceived as weak.
I grew up attending a traditional all-boys school so that wasn’t an option. It would be akin to social suicide and practically begging to be bullied.
It was only when I began to learn more about resilience did I discover that this has very little to do with it. What’s worse is that these myths about resilience were actually hindering my ability to not only be resilient but to further develop it.
And when I was able to let go of the many misconceptions I had about it, my ability to weather life’s storms, navigate through uncertainty, cope with stress and grow from challenges skyrocketed.
So here are 7 myths about resilience that may be holding you back from fully expressing and developing possibly the most important trait and skill right now to guarantee our survival and success, individually and as a species.
Myth #1: Resilience is something you either have or don’t.
Resilience is not an all-or-nothing trait. It’s also not something you’re either born with or not. Every single one of us possesses it to some degree. Otherwise you wouldn’t be where you are today…
More than something we have, resilience is something we do.
It’s a process.
Josh Altman, PhD, associate director of Adelphi University’s Student Counseling Center defines resilience as a verb and not a noun:
“It’s a set of practical skills that can be developed with practice and patience,” he says. “Resilience is not a fixed state; it is a capacity, a skill that can be developed. Challenges become opportunities to grow and learn. A growth-mindset pattern of thinking experiences failure as temporary, criticism as a guide for growth, and problems as opportunities.”
Therefore a big difference between resilient people and psychologically fragile ones is in their habitual patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours. All of which can be learnt, practiced and improved upon by all.
Enter the second myth about resilience…
Myth #2: Resilient people don’t have problems, stress or difficult emotions.
This brings to mind a quote from Dr. Steve Maraboli:
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.”
Problems are unavoidable.
The wealthiest of the wealthy, kings and queens, the most enlightened of humans, elite performers, and even those with zero responsibility encounter challenges, difficulty and distress.
None are exempt from it.
In fact, the process of resilience involves distress, struggle, failure and pain and not the avoidance of it as various philosophers have been pointing out for thousands of years. Seneca noted:
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labour does the body.”
Modern researchers are now beginning to come to the same conclusion. According to Dr Altman, “Learning to lean into rather than avoiding difficult situations makes us stronger.”
As it’s only by overcoming these situations that we build habits and skills that allow us to solve problems, adapt quickly to change, grow from struggle and thrive in the face of adversity.
Which brings us to our third myth about resilience…
Myth #3: Resilience is always good
Resilience is a highly sought-after personality trait, especially in the workplace.
But it does have a dark side to it.
There’s no doubt it can be a useful and highly adaptive trait, particularly in traumatic events. However, large-scale scientific studies suggest that even adaptive competencies become maladaptive if taken to the extreme.
It’s the “too much of a good thing” scenario…
When taken too far, resilience focuses individuals on impossible goals and makes them unnecessarily tolerant of unpleasant or counterproductive circumstances.
In our personal lives this can translate into staying in an unhealthy relationship instead of moving on.
And at work, this can translate into putting up with under-stimulating or demoralizing jobs — and particularly sh*tty bosses — for longer than needed.
Myth #4: Resilient people are so tough and self-reliant that they don’t need other people
This is one of the myths about resilience that I totally believed.
For someone who is stubbornly self-reliant, introverted and more inclined to try figuring something out first before even dreaming of asking for help, this has been one of my greatest lessons.
Resilience is not about toughing it out or going at it alone.
“No man is an island,” as John Donne puts it. Human beings need to be part of a community in order to thrive and our wellbeing tends to deteriorate when we’re isolated. In fact, being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient.
When we think of resilient people, who often forget to think about all the people who have supported them and assisted them in getting to where they are.
As the proverb goes:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Sarah Greenberg, lead coach from BetterUp, puts it perfectly: “Having others who respect you unconditionally, who root for you, and who will be by your side in stormy weather is rocket fuel for resilience. Conversely, being there for others, having a big ‘why’ beyond the self, can help us push through tough times. Resilience is more interpersonal than we often recognize.”
Myth #5: Resilience is about bouncing back
This is one of the most common and even detrimental myths about resilience.
When we speak about resilience, we often think of “bouncing back” instead of “bouncing forward”. Bouncing back implies rebounding to how things were before challenging situations, kind of like hoping the world will “go back to the way things were” since the coronavirus popped on the map.
The “bouncing back” definition may be fine for minor challenges, but it’s unproductive for more serious ones as it ignores the adaptation element of resilience.
Life will never be the same again.
Events like the pandemic or the loss of a loved one may change things so that they do not and cannot go back to normal.
In these cases, it’s about adapting or bouncing forward…
Creating a new normal in which we can still grow and thrive no matter how difficult at first.
We must “bounce forward” and learn from our adversity and mistakes instead of being knocked down in the same way next time, says Richard Citrin, author of The Resilience Advantage.
“I see resilience as a much more comprehensive way of addressing stress by being prepared ahead of anticipated or potential stress,” he says. “This approach to resilience means that we are armoring and vaccinating ourselves against challenges so that they are actually easier and more manageable.”
Myth #6: Resilience is all about managing negative emotions.
While it’s important to understand how your negative emotions influence your behaviour and how you perceive the world, resilience is much richer than just managing your negative emotions.
Paula Davis, a burnout prevention and stress resilience expert, states that resilient people have positive emotional balance.
This means they recognize the importance of both managing negative emotions and cultivating positive emotions.
This allows them to use positive emotions to rebound from, and find positive meaning in, stressful events and challenges.
Bring on our last and final myth about resilience…
Myth #7: Resilience means not showing your emotions
Stress, pain and changes are a part of living.
I know. Probably not what you wanted to hear!
But it’s part of the package that comes with being human.
So, what to do?
Research suggests that it’s more helpful to accept the reality of pain, rather than repress or deny it.
Having a stiff upper lip or “sucking it up” might decrease outward expressions of the emotion but not the inner emotional experience. While this may have short-term benefits to it, it also has some gnarly long-term consequences too.
Studies have shown that suppressing emotions actually endangers both your physical and psychological health and wellbeing.
So with that said, the mission is to learn how to face our feelings and pain head-on, regulate our feelings like a Jedi warrior, reinterpret situations to change how we feel and then…
LET THEM GO!
A final word from Flourish & Thrive
We are all resilient to some degree.
And all because our lives aren’t free from problems, anxiety, anger and a bit of struggle doesn’t mean we’re not resilient.
However, the misconceptions we have about it do erode whatever levels of resilience we have and stifle the development of it.
We’ve seen it in ourselves.
And we’ve seen it in our clients.
And here’s the thing. These misleading myths about resilience aren’t the only places we’re holding ourselves back from enjoying the fruits of possibly the most important skill for individuals wanting to lead thriving lives right now.
There are many!
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In our program, Ultimate Resilience, we do a deep dive over 3 months into the 6 Pillars of Resilience. We identify where you’re being limited and what you can do to develop these areas so as to take your resilience to another level and get more out of your life.
We look at Self-Awareness, Meaning and Purpose, Energy Management, Inner Drive, Flexible Thinking and Adaptability, and we look at how you can create Thriving Relationships and networks of support so that you can turn your life into the never-ending adventure you know you deserve.
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