I watched a lot of cartoons as a child. I remember the zany poundings, loud kabooms, and characters falling 100 stories with only a momentary gaze. You remember Goofy bouncing and dusting himself off after being plummeted by an adversary before dashing into the next scene. I didn’t always laugh when most kids would. I knew I was watching a cartoon, and I knew if I fell down an elevator shaft, it would hurt and I could break. But the fast return of the characters kept my attention. I knew it wasn’t real, but I wanted it to be.
Strong impressions were forged into my awareness about “getting over it” and moving on past adversity. According to the American Psychological Association (APA),
resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.
My experiences have shown me that resilient people don’t think of themselves as victims; they’re problem solvers who can put distractions aside to create something new. They don’t moan about what happened to them; they look ahead and work out the issues at hand.
The APA highlights two important points in its refined definition of resiliency:
- Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.
- Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
Some people seem to be born with a fair share of resilience and can bounce back while others crack at the whisper of a setback. So, it appears that some people have it and some don’t. My experience has been that we all are resilient to some degree. Some people are better than others at checking their emotions to live positively in the moment. To me, resiliency measures the scope of a person’s emotional endurance: At what point will she or he break under pressure? What will the break look like? How long will it last?
We all know people who have gotten stuck on a bad situation such as a failed relationship, a self-esteem devastating event, or some other hard-hitting life experience they just can’t shake. Their lives are tainted by an indelible event that created a rut that causes the derailment of their emotional and personal growth.
When I practiced law, I saw raw resilience in the clients I represented. These men and women were physically, mentally, and sexual abused as children. Some were preyed upon by relatives, and others were victims of teachers, neighbors, or members of the clergy. And while every case was different in terms of the nature, extent, and relationship of the victim to the perpetrator, resilient humanity shone through like a bright light.
My clients’ ability to recall and understand their pasts were coupled with a strong conviction to confront perpetrators through the legal system. Their determination is indicative of resilience. Confronting a perpetrator requires exposing grossly violated boundaries between an adult and a child; resilient people face this backward look well and with dignity. While confronting a perpetrator can be a wretched experience, overcoming the obvious obstacles of making decades-old allegations takes a hefty dose of physical and emotional strength coupled with a strong foundation of resiliency.
Resiliency is an important character trait for surviving prison. People who have jail or prison experience know full well that they are living in an insane world. I write about that world in my book, Derailed: How Being a Lawyer Taught Me to Survive in Prison.
On October 20, 2003, I realized within minutes of being locked up in OCJ (Orange County Jail) that with incarceration I had a dangerous and topsy-turvy world. With no life experience upon which to compare what was happening to me … I relied on and learned to trust my animal instincts (page 161).
Without knowing it, I was intuitively drawing upon my childhood attraction to mock cartoon violence with its profound show of resilience. For me, this wasn’t a Goofy exercise for survival in a mad, mad world.
Please share your resilience experiences along with any comments and suggestions you may have on the subject.
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