If you are not vulnerable your resilience is not authentic
A few days ago I was in a bookstore to get me new reading material. There was a book at shelf with the bestsellers that caught my attention. It was entitled: Resilience: The secret of mental toughness – What makes us strong against stress, depression and burn-out. I admit, I didn’t buy the book and read it, but I researched a little bit about the term resilience. In Wikipedia Germany I found the following definition: resilience (lat. resilire, snap back ‘bounce’, similar to resistance.) is the ability to cope with crises by making use of personal and socially mediated resources and to take them as an opportunity for development. Psychology assumes that the foundations of this resilience are already laid in childhood and that there are people who develop this ability by nature. Resilience is also compared with the immune system of the soul or hard skin on the soul. So far, so good. But part of the definition on Wikipedia made me suspicious. It says: The opposite of resilience is vulnerability. I knew that there was something amiss!
If a psychologist would have tested my resilience, I certainly would have passed the test. Resilient children (according to Wikipedia) are described by their teachers as adaptive, robust, attentive, efficient, clever, curious and full of self-confidence. This is a very fitting description of me as a child, but also as a teenager and as a young adult – even if my confidence was probably an act because I didn’t felt self-confident at all. Because deep in me there was this conviction of not being good enough. So all my resilience was based on nothing more than a sophisticated, often tested survival strategy (including acting skills), which had absolutely nothing to do with authentic resilience. I was very successful with this strategy and my environment envied my positive attitude. I was everybody’s darling, I managed each test and was able to put away crises and difficult situations in very short time – literally. I did this successfully until the place where I put everything was full. Then my resilience was gone! You can imagine what happened next.
I assume out of my own experience that often resilience, so highly vaunted in psychology, is just that: a clever survival strategy consisting of a high ability to adapt, to numb feelings and thereby fooling oneself and others. It makes a difference whether I can stand and put away difficult situations or whether I have really learned to deal with them and to use them for my life. The former can be achieved by making ourselves as numb as possible, applying positive thinking. Authentic, genuine resilience can mean but the latter.
Brene Brown, an American social researcher, researched about the phenomenon of happy people for a long time. She found out in the first step that the feeling of connection is a key factor for happy people, in all dimensions: connection to others, to oneself, to the world, to what we are doing. She further found out, that this connection is often disturbed by the fear of inadequacy and not being worthy of love. The feeling of shame interrupts the connection and makes us avoiding connection. In her TED Talk, The power of vulnerability, Brene Brown defines shame as the fear of disconnection, in the sense of: “When others see me as I really am, then I will get cast out, because I am not good enough and not worthy of connection.” But the point is, that real connection can only occur, when we are authentic and let us be seen, for what we really are – with all our faults and imperfections. Brene has discovered that there are two groups of people within her research: those who believed that they are worthy of love and connection, even with their faults and imperfections, and those who thought they were not good enough and not worthy of connection. She looked further at the first mentioned group and found out that the people of this group all had the following qualities: the courage to show up with their imperfections, compassion towards themselves and others and connection – as a result of their authenticity. These people were willing to be vulnerable and to deal with the fear of exclusion to get themselves connected.
The result of her research was the following distinction: vulnerability is on the one hand the core of shame and fear, but it is also the birthplace of creativity, joy, love and belonging – it is the secret recipe of happy people. And I personally would even go further: vulnerability is the basis of authentic resilience! Not the resilience that pretends and puts things away. Not the resilience that tries to cover the feeling of shame and fear with positive thinking, in order not to feel anything. I don’t talk about the ability to deceive ourselves that nothing can upset us, which is based on a high level of numbness. The resilience that I talk about is born of vulnerability in the sense of willingness and ability to feel and accept pain. Pain in form of anger, fear, sadness and joy. And the ability to use this pain as fuel to create our lives according to our vision.
Just as we can build our physical immune system through conscious and healthy eating, conscious body workout and so on, we can also build and strengthen the immune system of our emotional body by learning to feel again. Authentic resilience does not mean to cultivate a hard skin on our souls in order not to feel anything, but to train our emotional muscles and hold them smooth, in order to feel pain already on a very low level and take it as an indicator to do something.
Conscious feelings work is a training for authentic resilience.
I definitely recommend watching the TED Talk by Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerabilty