"She stood in the storm
and when the wind did not blow her away,
she adjusted her sails."
Charles Krauthammer, who was a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post, died earlier this summer. He was by no means a political kindred spirit of mine, but I was drawn to read more about his life. I didn't know until recently that he was paralyzed in a diving accident when he was a first year medical student. With the help of many, but one professor in particular, he graduated from medical school and became a psychiatrist. He later became a political columnist.
The Washington Post opened their archives and I read some of his columns. One he wrote about resilience. In it, he talks about Roy Hobbs, the hero of Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural,” a baseball prodigy who tries to return to the game after being shot.
“No one knows why Hobbs is shot,” he wrote. “It is fate, destiny, nemesis. Perhaps the dawning of knowledge, the coming of sin. Or more prosaically, the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter. Every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether — and how — we ever come back.”
I have been thinking more about trauma and how it changes lives. As Dr. Krauthammer says, "every life has such a moment.". I have had mine. You have had yours. I feel comfort knowing that, as Robin Roberts' mother told her when she was diagnosed with cancer, "everybody's got something". Knowing that bad things happen to all of us, that it is part of the human condition, somehow feels better than isolating with the idea that it only happened to me.
And I've been thinking about resilience too. Here's a simple definition. Resilience is being able to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens. Bouncing back. Getting back up and moving forward. Resilience is understanding that the future will not be like the past.
Learning from what's happened. Perspective taking. Staying flexible. Adapting to the reality in front of you. Remembering what matters to you and moving towards it. Connecting with others, we are not alone.
And at the risk of being a Pollyanna, life can be better on the other side of trauma. While it can seem so bleak in the vortex of the emotions that swirl around a traumatic event, I have seen how the very awfulness of the event, how when everything you thought you could count on was suddenly not there, that upending of what feels like everything, can become the very thing that allows you to start again. New and yet more you than you've ever been. Fresh but not naive. Wiser but not cynical. Allowing experience to make us more of who we already are, that's resilience. :-)
If you've been reading lately, you know I've been excited to share more about what I'm learning about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). A lot of what ACT does is offer you a way to change your relationship with your thoughts.
Now, I'm guessing that phrasing sounds funny to you, "changing your relationship with your thoughts". What exactly is that?
We are not our thoughts.
I am not my thoughts.
You are not your thoughts.
There is more to you and me than what we think.
I've recommended the book, "The Happiness Trap" to you in an earlier post. One way that the author, Russ Harris, helps to make this idea, of changing your relationship to your thoughts, more clear is to look at thoughts as a string of words. So,
words on a page of a book (or on this blog post) are called text.
Words said out loud are called speech.
Words in our minds are called thoughts.
Thinking this way helps you to see that just like words in a book are not the book, thoughts in our minds are not us.
Can you see how this way of looking at thoughts helps create a bit of distance between you and your thoughts?
Well, that distance is a powerful way of helping you feel less controlled by what you think at any given moment. Practicing this helps to cultivate more of your observer self, the constant part of you that is more than what you think or feel.
Being able to see things with some objectivity helps you make decisions more based on all of you, and what you most value, not just what you are feeling or thinking in the moment.
Powerful! Try it, let me know how it works for you. :-)
I love this quote from a truly inspiring person!
"Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation;
it means understanding that something is what it is
that there’s got to be a way through it."
~Michael J. Fox
“You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.”
I was talking in an earlier post about radical acceptance, about how it’s not about liking or not liking what’s in front of you, it’s about seeing the reality of what’s in front of you so you can make the most effective plan for how to deal with it. Starting with what is, not what we wish it to be, sets us on a path to a better outcome.
Let’s consider an example here. Your doctor tells you that your test results show an unusual pattern that needs further investigation. Of course, you do not want this to be true, you want to have normal test results. You don’t want it to be true that something could be really wrong.
Now I’m giving my opinion here, but I think even though you (and I) do not want these fears to be true, getting the facts about what is true needs to be the next step here.
Maybe something isn’t wrong. Or maybe something is wrong. If that’s true, you need to know so you can plan your most effective next steps, e.g., finding out about treatment options, or getting treatment or changing your habits.
How about a more everyday example?
How about getting caught in an unexpected traffic jam on I-40 when you’re on your way to an important meeting with your boss? You haven’t allowed for the extra time it is going to take to get moving again. There’s no exit nearby and you are boxed in by all the other cars. Your only choice is to wait it out. But you’re late! But this meeting is really important! “I can’t be late!”
What are your choices? Getting angry? Getting nervous about being late? Getting angry with yourself for not leaving sooner or taking a different route? Yes, all options :-) But effective? Make any difference to getting the traffic moving again? Not so much.
So, how about just observing your reaction (“wow, I can really get myself worked up here, can’t I?”) and try to just be in the experience (“well, I’m stuck here for I don’t know how long. Is there anything I can do? Maybe call my boss and let her know I’m going to be late.”).
The truth is that the traffic will start flowing again when it does, and your reaction to it will have no influence whatsoever on getting those cars moving again. I think about the Serenity Prayer here, wisdom is about knowing the difference between what we can control (leaving early for an important meeting) and what we can’t (getting stuck in traffic).
Acceptance is being in the flow of life as it reveals itself, as it unfolds, not putting undue energy into opposing or resisting the flow of life. I know, I know, easier to say than to live. But aspire to it, set your intention to accept. Notice when you resist, invite yourself to pause and let life be what it is. ♥
“A greater intelligence is available to you
when you no longer reject, deny, or “don’t want” what is.”
Accepting what is. I think this is such a powerful and life changing idea that sounds deceptively simple.
What is acceptance? One generally understood definition of acceptance is through the lens of a judgment, that accepting something is the opposite of rejecting something. So with this definition, acceptance is like approval “I accept this because I approve of it, or I’m OK with it.” “She was accepted into her first choice of school”, which would obviously mean the school approved of her.
With this definition of accepting as akin to approving, accepting means welcoming something, bringing it closer to you, while rejecting would mean pushing away, denying, not wanting something, in this example being rejected from her first choice of school would not be the outcome she would want.
This other (and I believe ultimately more powerful) way to think about acceptance is without the lens of judgement/approval/evaluating. True acceptance means stepping away from the liking/disliking paradigm altogether. Another term for this form of acceptance is radical acceptance, a description used in DBT, radical acceptance means allowing your experience to be just what it is, flowing with the rhythm of life, not trying to control what is beyond your control, just observing what is. Now, this does not mean you don’t have feelings or an opinion about what’s in front of you. What it does mean is that you don’t conflate the two, that seeing what’s in front of you and what you believe about what’s in front of you are distinct.
Being able to hold the facts and the feelings about the facts as separate gives you so many advantages. The one most obvious benefit is that you can plan your action based on what is, not on what you wish to be true. Your actions are more likely to be effective the closer they take reality into account.
I’ll talk more about radical acceptance in my next post. Stay tuned :-)
Isn’t that a great title?
I’m reading a book by Dr. Henry Cloud about how failing to end something blocks businesses from creating something new and better, whether that ending is a way of doing business, or discontinuing a product line that is no longer selling, or letting an employee go when they are not receptive to going in a new direction.
Applying this idea to a more personal and global context about living a life, I think about how our fears of letting something or someone go, often without a clear sense of what’s next, can keep us from trying something new and better for us.
The idea of needing to let go of the brass ring for the chance to catch the gold one comes to mind here.
But there’s risk you say. Of course there is!
But there is risk, while not as obvious, to holding on to what is not working too.
Not ending something that deep down you know is no longer working for you, leaving a job or a relationship or a way of doing something, is scary. And, often it is the only way to clear the space for something new and better to come forward.
“Each experience in your life was absolutely necessary
in order to have gotten you to the next place….
up to this very moment.”
Continuing on the theme of gratitude, for what we have and what we don’t have…..
In the last post, I wrote about being grateful for the things I wanted that didn’t work out. Here’s another quote related to that. I like this idea of seeing our life experiences as beads on a necklace, links on a chain. Seeing all that has happened as necessary steps to put me on the path to the life I have now. I wouldn’t have my today without the yesterday.
Even the suffering.
Not that those experiences weren’t difficult, but that they were creating the way for what lay ahead.
How about you? Do you find this to be true in your own life?
“Remember to be grateful for what you never received.”
I read this today and couldn’t find the author but decided to post it anyway.
So much here to think about, all the things I have wanted that I didn’t get, and only afterwards to realize that thank goodness, I didn’t get it.
Or the relationships that didn’t work out that I mourned, only in retrospect to feel grateful, so grateful, that they didn’t.
Allowing space to be created for what I do have. And treasure.
So be grateful today for what you do have. And take a moment to appreciate what you don’t.
My name is Carol J. Tadeusik. I am a licensed psychologist in Durham, North Carolina. I invite you to read my blog and get to know me and a bit about how I think. And by the way, I love comments!
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