It’s always curious to me that when I start thinking about what topics to write about for a Coupleworks blog I start to see articles, podcasts and radio programs about it. Weird. It’s as if the collective unconscious has come together and feels the need to give voice to the topic at hand – in this case, resilience. In a time where the world feels as if it is constantly changing and transitioning to the “new normal” our resilience is continually challenged. 

I’ve noticed how clients that I work with have gone up and down with their capacity to cope with the lockdown from month to month. Initially, shock and panic were expressed by many but then most people were able to shift and ground themselves emotionally and practically. As time when on, many clients talked about gratitude and how they developed a deeper sense of what was important. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that there is a restlessness and difficulty in coping with the continuing ‘not knowing’ and what comes next. Past issues are re-surfacing, depression and anxiety is returning, and resilience is starting to waver again. As one client told me “I’m done with lockdown”. 

I was interested in how some people seemed to have more resilience than others. This led me to investigate some interesting articles and programs that helped me to understand better. People who have had to cope with trauma in their early lives seem to have more access to internal resources and most importantly, an internalised belief that they will be ok. 

In a new series for Times Radio called Past Imperfect, leading figures including Tony Blair, Nobel scientist Sir Paul Nurse and former chancellor Sajiid Javid were interviewed about how their difficult early lives shaped the people they’ve become. They all expressed the belief that their difficult past was the key ingredient to their success.

Malcolm Gladwell also points out in his book David & Goliath, tragedy is the propellant that sends many successful people catapulting into life. He identifies a category of “eminent orphans” who have the resilience to push their way to the top. Although he too acknowledges that many who lose a parent early on “are crushed by what they have been through”. Resilience does seem to be predicated on the need to have a secure base before the trauma happens. In other words, if a person feels ‘attached and secure enough’ they can work through and make sense of tragedy and trauma. 

The tools usually common to resilient people are optimism, a moral compass, religious or spiritual beliefs, cognitive and emotional flexibility and social connectedness. The most resilient among us are people who generally don’t dwell on the negative, who look for opportunities that might exist even in the darkest times. The Serenity Prayer AA use as their platform helps to provide yet another resource to resilience: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Resilience can be cultivated and learned. Therapy can be one way of finding one’s inner resources and learn new tools to help better cope in difficult times. Reaching out for help is one of the tools many of us are reluctant to ask for. When we are able to fully appreciate how we are all interconnected we see the value of knowing our need to be to cared for when we are struggling. My experience working with clients in the past few months has taught me that we are all vulnerable and not just from this virus.  Knowing how we can be vulnerable and open with each other is what will make us all stronger. 

Shirlee Kay