Resilience, it seems to be the word of the moment for mental health awareness. The message seems to be that we need to build resilience, in us, in our kids and in those around us. Is resilience the right word for helping people be mentally well though?What exactly is resilience? Dictionary.com defines it as: ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy. Sounds pretty positive to me, however I wonder if the unwritten feeling (and maybe this is just me) behind those words, that to be resilient you need to bounce back every time from illness.
On Q&A, Josh Thomas spoke a little about resilience and I think his thoughts about it resonated the most with me. He said that maybe we need to stop telling people that they need have resilience when it comes to life’s struggles. That it is this line of thought that keeps believing that they must have a ‘stiff upper lip’ rather than admitted that they need help.
One of the most popular myths around mental illness, especially depression and anxiety, is that the person is weak, and if they just got on with life then everything would be OK. Now this probably isn’t the message of resilience but the overwhelming feeling is that to have resilience means that you are strong, so by default the opposite is to be weak.
I worry then that by teaching our children resilience, we are without meaning to, teaching them that being weak, is something that is wrong. I don’t think that falling in a heap and expecting them to pick up the pieces is helpful either, but we do need to find that middle ground. We need to show them that resilience isn’t the be all of life. That showing your emotions and talking about your problems are OK.
I don’t think that resilience is the right word for encouraging people to live a mentally healthy life. I believe that we need a word that encourages people to be OK with themselves when they are struggling. I’m not sure what that word is, but I don’t think resilience quite fits the bill anymore.
Do you think resilience is something that should be promoted alongside being mentally healthy? What word do you think should replace it?
To be honest, I’m not sure what I think but you’ve certainly given me food for thought! I’ve always wondered if resilience is something that can be learned – or are we just born with it.
I think that resilience does need to be promoted, but perhaps we need to alter our meaning of resilience. It is probably the best word we have available to us at the moment. We need to let people know that they do indeed have the ability to recover, however this message needs to be sent with additional information. People need to know that resilience does not necessarily mean strength, as this leads to the belief that you either have it or you don’t, but means using all the available resources to help you through. Resilience should be promoted as a set of tools that a person can build upon to help with their struggles and that it is not only found inside you, but is a process of asking for help and finding the resources that work best for you. Just like other skills it is something that can be learnt, but only with the right resources and support. I hope this all makes some sort of sense, it is a difficult topic to put into clear words. And by the way, I love these questions that are put out on your blog. They are very thought provoking!
I’m not against teaching our kids to have some resilience. In this messy world they need it. But I think it needs to be taught alonsgide empathy andthe understanding that you don’t always have to be self-reliant and asking for help when you need it one of the greatest skills anyone can have. x
I see your point and I agree. Like anything else in life, people interpret words/quotes etc differently to any other person in the sense that our emotions and past experiences help us to form our own judgement of them.
I don’t personally like the word resilience in the context that you mention as I believe it can hinder the progress of recovery from whatever a person may be experiencing.
What I am, and will teach my children is that when something happens in life you need to own it/feel it/understand it, and find a way to deal with it. Not in a ‘suck it up sense’, but in a problem solving and attention to detail kind of way.
If there is something in your life that is making you unhappy, you have to firstly consider whether or not you can change it. For example, a toxic relationship. Now it isn’t just as easy as getting up and leaving sometimes, but you need to ‘problem solve’ and ‘pay attention to detail’ to see what exactly your needs are and how you can overcome whatever it is you are feeling about it and realise what it is you need to do. This could be anything from relationship counselling to leaving the relationship.
For those times in your life where you just can’t ‘change it’ like living with depression/mental illness, losing a loved one, having a chronic illness and many other things that happen to us in life, we also need to ‘own it’ by understanding what is going on by ‘problem solving’ and ‘paying attention to detail’. Obviously you can’t rid these things from your life. You need to work through them. I think that the word resilience on its own can be damaging and the ‘extra information needed/change of meaning’ isn’t going to make the difference. I think I would rather hear the word ‘Understanding’ or ‘tolerance’ or ‘content’ but none on their own at the same time. I think that ‘resilience’ kind of undoes our attempt to break down the stigma of anything that isn’t understood (mental/chronic illness/pain). It starts to build up those individual walls of those we are trying to break through to open them to a world of help.
I like this – the problem solving attitude as opposed to the suck it up attitude. Very different things and they can both be attached to the same word.
Yes, I thought Josh Thomas’s comments regarding resilience on Q&A were very interesting. After all, dealing with mental illness everyday for months or years of your life is very draining. If managing to do this, yet never giving up on yourself isn’t resilience, then I don’t know what is. Very thought-provoking post as usual, Tegan. x
It is very hard to find a word to find the right word for positive mental health!
It’s a bit like the fine line between teaching your children to be assertive rather than be aggressive. I haven’t seen the session with Josh Thomas. It sounds really interesting.
The best way I had resilience described to me was likening it to a willow which bends and sways with strong winds, always springing back up, as opposed to a “strong” oak or gum tree, which breaks. I think the best way of teaching resilience is to show our children and those around us that they are loved, that they are accepted. There is a great book – Resilience for Women, which talks about a bunch of strategies for building resilience in ourselves. I highly recommend it.
I do believe in resilience and I agree with Dorothy’s definition above (as the tree that springs back rather than breaking). I see resilience as a combination of things, not just bouncing back or being stoic. I see it as self-belief, confidence, determination and commitment. Resilience is knowing you are on the right path and continuing on that path, despite obstacles. I do see your point here Tegan and i agree that resilience shouldn’t equate to bouncing back every time but I do think that kids and adults all benefit from becoming more resilient as per a post I wrote earlier this year – http://myhometruths.com/2014/02/resilience-matters/
I suppose the way I see it is that we have to accept that what we are feeling is okay, sadness, hurt, anger, frustration, it’s so easy to tell kids to forget about it or not to worry but I feel we have to validate their feelings in order for them to know it’s okay to feel them. I think it should be acceptance over resilience, eg acceptance that every one is different, acceptance that it’s okay to cry or feel a certain way. x
Yes I love how Em has put it – acceptance is a great way of expressing how we should be. I much prefer that to resilience! 🙂
I agree with you that ‘resilience’ is problematic. It harks of strength and could be misconstrued as ‘putting a brave face on’. Acceptance is better, I also think that we shouldn’t shy away from acceptance of weakness, it is part of the human condition and happens to us sometimes. Likewise, talk of emotions should not be shied away from. I have started a petition promoting education around mental health, using these terms:
I hope anyone interested will support and promote it.
The way I teach my kids resilience is by talking to them about their being ‘okay now’, if and when they are, after something upsetting or stressful happens.. And how it seemed so bad, but feelings about things change, and fade, and (I hope) it might just help them later in life to know in the back of their minds that ‘this too shall pass’. ??
What a great question to be asking!
I think resilience is definitely the word to use, however I don’t necessarily believe that it is about not showing or talking about our emotions or asking for help.
Resilience is basically our “bounce-back-ability”, or as you already stated Tegan, to recover from hardships.
To me, as a professional counsellor as well as a woman who has learned how to deal with her own tough stuff, a part of this process is TO share our emotions. To take the moments when we fall down, to allow ourselves to have those moments, and to then make sense of not only the situation, but also our response to it. To ask ourselves how our emotions worked for us, what lessons can we learn from them, and how can we use them to help us recover faster and “better/differently” next time. Our emotions are a natural part of our human existence. They show us when something isn’t working the way we want, or even when something IS working the way we want (happiness & excitement etc). so let’s use them and allow them to show us where the problem is, because they will also show us the direction in which the solutions exist.
And dare I say it, our kids cannot learn resilience without us modelling it first. We need to learn to work with our own stuff, to have our meltdowns, express our emotions, and then use them to help us recover from there. The kids will naturally learn to do the same as they see us do it, but some kids may also benefit from some professional support, particularly if mental illness is a big part of their lives (whether the diagnosis is theirs or belongs to someone else within the family).
I’d like to add to my comment, after reading the other replies, that to me, as a professional, STRENGTH is the ability to show your emotions, to work through them, to process them and learn from them.
As many people seem to be implying strength is the ability to “suck it up”, stop crying and move on with your life.
I disagree. Strength is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. To admit that you don’t feel ok, to ask for help, and to work through your stuff.
For anyone interested, check out the work of Brene Brown. social worker and researcher of shame and vulnerability. She does some amazing work and has done a few TED talks about vulnerability and shame.
Basically her message is: show your emotions, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and step into your courage and strength as a result. Brilliant work! 🙂