Developing resilience to turn our wounds into opportunities


Turn pain into opportunity
Periods of crisis and personal, social or economic difficulty have the advantage of highlighting and, in a certain way, developing the resources and capacity that societies and individuals possess to cope with adversity and overcome obstacles, becoming stronger than before. For this reason, in recent years, the issue of resilience has become increasingly central. This term derives from the science of materials and indicates the ability of these to absorb shock and energy produced while the material is being deformed.

The image also represents a good description of the human being's ability to cope with adversity by becoming soft. It is therefore not a question of opposing strenuous resistance to difficulties, but of making oneself soft in order to absorb the blows of life. If the ability to bear a critical event (stress), opposing it with an equal and opposite force, is what makes us resistant (Maddi, Khoshaba 2005), being able to assume an attitude sufficiently elastic to integrate the negative, and sometimes traumatic, event, in our life is what makes us resilient.
This ability can neither be considered an innate or genetically determined trait, nor a property that can be acquired once and for all in life. It is more properly a process, and like all processes it varies in the dimension of time and space, according to situations and circumstances (Vaillant, 1993, Anaut, 2003). It is therefore unreasonable to expect people to act at a high or low level in all circumstances or to show themselves competent in all areas or situations in life (Masten & Reed, 2005).

If one cannot be born resilient or become one permanently, one can nevertheless train a certain inclination that will help us in this direction. Here are some of them, referring the interested reader to further information that can be found in the recent volume "May the tears become pearls"(Meringolo, Chiodini, Nardone, 2016).

Training for resilience
Contemplate the opposites.
Resilience can be expressed when the person is able to accept fragility, difficulty and lack, considering them aspects as worthy and important as strength, success, opportunities. It is a question of using the power of flexibility (Zani, Cicognani, 1999) to carry out a virtuous process of continuous adaptation and self-development. This means using a non-ordinary logic (Nardone, 2008, 2009, 2013) that allows us to get out of the strong / weak dichotomous idea; negative / positive, in order to transform the negative into a positive, or to support the positive precisely by virtue of the presence of the negative.

Resilience has to do with ambiguity and apparent contradiction; it moves on the thin thread that separates good and evil, suffering and happiness, wounding and strengthening. It emphasizes the virtue of contemplating the opposites, not seeking a strenuous and tiring balance, but in training oneself to become sufficiently elastic by inserting small disorders into the order, precisely in order to maintain order.

Reason and sentiment.
If the region is usually considered the main way to manage difficulties and search for solutions, the experience of pain and trauma show us very clearly how it fails miserably in the face of life's tragedies. Facing a bereavement, a separation, the death of a loved one with the sole reason will never allow to build a positive way out of pain, in which the person can resiliently rebuild their own life web. Rationalizing becomes, in these cases, an obstacle to the resilience process which can only be realized by passing through pain, giving space to feeling as well as thinking, within an apparent contradiction. Contradiction and paradox of facts are very common in our experience, but very little considered by reason (Nardone, 2013)

Responsibility and creation of meaning.
The ability of people to attribute to themselves the outcome of certain situations and actions, or what Rotter (1966) defined locus of control, allows us to face events, even those over which we cannot have any control, such as an accident or a natural disaster, in a proactive way. In other words, we are able to regain possession of the weight and meaning that those events will have in our life, avoiding relinquishing the responsibility of managing the consequences. If life is not what happens to us, but what we do with what happens to us, Huxley would say, then we are always and in any case responsible for what we do, we build or we avoid building with what fate has in our lot, and it's not always good luck.

We thus have the duty to write and rewrite our history by deciding how the new pages throw a different light and a new meaning even on the events of the past. What allows us to face even the most extreme experiences is the power of man to research and rewrite the meaning of history. Pain can thus be transformed into performance, guilt into elevation, the transience of human existence into a stimulus for responsible action (Frankl, 1946, 1997).

If one cannot think of resilience training, it is possible to identify some tricks that allow on the one hand to cultivate our skills and on the other hand to intervene to unblock difficult situations in which we temporarily do not have access to our resources. Some cases of more extreme difficulty, perhaps connected to traumatic episodes or that seriously limit the person's life, require, conversely, a targeted intervention which will also have an increase in the person's resilience capacity. If the ability to request help is an important element of resilience, it is up to the professional to identify and indicate the most suitable help at that time. This is of fundamental importance if we want to avoid the risk of dangerous simplifications and passepartou interventions based on the fashions of the moment.

Some suggestions
Circular versus linear and linear versus circular: or how to develop one's own elasticity.

This stratagem (Nardone, 2003) refers, applied to oneself, to the ability to develop one's potential and one's flexibility, taking care to exercise that part of us that does not come to us so natural and "spontaneous", striving not to make pervasive and totalizing what comes to us best in order not to make it stiffen on itself. So if we tend to follow a linear logic of systematic control, let's train ourselves to insert some small transgression; vice versa if we favor a creative and artistic modality, let's train ourselves to insert some systematic control. The creative insert a dose of meticulousness, and the prudent a small dose of risk. A part always needs its opposite to exist and develop favorably, otherwise it would become extinct or stiffen dangerously.

A little daily challenge.
Contemplate the difficulty and get to transform fragility into strength it can, in a certain way, be trained through the creation of small daily challenges, small difficulties or goals to be achieved. In addition to a stratagem to use with oneself, it is a fundamental process in the educational relationship that allows parents to support the resources and abilities of their children to cope with negative events. In fact, the deleterious effect that a certain protective or excessively caring pedagogy or educational style has exerted on the younger generations is quite visible (Nardone, 2012). The risk in this case is to make young people unable to support, at least emotionally, the frustration and unable, because they are not sufficiently trained, to tolerate the difficulty and react to suffering.

The care of beauty
Viktor Frankl invites us to devote ourselves with passion to a greater goal, to seek passion. If we tune in to this suggestion we see how to pay attention to the beauty around us, not to what is useful, but to what is able to arouse interest and passion, represents an Ariadne's thread for the exit from pain. In the book Zen and the tea ceremony, Kakuzo Okakura identifies what distinguishes humanitas in the pleasure of picking a flower to give it to her partner.

Among the many abilities of living beings, resilience is not only one of the most fascinating, but the one that distinguishes people who, in addition to surviving misfortunes, derive further strength from them. Like the flowers born in the desert, or the prickly pear of Etna, which not only grows in the earth scorched by the volcano, but makes it fertile again (Meringolo, Chiodini, Nardone, 2016 p. 143)

Dr. Moira Chiodini (Official Psychologist-Psychotherapist of the Strategic Therapy Center)



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