“Sadly, it's not illegal to be an asshole,” my lawyer said.
And there it was. I had been through hell, but you can’t sue a bully - unless you can prove discrimination or something else illegal. And they had covered their bases well. Which left me - and indeed anyone looking to move on from these experiences - where?
Resilience. Rising strong. Not letting it get to me. Much easier said than done. So how, exactly, does one do that?
As I am a resilience coach this is a important topic for me. I see lots of posts in the future on this topic. As a beginning what exactly is resilience? And why does it matter?
There are scientific, medical, psychological, environmental and many other definitions of resilience. For me, I define it as that band of tolerance in which things can happen to one - and one may find them intensely uncomfortable, painful even - but one can still stay in choice and not be triggered into overreacting, or its corollary, under-reacting (freezing, or going numb). It’s that band where we have ups and downs, good days and bad days, hurts and joys, but in which we still feel essentially ourselves. That band where we can respond rather than react or not react at all.
It’s important because the wider our band our resilience, the more easily we can recover from the hard things that life throws at us. We will still feel challenged; we will still feel hurt, pain, fear, loss, grief, anger, or whatever else a particular event may evoke in us, but we don’t stay there as long and don’t experience them quite as severely as we otherwise might.
The good news is that resilience is not some inherent character trait. You are not born with a certain amount of resilience and that’s it. Resilience can be learned. It’s like a muscle that, with regular exercise and care, can get both stronger AND more supple. Even better, unlike for those of you who hate going to the gym (that’s me), building resilience is not like slogging through an arduous work-out. Building resilience can be downright enjoyable because - hey, bonus - one part of building resilience is doing things that you actually enjoy.
Some of you already know this. You are what Brene Brown would call the “whole-hearted”. Your band of resilience is already wide enough that when you have the misfortune to encounter one of the world’s assholes, you see them for who they are. Indeed, you even have compassion for them. You know that it’s about them, not about you. But for the rest of us, we have to work a little (or a lot!) harder to get to that place. We have to learn the skill of resilience.
One assumption that I’ve had to unlearn is that resilience is has nothing to do with being tough or thick-skinned. Rather resilience is, at its core, knowing deep down inside that we are worthy. And for many reasons - how we were brought up, the culture and community in which we were raised, our school experiences etc. - some of us have a harder time believing that than others.
I know, that sounds really woo-woo and flakey. That was my response when I first started this work. And yeah, denial that I had a problem with self-worth too! But as I have been interviewing people and listening to their stories about dealing with assholes, the pattern was very clear. The only difference between those who struggled to know how to deal with bullies, and those who didn’t, was that the latter had enough confidence in themselves to set boundaries. They could say “No, that’s not acceptable.” That’s it. They still got hurt. They still doubted and questioned themselves. They still got angry. But they didn’t take on internally what someone else might have said about them or to them, and they didn't tell themselves that they were somehow responsible for the other person’s poor behavior.
I’m “sensitive”, as my mother would say, not necessarily happily. And I’ve decided that I’m OK with that. What I’m not OK with anymore is extrapolating the hurt and pain I feel when encountering insensitive, domineering, critical people to “there’s something wrong with me.” My journey towards resilience started precisely because my old response was to take it to be about me. And, well, that didn’t end well for me. Indeed, I eventually fell apart. Quite literally. But that’s another story. I still flinch, I still get riled up when people make insensitive comments. It still gets to me. But now I’ve figured out how not to take it on - how not to make it about me.
Greater resilience is also not about caring less, or armouring up so that things bounce off of us. One person I interviewed had a lovely image. “Imagine you’re being shot at with arrows. Resilience is that the arrows still hit and wound you. But now, instead of leaning in to the arrows or, worse yet, pushing them further into you, you simply take them out, drop them on the ground, walk away, and go and get bandaged up. And in so doing you heal much more quickly.”
I can’t take down all the assholes in the world. I might be mighty, but I am not, sadly, magical. But I can help people build their resilience. In future posts I’ll write more as to how. For starters here’s a link to a recent New York Times article on building resilience as an adult. Google “how to build resilience” and lots more will come up.
If resilience is something you want more of, join me. And if resilience is something you already have, share what you do to build and maintain your resilience. Either way, drop me a line. I’d love to talk with you.
Sue Mann - Coach
Reflections on how we reclaim and sustain our worthiness in the face of falls and challenges.