Essential Patterns for a Resilient Spirit

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher who, through her work on the topic of shame, has identified key characteristics and patterns of those who practice what she calls “wholehearted living.” Among these are three patterns that help people become resilient and overcome and grow from adversity in their lives. These patterns can help you develop tools, skills, and personal strengths, “adding water” to a reservoir that will keep you safe from rocks of adversity. They are:

1. Cultivating Hope:

Although hope is generally viewed as an emotion, research has shown it is more a way of thinking. We are able to practice hope when we have an idea of where we want to go and how to get there. We set realistic goals, figure out how to reach them, and believe in ourselves. This process takes flexibility – being willing to adjust as needed along the way – and perseverance, as well as hard work and a tolerance for disappointment. Rather than being a passive belief in a better tomorrow, this kind of hope empowers us to effect change in our lives.

Developing a “growth mindset” (understanding that we can change and grow rather than being stuck as we are), practicing realistic optimism, and asking for help are key steps in cultivating hope. Also, when setting goals, keep in mind what is most important to you. Be specific and reasonable, and try to make a good decision, not a perfect one.

2. Practicing Critical Awareness:

This involves becoming aware of the messages and expectations from society, media, and people around us and putting them through a “reality check.” Are they realistic and healthy? How do they make you feel? Practice taking a step back to see the big picture, recognize shame triggers in your life (anything that makes you feel like you’re not good enough) for what they are, and reorient yourself.

When you recognize a shame trigger, watch your self-talk. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, recognize why, and find a way to let it go. For example, practicing empathy and self-compassion might be a helpful way to remind yourself of the strengths and struggles we all have, which can put the situation in a realistic perspective as well as nurture a vital sense of connection and “being enough.”

3. Letting Go of Numbing and Taking the Edge Off of Vulnerability, Discomfort, and Pain:

Most of us try to avoid unpleasant emotions by engaging in numbing behaviors that can look as harmless as staying busy or surfing the Internet, or as extreme doing drugs or having an affair. Research has shown that these practices can not only keep us from facing problems that need to be faced, but also from engaging in positive emotions. If we practice recognizing when we’re trying to “take the edge off” and walk ourselves step by step through our vulnerability, it will allow us to be more authentic, be emotionally honest, and be more connected with our best selves and those around us.

Try to think of ways that you can more intentionally handle emotions you normally would try to hide from. This might include talking things through with a trusted friend, practicing mindfulness to gain a more helpful and proactive perspective, or finding a way to help someone else.

Each of these patterns is built on the belief of benevolent connections with others and
with something greater than ourselves. Resilient people don’t just try to push through and face adversity alone. They find ways to take action, have realistic expectations, and walk through discomfort with the perspective of giving and receiving without judgment from other people. Practicing these three patterns can nourish relationships that can be an important source of strength in good times and bad, and which can help you develop other ingredients that can contribute to your personal reservoir of resilience.

It takes time and practice to have these principles become patterns in our lives. They aren’t all-at-once or all-or-nothing. It’s okay to struggle while you’re developing them. Some of the things that hold us back may be deep-rooted beliefs or habits. But as you are intentional and reach out to those around you when you need help, these patterns, as well as the resilience to not just endure but grow from adversity, can become a part of your daily life.


References:

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Duckworthy, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Korb, A. (2015). The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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