What the super survivors can teach us about resilience

20 February 2016

What the super survivors can teach us about resilience

Nothing can prepare us for the adversity life can throw at us.

We can't be sure whether our spirit would beam with resilience in the face of adversity or it would end up irreparably broken until we experience such situation.

So what makes a story of resilience successful? For one, it can be keeping on going and living a decent life after a tragedy. For another, it is to keep an attitude of enough even when homeless.

When we look adversity into its gaping mouth and walk through it without giving up, it's a great success in itself.

Every day millions of ordinary people face extraordinary hardships.

And sometimes these people grow into someone extraordinary.

You know them. You've heard of them!

They don't just survive.

They thrive and soar.

Their immense adversity sets them on fire. A fire burning with freedom and as if they no longer fear getting burned, they get back up in whatever manner imaginable and contribute to the world in remarkable ways.

They share heartbreaking and inspiring stories.

Those stories put our lives into perspective, but they are not to be compared or competed with instead we can learn from them and get inspired.

How did the super resilient get through adversity and thrive? What can we learn from them? And most importantly can we change our lives by enhancing and adapting some of the skills the super survivors possess?

Let's dive in and see what a resilient person is made of.


1. Resilient people accept themselves and what happened to them

I encourage you to accept that you may not be able to see a path right now, but that doesn't mean it's not there.
―Nick Vujicic

I know I'm all about acceptance. But here is a thing. It works. It definitely works for the resilient.

When we allow resistance into our lives, we become stuck. When we fight against our emotions and hardships or when we try to avoid them or numb them, we inadvertently create more suffering.

In contrary, acceptance helps us move forward.

Simply acknowledge things for what they are as they are.

Acceptance shows us what we have control over and what we can let go off. It makes us prioritize and work hard on the things that we can work on and work with.

Acceptance is not easy. It reveals all the pain, heartbreak, and failure that our human life harbors and demands us to embrace it without protesting, and that is really hard. But with the right support from loved ones and self-compassion (see point 7 and 10) it becomes easier.


2. They tolerate uncomfortable feelings and stay calm

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
―Viktor E. Frankl

Resilient people pay attention to their emotions. They understand the triggers in their life, and they have healthy coping tools.

They are capable of staying with their pains, fears, failures, and heartbreaks accepting them (see point 1) and allowing themselves to feel them while offering compassion to themselves.

Accepting emotions is the only way to keep moving forward. We don't have much control over our emotions. They come and go, but we can choose to change the ways we react to them.

We can cultivate self-discipline and face all our emotions. We can be mindful in our daily life, and adjust our attitudes if necessary.

Also read: Emotions: All you need to know and how to use them in your favor


3. They rewrite their story and become authentic

I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
―J. K. Rowling

When adversity shatters people's lives, their whole world and even the sense of self have to be re-established.

Super survivors realize the fleeting nature of life, and they no longer care of what others think of them. They become true to themselves. They take risks and start to pursue the things they love.

Forgiveness plays a huge part here. Forgiveness allows them not to linger in the past and look with hope to the future.


4. They view the world slightly pessimistically

In palliative care, in which I worked for seven years looking after terminally ill people, I had so many people say to me, “Doc, I don’t know what I'm doing here. I’ve never had a negative thought in my whole life.” And I thought to myself, that’s why you’re here. You were in denial of reality.

They see the world as it is. In other words, resilient people know that shit happens. And they're also aware that it can happen to them.

They make a plan for a crisis. They prepare and rehearse for the worst just like the police and fire-fighters, so they can stay calm and collected when the bad stuff comes rolling in.

When it does happen they grieve their losses, but they don't wallow and ruminate on the negative.

Who knew that positive thinking is not the way to go, right? We can finally dismiss all the happy thinking brings you a happy life propaganda which we are fed on the daily.


5. They think they are superman/superwoman

Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead, he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself.
―Malala Yousafzai

This comes as a contradiction to the point above, but resilient people have very optimistic outlook about their abilities. Others could say they are delusional.

They believe in themselves and even overestimate how capable they are.

With this outlook, they are able to aim higher than if they saw themselves less capable.

Nothing new here. Believing in yourself has always been a key ingredient to success.


6. They use their creativity and improvise

When we face a horrific accident, it becomes a necessity to stay calm, act fast and use anything that is near and can help.

Resilient people see opportunities everywhere.

And even after the adversity creativity can help make sense out of our feelings which can improve our self-understanding.

Creative expression can release new perspectives and can lead to catharsis which can help with rewriting the story (see no 4).


7. They focus on what they have and don't ruminate about what they've lost

Before I was paralyzed, there were 10,000 things I could do; now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left.
― W. Mitchell

Resilient people are aware of their shortcomings and strengths and know how to use them to their advantage.

They don't throw pity parties for themselves.

They don't blame themselves or beat themselves up for what happened to them. They find compassion for themselves, and they focus on the things they have left.

Once they start to feel grateful for the things they have now, they can transform their life.


8. They don't wait for anything and work hard

If you don't get a miracle be a miracle for someone else.
―Nick Vujicic

Resilient people don't expect to be saved. They take responsibility for their life and work hard to save themselves. But they also know when to ask for help.

They don't focus on the final goal but take each moment as it comes.

When resilient people look at their success, they may be baffled by it, because all their work goes into the small goals right in front of them.


9. They find purpose based on their intrinsic values

Never believe a prediction that doesn't empower you.
―Sean Stephenson

Many super survivors turn to faith and spirituality in order to find hope.

They struggle hard to find meaning and place for themselves in the new settings.

They don't search for a reason why the horrific event happened to them, instead, they look for a purpose and how they can utilize themselves as best as they can right now.

In many of the stories people became successful by serving the greater good.

Empathy, compassion, and altruism get you on the right path.


10. They have at least one person who cheers them on

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.
―Helen Keller

Most importantly resilient people are not alone. Community support and tight meaningful relationships are the frame of the trampoline that they bounce off.

They have someone who takes care of them. They have a parent, partner or a mentor who loves them unconditionally and whom they turn for help in a crisis.

Everybody needs, at least, one person who tells them “You can do it. I believe in you. I love you as you are.”

Many of us are not that lucky, but we can learn a lesson and as adults look for this kind of relationships.


Tragedy can't be glorified

Many people don't have the ability, support or genes to fully recover from the adversities of life.

Even though we can learn and get inspired by the stories of resiliency, tragedy can't be glorified. No trauma and atrocity are good or positive. There is no bright side to adversity. The suffering is immense and real even for the super resilient.

People are diverse. There is no one recipe for success nor for resilience.

Perhaps the only one thing to take away is never to stop moving.

Be like a river.

The water ripples with a breeze and reflects the sun rays but never stops running through the creeks and caverns. Through the safe and shallow and through the uncertain and deep.

Its water wraps around the fish, the vegetation, the debris and the junk that don't belong alike.

The river bends with whatever curves come enveloping the boulders and sharp rocky edges and flows anyway. It rushes through the parts that are dangerous with the utmost vigour and slows down to breath and enjoys the view after the rapids are over.


Have you got a super survivor who you look up to? What points do you excel at? Is there anything else that works for you that I didn't mention?


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