Individuals, communities, and cultures can cultivate their ability to resile, to bounce back. Those who develop resiling skills are able to move from resisting change to embracing change, from being to becoming, from post traumatic stress disorder to post traumatic growth.[iii]
The World is a fraught place.
We face challenges every day. Our politicians wrestle with so-called
“fiscal cliffs” in the wake of a divisive presidential election. Our
communities struggle through the aftermath of incomprehensible gun violence. Those of us in the helping professions and
the clients we serve are tested at every turn.
Rich or poor, famous or not, we all grapple with a multiplicity of
daunting trials, pregnant as they may be with opportunities for growth.
Many of us are trying to overcome personal mistreatments and
their hold on us from the past. Others
are longing to deepen our marriages in spite of a seeming lack of awe inspiring
models of lifelong love. Maybe we are
searching for existential meaning in the pit of despair.
What are we to do?
How can we forward through the perceived muddle of such challenging
Words are not unlike vegetation. Taken together they become a kind of ecology
of language. Our word choices might lead
us to think of problems or to imagine opportunities. What word seeds might we plant to enact
positive change in 2013? How might these words more deeply inspire us to
harvest an ethos of aspiration and clear eyed hope? My goal in writing this article is to plant
just such a conversational seed by focusing our attention on one word in
In the spirit of Viktor Frankl and others before him, Dr.
Albert Siebert (1934–2009), the founder of the Resiliency Center
explored the human capacity for resiliency.
He strived not to become a better researcher in the causes and
treatments of mental illness, but to better “understand people so mentally
healthy they can survive extreme life adversities without becoming
psychological casualties, and emerge stronger than before.”[i]
The key, according to Siebert, is
Siebert describes a resilient person as being “able to recover
quickly from misfortune; able to return to original form after being bent,
compressed, or stretched out of shape.”
Resiliency, he continues, is “a human ability to recover quickly from
disruptive change, or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in
dysfunctional or harmful ways.”[ii]
have found Siebert’s work inspiring in the way he aims to move beyond seeing
resiliency as merely a noun we either have or do not have. Instead, he invites us to enter more deeply
into its ecology as a verb. Individuals,
communities, and cultures can cultivate their ability to resile, to bounce
back. Those who develop resiling skills
are able to move from resisting change to embracing change, from being to
becoming, from post traumatic stress disorder to post traumatic growth.[iii]
One can see resiliency’s muted hopes submerged in a language
of the problems and tragedies of the day.
Phrases grow in the lexicon and slowly,
almost imperceptibly take hold until suddenly one morning we wake up thinking:
“That’s just the way things are.” We
are awash in a sea of one-liners that shift our locus of control from the
internal and manageable to the external and insurmountable. “How can we solve this together?” moves to
“those people are the problem,” or “if only my wife behaved differently,” or, or, or….
People cultivate various levels of resilient behavior
according to Seibert. Those with low
levels tend to see the world in black and white terms. Such people often engage in judgmental “us
vs. them” thinking. Not unlike our recent presidential election, common ground
is disavowed. The candidates almost impulsively
defined the other as negative and opposite.
A pitched battle of judgmental thinking around what Siebert would call
scripted identities (“liberal” or “conservative”) ensued.
What if we imagine a World during the last presidential
election in which Mitt Romney and Barak Obama sat in awe inspired admiration of
each other’s efforts at different points in their careers to improve our health
care system? In such an exchange we can
envision them acknowledging their points of agreement, opening to curiosity
about their differing views, and skillfully honoring those differences. An
opportunity was lost to resile and to join together more closely, liberal and
conservative, in the face of human created challenges with infinitely
achievable human solutions. How might we
strive for something different in our discussions of Sandy Hook or our fiscal
debate? In our own relationships?
In my work as a couples counselor, I often see similar dynamics
unfold. Partners negatively define each
other as “demeaned opposites” instead of fellow humans with uniquely different
and potentially inspiring, complimentary sets of identifications. I find myself frequently returning to the
well of Seibert’s findings in such instances.
He reminds me to see the ways each partner expresses resiliency. The very fact of their presence, together (!) in my office inspires an
awareness of their capacities, however latent they may be. As Siebert teaches us, resilient people are
willing to seek help when they can’t find the answers themselves.
Building on these latent yet ever quivering capacities for
resilient unfolding, I can orient them toward some of the other skills Siebert
encourages us to cultivate:
· The ability to hold opposites
(pessimism-optimism, fluidity-groundedness, sameness-difference)
· The awareness that personality traits are not
constant but contextual and changeable
· A talent for serendipity – using one’s wisdom
to convert mishap into opportunity
· A deep mind-body connection
· A healthy sense of:
(what you expect from yourself)
emotional opinion of yourself)
ideas about yourself)[iv]
I have found that the more I, along with the couples,
families, and individuals with whom I work tune into and hone such resiliency
skills, the more we almost alchemically grow in our felt sense of “being equal” to the challenges of
life. As therapist and client resile
alike, step by step this felt sense of being equal to life overtakes the
downward gaze of long faced resignation.
In the coming year how might we as individuals, as loving
partners, collaborative colleagues, and caring friends and even as communities,
whole cultures, and countries seek to tap into our own unique resiliency
I aspire to engage daily in this resiliency reminder and, in
my own local here-now way, to contribute to a more hopeful and vibrant ecology
of positive change. In turn and one
little word-seed at a time, we can all inspire each other to cultivate our
collective resiliency together. I look
forward to meeting you along the way somewhere in the garden of 2013. Where will it be? What wonderful things might
Siebert: The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and
Bounce Back From Setbacks (2005), p. 5.
Siebert (2005), p. 193.
Groeschel, MFT Intern currently has an office in Oakland where he applies his
uniquely strength based, aspiration focused, and spiritually nourishing
approach to counseling with couples, families, and individuals. You can read
more about him here
and he can be contacted by phone 510.606.9981 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Labels: Albert Siebert, Andrew Groeschel, Couples Therapy, Resliency