The extra-ordinary resilience of "ordinary" people
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
I was delivering a talk on motivation, where although I was there to explain "the science bit", the line up included athletes who had broken necks, backs, and so on - recovered and went on to do amazing things like sail the channel or return to elite sports. When I stepped on stage after those stories, I'm grateful that I raised a laugh with, "Er, well, I was born, I studied psychology and here I am..."
I'm still nowhere near the feats of strength I listened to that day, but as I sit here writing this - I do know that this year, I've walked on fire, I've been involved in "The Big Sleep Out" and walking challenges, and not only did I teach myself to swim (properly), but 9 months after that even though the event I was working toward got cancelled, I nonetheless decided I would still do the distance and completed it in my local pool. And that's not all, since having the privilege of a presenting platform on NLive Radio, I have also been honoured to broadcast hundreds of inspirational stories from people who simply say "Well, you just get on with it don't you?" I always remind them - YOU just get on with it, many others wouldn't. We talk a lot about remembering to be kind because you don't know what people are dealing with, how about meeting everyone with a sense of awe, because they have all overcome something which made them who they are today.
-How about the NHS worker who dealt with years of both racism and child abuse and is now a peer mentor and BAME representative: Listen Sept 13th 9pm
-And the master planner, architect and wild swimmer who had a stroke in 2019, but not only encouraged me to get swimming, but did his 10k at the same time - his first "big" swim since then: Listen Here (starts 9.30pm)
...OR, maybe you'd also like to hear about the psychologist who found out by accident on December 4th 2020 that everything she'd been led to believe for 44 years was not quite true.
But now is not the time nor place for that story, so let's just say "saving face" hugely triumphed over authenticity, and return to my original point.
All three of those people (maybe 4 ;) ) hold their power secret but will discuss it if asked, all three do not let the event define them, and all three are, simply, my friends.
Thus over the last 6 weeks, I've also been so lucky and grateful that Disruptive Live have been kind enough to donate a Livestream platform for me to share even more stories - everyday people doing everyday things - which change so very many lives for the better:
- Lorraine and Lee Lewis demonstrating the power of a gift when that may be all you have to keep you going
- Diane Danzebrink and Andrea Swan campaigning for better women's health because of their experiences with misdiagnosis
- Anne Wankirri and the United African Association who recognised that while there is community support out there, we are missing the true needs of a diverse population
- Alessandra Bester who started to create chocolates to encourage her son with autism to eat - and now employs single mothers and those with autism, giving them a fulfilling career
- Sarah Ruggirello and Matt Burgess who remind us that gambling addiction can take hold fast, but help is out there
- Ben Francoise whose coffee shop provides employability and training to those otherwise marginalised, as well as being a community hub for wellbeing and connection.
As the common phrase goes, you may not change THE world, but for the one person you are able to connect with - their world can change forever. And being strong enough to make the changes YOU had to make to YOUR world is something to be recognised.
Every great success has been built on adversity
Resilience research suggests that when crisis or adversity comes our way we follow one of 4 pathways:
- We succumb
- We survive but we might be impaired
- We bounce back (resilience)
- We thrive
Often with the latter two outcomes, the conditions that have enabled us to survive and recover may have made the necessary “changes” within ourselves or within our environment to encourage new growth and even thriving. It is certainly possible to not only bounce back after failure – but to bounce higher than before.
BUT what is important is if we are looking at this quite phenomenal feat of strength as "well you just do it don't you"...I think we hugely underestimate ourselves.
Think of yourself not as a victim but a survivor and celebrate your strength
Positive psychology focuses on "OK to Thriving" rather than "Not OK to OK", and this is something that can help you recognise that yes, you have been through so much - but you have overcome it too.
Sometimes, and I understand this, when people recognise that what they have experienced is hugely painful, they almost want - or perhaps need - others to see it as well, almost a bit like "Please recognise how much I've been hurt". But I also recognise when I see this in clients that no amount of validation from others actually becomes enough, it is often that they need the recognition from the cause of the pain, or an answer as to "why me", and sadly, this is something they may never get.
This point is usually about half way in the healing process. The second half is about being able to celebrate yourself.
We actually DON'T need understanding to heal
What I find helps is telling my clients that understanding "why something happened" doesn't necessarily make much difference. I do appreciate that I might come into criticism from other approaches here, and to reassure those practitioners, this doesn't mean I don't allow my clients to explore nor talk about what happened and reflect on the reasons. However, knowing that someone was "just a nasty person"; or that "it wasn't personal they were struggling"; or "You were just born with it"...may minimise some of the negative emotional impact, but it doesn't really do much more.
It is as - if not more - important to create meaning out of what happened.
Every single person who has faced adversity has in some way used it to create meaning. They have moved from sufferer to hero. Perhaps they have changed the way they conduct their lives; perhaps they have gone on to create a business to fill the gaps they felt they had; perhaps they are able to give others comfort in a way they themselves lacked.
The change they have experienced in their own lives has enable them to make changes in the lives of others which in turn may even create a positive ripple effect.
So for a moment, pause your campaigns, your chasing of the next achievement, your question mark over "does anyone even care?"...
...and take a moment to look around you. The people who have said Thank You; the loved ones in your life; the new generation of those making a difference because you inspired them to - THEY care, THEY connected, and because of you - and the person you became - THEY are also going to go on and spread the positivity ripple a little further.
It won't be the cause of the pain in the first place, and no-one is saying forgive it, much less forget, but seek meaning in it having happened and that power is immense.
So today, even if you are holding anger, or pain, sadness, frustration, all sorts of emotions, invite in a little compassion at the same time and remind yourself that x showed you gratitude; y thanked you for inspiration; z felt heard. Recognise the power and meaning of what "YOU just do"...please...won't you?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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