Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hope (or, a resilient spirit)

Getting back to Brene Brown's nice little book 'The Gifts of Imperfection.' The chapter with Guidepost #3 is my favorite so far. It is on "Cultivating A Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness."

The basic premise of this chapter revolves around this question:
Why can some people cope with stress and trauma in a way that allows them to move forward in their lives, and why do other people appear more affected and stuck?
In discussing resilience, she notes the 5 most common factors of resilient people:
  • They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills.
  • They are more likely to seek help.
  • They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope.
  • They have social support available to them.
  • They are connected with others, such as family or friends.
So, maybe you're asking the same question I did at this point: What about the rest of us who are totally messed up and not like that!? Well, fortunately, she says there is more involved. According to her research spirituality is the very foundation needed to have any hope. And I like her definition:
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.
 From this foundation of spirituality she says 3 other significant patterns also emerged as being essential to resilience.:
  • Cultivating hope
  • Practicing critical awareness
  • Letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.

I felt just as she says she used to, that hope is nothing more than an emotion - a warm feeling of optimism and possibility. But she found it is not. Hope is NOT an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process. (This is huge!) She says she discovered hope happens when:
  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternate routes (I know how to get there, I'm persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).
 She writes this on p. 66:
So, hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities... And, if that's not news enough, here's something else: Hope is learned!... I think it's so empowering to know that I have the ability to teach my children how to hope. It's not a crapshoot. It's a conscious choice.
THAT is some powerful stuff there. We can learn to be hopeful!


Practicing critical awareness is about reality-checking the messages and expectations that drive the "never good enough" gremlins in our minds. She says we need to be able to ask and answer these questions:
  1. Is what I'm seeing real? Do these images convey real life or fantasy?
  2. Do these images reflect healthy, Wholehearted living, or do they turn my life, my body, my family, and my relationships into objects and commodities?
  3. Who benefits by my seeing these images and feeling bad about myself? (Hint: This is ALWAYS about money and/or control).

As far as dealing with difficult emotions (such as shame, grief, fear, despair, disappointment, and sadness), she says she found several things to be true:
  1. Most of us engage in behaviors (consciously or not) that help us to numb and take the edge off of vulnerability, pain, and discomfort.
  2. Addiction can be described as chronically and compulsively numbing and taking the edge off of feelings.
  3. We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
Again, she believes we all numb and take the edge off to some degree, but the question is, ..."Does our _____ (eating, drinking, spending, gambling, saving the world, incessant gossiping, perfectionism, sixty-hour workweek) get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we're enough? Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connected? Are we using it to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?"

She ends the chapter with a couple nice paragraphs:
Feelings of hopelessness, fear, blame, pain, discomfort, vulnerability, and disconnection sabotage resilience. The only experience that seems broad and fierce enough to combat a list like that is the belief that we're all in this together and that something greater than us has the capacity to bring love and compassion into our lives...

...Whether we're overcoming adversity, surviving trauma, or dealing with stress and anxiety, having a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective in our lives allows us to develop understanding and move forward. Without purpose, meaning, and perspective, it is easy to lose hope, numb our emotions, or become overwhelmed by our circumstances. We feel reduced, less capable, and lost in the face of struggle. The heart of spirituality is connection. When we believe in that inextricable connection, we don't feel alone.
 As I said at the beginning, this is good, good stuff. Finding hope (or having resilience) can be done; it can be learned. It can also be practiced. It's not going to just happen, but over time, going one step at a time, our lives can become better. I believe it has something to do with faith.

 "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."
                                                      ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross