How do you bounce back from tough times in your life?
Resilience, or bouncing back, is an important skill for all of us to acquire and use not only when major disasters hit, but on a daily basis as well. I like to call this latter category everyday resilience.
I’ve been writing about resiliency for many years now and I have found that there are six basic components of resiliency that are particularly relevant: Acceptance, Perspective, Social Support, Positive Action, Learning Lessons, and Finding Gifts.
Each of these topics is fairly broad, so I’m just going to talk about the first one, Acceptance, in this post.
Just like the concept of resiliency itself, there is much to talk about when we consider the idea of acceptance. Let’s look at just three aspects of acceptance that fit particularly well into learning how to bounce back in life.
Naming the emotion
Since the recession hit so hard a few years ago, I’ve talked with many people who have been affected by it through foreclosure, job loss, and financial collapse. One of the things that made these kinds of losses so hard for them to take was the inability to articulate exactly what emotion they were feeling.
Yes, they said they were stressed or sad or angry or worried. Or all of the above. But when I named their reactions to their losses as grief, it was as though a light had come on. They had never thought of their situation that way.
Isn’t grief what happens when someone you love dies? Yes, but it can also occur with any kind of loss including financial.
Once the emotion was more accurately named, most people were able to start their healing journey rather than being lost in a maze of vague, swirling emotions.
So, an important part of acceptance is rummaging through the emotions you’re feeling and becoming very honest with yourself about them. You might need someone to help you do this such as a good friend, a coach, or a therapist.
Having someone to talk this over with can also help if you’re feeling something you think you shouldn’t be feeling. It’s easy to hold onto denial (the opposite of acceptance) if your emotion is a tough one such as envy, jealousy, or guilt – the kinds of feelings that are more difficult to admit.
Once your emotion, or emotions, is pinpointed, you are well on your way to bouncing back from the difficulty in your life.
Ah, this is such a thorny topic for most people, this idea of non-resistance.
Why? Because the non-resistance component of acceptance is often mistaken for giving up.
“Shouldn’t I fight this awful thing that has happened to me? I can’t just give up.” I can hear you say.
Well . . . yes and no.
Non-resistance is more about giving in than giving up. Let’s look at an example.
My late partner, Ruth, had metastatic cancer and, after she started treatment, we were upset and anxious about the side effects caused by the chemotherapy.
We spoke to her kind and wise oncologist who said to her, “Ruth, don’t resist. Don’t resist the chemotherapy. Allow the healing drops to enter your body in a loving way.”
Ruth and I looked at each other. Don’t resist? Wasn’t that what you did with cancer? You fought it, you battled it, you struggled with it and its difficult treatment?
But then it dawned on us. We didn’t have to fight it. We were expending so much energy resisting the cancer and the treatment that we were exhausting ourselves emotionally and physically.
We decided to give in. We didn’t give up, but we gave in. We went with the cancer treatment instead of fighting against it. We let go of our resistance to what was happening and, instead, began to notice the great gifts and blessings that cancer was bringing to our lives – the love of friends, the joy of life, and the richness of enjoying each and every moment.
Because of this approach, Ruth – who, statistically, should have lived about 9 months from the diagnosis of her cancer – enjoyed four more years of peaceful, joyous, miraculous life.
Notice that we didn’t give up – Ruth continued to receive treatment to reduce the cancer in her body. But the step of giving in made all the difference in our lives.
What are you resisting? How much energy are you losing by trying to walk upstream against the river instead of allowing the current to take you to new places and opportunities?
One of the best ways to not resist something and work toward acceptance is to simply notice. This involves accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
It’s very easy to make a bad situation worse by listening to that voice inside your head that is constantly criticizing you:
“You’re house is going into foreclosure? What a loser you are!”
“Why do you expect to get a raise at work? You know you’ll never be good enough for that!”
Life coach and author Rick Carson, in his class book, Taming Your Gremlin, calls this voice your Gremlin. He encourages two very key behaviors: 1. Don’t grapple with your Gremlin, and 2. Simply notice what your Gremlin says and let it go.
Trying to reason with your Gremlin or fight with him in any way just makes him grow bigger and stronger. That voice inside will get louder and louder the more you struggle with it.
Instead, take the power away from it by simply noticing it. Nothing else, just notice it.
It works like this:
Gremlin/inner voice: “You’re house is going into foreclosure? What a loser you are!”
You: “Huh. There’s that voice again. Okay, on to other things.”
Notice how you don’t fight with the Gremlin, you don’t talk back to him, you just notice that he popped up, you have no judgment about what he is saying, and you let it go.
Simply notice and have no judgment. Easy, huh?
Letting go of judgment about yourself allows you to accept your situation and move forward rather than keeping you stuck in your own thoughts and feelings.
The next time you run into one of the storms in life, remember that accepting it will get you much farther on the road to resilience than pretending it isn’t there or shaking your fist at it.
Be accurate and honest with how you’re feeling, remember that not resisting is about giving in rather than giving up, and simply notice your own reactions.
You’re well on your way to bouncing back from that storm to the calm seas of a peaceful, joyous life.