Spring comes in the Midwest with some violent wind storms. Our latest one left branches on the ground, but the trees seldom fall. They sway back and forth with the wind being firmly rooted in the ground. The trees have developed resiliency, the ability to bend without breaking, by years of dealing with harsh winds and adverse weather conditions.
Years ago I visited the first version of Biosphere – 2 in Oracle, Arizona. Plants, trees and in fact a whole ecosystem lived under a series of giant geodesic domes which at that time were sealed off from the outside world. One of the major problems that those who constructed the facility had not taken into account was the lack of wind. The trees grew tall, “but trees there and in the savannah suffered from etiolation and weakness caused by lack of stress, normally created in response to winds in natural conditions.” The trees needed the stress from the wind to develop strong roots and be able to bend not topple over. Without the stress from the wind, the trees’ root structures were weak and they literally grew top heavy and fell over.
Like the trees, some people grew in the right soil, their environment and were not shielded from age appropriate stressors, the wind. They naturally grew up with a greater ability for resilience, the ability to bounce back from life’s challenges.
What is the ideal way to foster resilience?
Resilience like many other topics is complicated and not something everyone agrees on, but these four major needs if met in childhood go a long way to promoting adults with healthy resiliency. Yes, some people are born with more resilience than others but there are a number of things we can do to foster resilience.
1. Need for loving support
Knowing that you had at least one person who loved and cared about you, that you could trust confide in and who believed in you creates healthy attachment. If your parents had their own struggles and lack of resiliency it is very likely that this was passed on to you. Parents can best help their children by first becoming emotional healthy themselves.
2. Need to face challenges
You need to face challenges and be responsible for their actions, not sheltered from them. This does not mean you needed to be made to feel guilty and parent our parents. Resilient adults faced and dealt with appropriate childhood issues. When parents get caught up in helicopter mode buffeting their children from any discomfort they are doing them a major disservice just as parents who overact and deal out major punishments for minor infractions. Children need to understand cause and effect and to take age-appropriate responsibility for their actions. Children need to know homework not turned in results in an F or it still needs to be done or both but it doesn’t mean they are grounded for the rest of the semester.
3. Need for internal locus of control
To develop resilience, you need to feel that you have control. They need to be able to make choices. They will make choices that are beneficial. They will make mistakes. They will learn that they matter. They will learn to trust the inner wisdom and make decisions that are right for them. When facing a crisis or emergency, they will be able to trust themselves. They will be much more likely to think of a way out or a different way of looking at the problem because they trust their decision-making skills.
4. Need to be appreciated for their effort
You need to be appreciated for your effort. Appreciation, praise and compliments are wonderful but one way nurtures and the other hinders resiliency. If you are going to compliment your seven or seventeen year old granddaughter compliment her for her effort, how hard she works, not her natural ability or how pretty she is. Complimenting her for her effort fosters a growth mindset that I can accomplish anything. Complimenting her for her natural talents or how pretty she is will land flat because what if she is not pretty enough or her natural talents or not enough. This is considered a fixed mindset and can leave us feeling stuck and hollow – not enough, not whole – inside.
Few if any of us grew up with an ideal childhood. Few of us were the ideal parents no matter how hard we tried to be. And if our parents lacked healthy resiliency than likely by a combination of nature and nurture we made it through childhood low on the resilience scale.
Can You Develop Resilience As An Adult?
I have to admit that I reached adulthood with a lower than average ability to bounce back. I’ve done enough work that I can even pinpoint a series of events in seventh grade, none traumatic by themselves but enough that I felt I no longer had control over my life and what happened and I did not have the support to talk about this stuff with anyone.
The skills to develop resilience can be learned. Time to stop blaming your past. If you feel you are low on the resiliency scale the hardest thing to get past may be admitting this and asking for help from others who can provide healthy support. Not everyone you know will be supportive.
You may have found that bouncing back from challenging events is sometimes difficult and sometimes hard depending on the event. Based on your unique combination of nature and nurture you arrive at adulthood with different capacities for resilience. You can become resilient and so can your children – no matter what your ages. Resilience can be learned. It is not a fixed trait.
Where to start as a woman in midlife?
- Need loving support. Who can you trust to be there for you? If the question leaves you blank. Join a support group or take a class, enlist a therapist or life coach as your ally.
- Need to face challenges Every day do a little something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Make that call you have been putting off. Invite a friend or acquaintance for lunch or just take a different route to work.
- Need for internal control. One of my favorite quotes is from Stephen Covey, “When you focus on what you can control, what you can control grows.” Stop trying to control what you can’t and focus on what you can do, even if it’s just getting up and taking a shower and brushing your teeth. Start where you are.
- Need to be appreciated for their effort. You need appreciation. Start by appreciating yourself. You can appreciate yourself for one thing you did today. Keep an appreciation journal. Every day include one thing you appreciate about yourself. If someone else appreciates you, just say, “Thank you.”
Time to make peace with your current capacity for resilience. You may be resilient at work but not in relationships or vice versa. Taking a look at our past can help us move forward and not stay stuck. Whatever your current capacity for resiliency is, know that with positive support and actions on your part, you can change your capacity for resiliency, and that is good news.