What Resilience Is Not…Coping Skills Gone Bad

 

We know that resilience is more than just controlling emotions or managing behaviors or being able to push through and withstand extreme stressors without losing your sh–. And in fact a lot of these skills I call out as a load of crap – verbatim just after 4:35 in this video 😉

But we have bastardized the term to resemble those qualities, when in fact, pushing through, being tough, making it through tough times – aren’t hallmarks of resiliency.

They are just hallmarks of survival.

Congratulations – you have survived.

But how is your nervous system doing?

A regulated nervous system – one that can experience highs and lows in circumstances and emotions – and return to a calm state is the sign of a healthy nervous system that is truly resilient.

But many successful people have used these 3 coping mechanisms and tried to market them as resilience so this might surprise you.

Here’s what resiliency is not

  1. Pushing through.

    When times get tough the tough get tougher.

    Pushing through often means stuffing down the experience of emotional overwhelm, ignoring it, or trying to deny the impact of what’s challenging you in your life to just get through it.

    You might feel emotionally and mentally tunnel-visioned but physically exhausted…or the opposite.

    Either way you are out of sync and not managing activation well.

    This often results in increased anxiety, insomnia, headaches and other psychosomatic complaints because we end up stuck in a thwarted fight or flight cycle that leaves us in chronic brace – frozen emotionally or completely detached and dissociated and in hypervigilant tension physically.

    You will get through with all the cliche’s about being strong and surviving to help you along – but at the end of the pushing you might start to see a rise in symptoms particularly anxiety, physical complaints involving pain or digestion issues.

    Let’s not confuse survival with resilience here. 

    Getting through is not enough – it’s essential but not sufficient.

    Pushing through is not the same as resiliency and it is taxing on the mind and the body.

    You might feel like you deserve a medal for it and many of us have taken pride in being people that just buckle down and get through things while others collapse or give up, but it all comes at a price to the nervous system that eventually you won’t be able to ignore.

    I’ve been there, I wanted the title and the trophy – my physical health paid the price and I had to invest some time in removing my ego from this equation and really learning how to move through overwhelming experiences in a more regulated way.

    Only then did my headaches, migraines, tummy troubles, and sleeplessness go away – but they did – completely – as a result.

  2. Black and white thinking.

    Here’s another area people take great pride in or say is an unchangeable part of their personality.

    In reality, resilience is not about black and white definitive stances.

    Resilient minds are flexible.

    Mental flexibility which means they don’t get uncomfortable with ambiguity or grey areas.

    Black and white thinking is a tool people use to manage activation.

    To make things known and therefore controllable. I either do this or I do that and nothing in between.

    Few things are black and white and our desire to dichotomize and categorize every element of our lives from logisitcs and schedules to emotions and thoughts is more a sign of a dysregulated system than one that is truly in control.

    The ability to craft reality that takes a little from column A, some from column B, a lot from column C and be able to find comfort and ease in this creative undefined existence is a prominent resiliency trait.

    This shows up most profoundly in our relationships.

    Can your relationships be undefined? Can you be around people that are different than you? Can you handle inconvenience without losing your temper? Are your expectations of others rigid or do you allow for humanness and error in others?

    Relationships of any kind are not black and white.

    People that try and make them thus highlight their lack of resiliency by having narrow or limited diversity in their relationships with others.

    During times of stress black and white thinkers will make gross sweeping changes in their lives to try and find a sense of control.

    These are the runners.

    The flakey people in your life that don’t actually have resilience, but try and fake it by flaking out and checking out.

    People will be either idealized or disposable.

    Black and white thinking is one of the key symptoms in many personality disorders simply because the rigidly – the lack of mental flexibility – is a sign of poor mental and emotional resilience.

  3. Always having control.

    Control freaks unite!

    And I mean that tongue in cheek because I really like to have control too – it’s a coping mechanism that is a bit of a farce though.

    Piggybacking with inflexibility, people who lack resilience with boast about controlling their emotions.

    People that are truly resilient however, allow their emotions to be what they are without judgment and let them move through.

    Where did this idea come from that we should have absolute control about how we feel?

    A healthy system does not experience emotions that reach into extremes and stay there.

    Trying to control your emotions is focusing on the symptoms not the root problem.

    Resilient minds are able to tolerate every available emotion in proportion to its event and return to baseline.

    They have the ability to compartmentalize without shutting off or shutting down.

    They can manage sadness, disappointment, grief, loss, betrayal as well as joy, exuberance, delight, excitement, enthusiasm.

    They feel anxiety and states of melancholy – because those are healthy and not the enemy we make them. And then those move through.

    Without control. Without ego play. Without struggle.

    It’s not some zen state, but rather a flow state where underlying these emotions is a sense of stability and calm that everything can be experienced and they’ll still be okay.

    This is opposite of emotional control so settle down – you’re not all that tough. You’re suppressing. You’re over rationalizing. You’re  minimizing.

    You feel in control – but you’re not fooling anyone and there’s no fooling your nervous system.

    You’re showing your lack of resiliency by the need for control.

    Mentally, emotionally, behaviorally – people that are focused on constant control, radical extremes to manage chaos, and black and white thinking are typically the least resilient, the most erratic, and over time the ones that show greater symptoms in some area of their life.

    Rigidity, inflexibility, over-developed ego, and extremes are not signs of health no matter how much they temporarily make us feel better.

    This is an advertisement for low resiliency.

Resilient people have a sense of calm and stability throughout life’s ups and downs.

You feel it. You feel calmer around them.

There’s a sense of trust.

Flexibility in emotions and thoughts, a lack of reactivity in behaviors and temperament.

All of these other tools to get through challenge are overcompensating for a lack of resiliency – for an unaddressed deficiency. 

Notice where you have sucked it up and pushed through.

Realize that you survived but that isn’t a healthy way to do it and get some work done now to start changing that.

Consider doing this work professionally with a professional that does Self Regulation Therapy (SRT).

Notice where you have become inflexible.

Where things are black and white and anything in between makes you feel agitated, even angry.

Look at what you do and where you focus on maintaining control in your emotions and thoughts but also at times in your life where there was stress and overwhelm.

What’s your default when things go sideways?

People live in patterns.

This is how you’ve managed to cope with life’s stress. But there are better ways.

Regulating the nervous system is the foundation for all health – mind and body.

Heal that and increase resiliency and the symptoms that everyone else has focused on will disappear or reduce all on their own.

Start looking at ways you can manage stress that are healthier alternatives than ignoring, stuffing, reacting, or controlling.

Balance isn’t boring or a dirty word. Our body was designed to always try and find homeostasis and yet we indulge in our thoughts and emotions just the opposite.

If you want to find peace in your productivity, success in your relationships, and experience overall health in your life, this is where you build your foundation.

by Tara Miller

Psychotherapist & writer. Helping you live your fullest life using neuroscience based SRT (Self Regulation Therapy). Specializing in general and trauma therapy.

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