Sometimes I want to say a lot but I can’t bring the words to my lips. So I sit here, staring at the wall in silence. I’ve tried to put my thoughts down here but three lines in, I stop and delete what I wrote. What I need to say feels too big and so tiny at the same time. I think this is why I keep deleting and rewriting. It’s because the moment I get into a topic of sharing, I suddenly become aware that everything circles back to one topic — resilience.
This is an area I’ll eventually open a call for under my press, just not quite yet. But resilience is something that I used to hate. The word, not the meaning. And it’s because when I first got into my psych classes, we were being taught that the reason some people don’t get PTSD (even when in the same circumstance) is that they’re resilient. In my mind, this translated into ‘they’re strong and I’m weak’. But this wasn’t correct. I knew it wasn’t at that time too, but I didn’t really understand why I felt that way.
Now, I’m deeper into my actual school program (not the pre-req classes like intro to psych) and we’re taking resilience in a very different direction. Resilience isn’t being looked at as ‘if you get PTSD you’re not resilient’, it’s being looked at as anyone that develops a coping mechanism (like the trauma responses I’d developed) is resilient. My PTSD was my resilience. This means that things like hypervigilance, alcoholism, smoking, paranoia, even some larger mental struggles, can serve as coping mechanisms just as much as running and writing and the other options that are looked at as being the ‘good’ kinds of resilience. Yet, all of these coping skills show resilience. They show a will to live. To survive. And when we put judgment on the ones that can lead to further unhealthiness, then we’re not seeing that people taking part in these other types of coping are resilient. Some may have PTSD, some may not, but that’s beside the point.
Any habit, even ones deemed good, can turn bad when overdone. Running can turn into permanent knee damage, eating healthy can turn into an eating disorder where the person isn’t getting enough nutrition, and these can be just as damaging as a person leaning on cigarettes to get them through. The key isn’t to judge our methods of coping, it’s to recognize that they are there to get us through hard times and that they aren’t meant to be a permanent solution. For some, they may need to feel numb, others may need an adrenalin rush, something/anything to make them feel alive. This comes from an inherent desire to live, not the opposite. And some of us will need more help than others to break away from these coping mechanisms when we’re ready and/or able, and that’s okay too. Some folks resilience/coping mechanisms may affect us negatively, and that’s when it’s good to have healthy boundaries, but this still doesn’t mean that others’ coping skills are about us. Just like their projection and assumptions and judgments aren’t about us.
This was the trap I found myself in today. It’s why this post changed like tenish something times before I realized what I wanted and needed to say. I was focusing on others judging me because they have and continue to, and I can usually look at them and know that their judgment is about them, not me, but today–for the first time–I also realized this is a type of resilience for them. When we project, or deflect, it can be about narcissism…or…it can be about self-preservation. It can be another form of developed resilience. Even narcissism (depending on the level I suspect) can be about resilience. Because resilience isn’t about doing the right thing, it’s about staying alive. This isn’t something to put judgment to, just a thing that is. By understanding this, it helps me pull back from feeling judged, even when I’m clearly and blatantly being judged, and helps me ask myself ‘why does this person need this behavior in order to survive’?
I can look at a woman now–attacking me for my sex-positivity–and see that she must be surrounded by people that shame her or oppress her and that her attacking me is a type of survival for her. It’s a part of her resilience.
I’m sharing this because I feel this is something we all need to take a look at. If we can’t understand that judgment is a type of resilience, then we won’t know to ask ourselves why we feel threatened or the need to survive. And if we never address those things, then our resilience may become a behavior that is an oppressing and abusive force to others. We need to understand what resilience is and how it can look like a negative when it’s really about staying alive. Only then can we actually address the issues driving us.
So much of what I do now is pulling back judgment. It’s something we discuss daily in my field of study. The words, ‘we’re not talking judgment here, just the facts’ are spoken daily to remind us that a user is not a ‘junkie’, they are a human being that needed to be numb or mellow or happy and that drug was their survival at the moment. This doesn’t mean our methods won’t eventually kill us, but it does mean that we are using these coping mechanisms so that we don’t give up. Otherwise, a user would have just overdosed.
I don’t think anyone will argue in favor of long-term habits that are bad for us just because they are part of our coping strategy. But if we don’t see those things as a resilence, then it’s far easier for those ‘in the moment’ strategies to become long-term and much harder to break habits.
Even with this long explanation of my thoughts and where I’m at, I’ve still not done this concept justice. It’s so big and so small at the same time. All I ask is that those reading this think about what resilience means. How do people find these coping skills and how might those same skills translate into healing, growth, and positive change? How can our own coping skills and resiliency serve as a clue to let us know what needs changing in our own lives?