Sometimes it just takes someone to remind you that you can

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Resilience is one of the most powerful words in the English language.

When I introduced resilience as a group topic recently, women in the group responded with some personal stories and a lot of head nodding and “mm-hmm”s of agreement. Most of them had never heard the word “resilient” and couldn’t define it but recognized how they’d been resilient in their lives. They were excited to have a word to describe their life experiences of survival and perseverance.

I define resilience as the ability to bounce back from a setback, challenge or difficulty. A resilient person finds a way to keep going in the face of what seems impossible.

In my discussions of resilience, I acknowledge how much we have already overcome and survived to get to where we are now. Physical or emotional abuse, bullying, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, disappointments, illness, poverty, harassment … Life can be a struggle for many. Honoring our strength to get through it shifts the focus to what we have done instead of what we have failed to do.

“I really needed this,” Monica confessed at the conclusion of the group. “This came at exactly the right time for me. Resilience is pretty much the whole theme of my life.”

Monica left empowered to learn that she already had skills to change her life. She just needed someone to believe that she could, to give her courage to believe in herself. She needed someone to name her Resilient.

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My list: Learners and questioners

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I like to read motivational articles and leadership tips and advice. These writings from such sources as Wired.com and Inc.com give me new tips for managing employees and interns and expand my perspective on leadership and professionalism. Occasionally, such pieces also contain ideas that carry over into my personal life.

But I don’t expect to find insight into my love life in online business postings. Then I read an article today called “5 Types of People to Run Like Heck From.”

Under the heading “The Non-Learner,” writer Nilofer Merchant explained why she can’t stand people who profess to not need to read or do research because they already know enough.

Merchant observed that such people will fail because they don’t take in new information and don’t ask necessary questions. “Opening yourself up to new information lets you form better questions and learn what new questions still need to be asked,” Merchant wrote.

Reading these words, I thought of my husband. As a younger girl, I had made a list (yes, I am one of those people) of the traits I wanted in a partner. I judged the men I dated according to this list for many years, and most came up seriously lacking.

Then I met the man who would become my husband. I gradually came to realize that he possesses all of the traits on my list. Most significantly, he is constantly open to receiving new information and asking questions that lead him to more info and still more questions. This trait is what first attracted me to him and what keeps me interested in and drawn to him today.

My husband is not the only person like this. The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of these people. One of his questions was, “How are we serving others?” and “How can we change the course of history?”

There are many of us who ask questions each day in our lives. Those of us who do so have recognized that we can learn something new every day, even in the most unexpected of places.

Uproot the bitterness

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One of my favorite sayings is, “Bitterness cannot be rooted in a grateful heart.”

When we are grateful, amazed and open to the wonders of the world around us, it is very difficult to harbor resentment and bitterness toward our fellow human beings. We recognize, instead, that humans are complex creatures with rich and varied stories and that most do the best they can with what they have.

Bitterness gets in the way of life. Like a sour taste in our mouth, bitterness interferes with our ability to detect the sweetness, the specialness of a meal or a moment or a memory.

We have to make a definitive choice to wash away that bitter flavor. Twelve step programs require the listing of resentments and the making of amends as an aid to exchanging bitterness for joy. This is one model that we can adopt when trying to turn over a new leaf.

One simple practice that can get us looking at the world in a different way is the writing of a gratitude list. Obvious items on such a list include life, health, breath, sunshine and family.

As we tune in to the majesties of creation, we may come up with more specific and creative items for our list. Some favorites are the blue-green color of my daughter’s eyes, the dimple on my son’s cheek, the strong, warm feel of my husband’s fingers when we hold hands, and the sound of my sister’s laugh through the phone line.

When we pay attention to what we like about life, loved ones and the world around us, we suddenly have less time for bitterness and resentment and anger. The roots of bitterness grow weak, and the sour taste fades from our mouth.

Becoming a better therapist

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Therapy is hard work.

While it is not physically demanding, working closely with individuals in crisis can sap us emotionally. Burn out, or compasion fatigue, can be a problem. Being present and engaged for so many hours a day for people who truly need our guidance and support is draining.

In addition to the difficulty in remaining empathic and open, stress also arises from questioning our effectiveness with clients. Are we doing the best job that we can for those we see? There are so many factors to consider in answering this question.

Rather than reconfigure our entire approach, there are some basic aspects of the counseling process that can be adjusted to make a big difference. Studies have shown that the way that clients relate to their therapist is an important part of therapy.

In light of the significance of therapeutic relationship, we may have to alter our approach slightly to get better outcomes with different types of clients. For example, passive clients tend to respond better to therapists that are more directive, while more strong-willed clients appreciate being able to co-lead the counseling process.

It is vital that we as therapists, and as people sharing this planet with others, take the time to reflect on how we relate to those around us and make small adjustments that can have a big result.

 

Take the good with the bad

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December 31st prompts much reflection and recollection on the preceding year. We recount “the best of” and “the worst of” the last 12 months in sports, politics and entertainment, as well as our personal lives.

When we make New Year’s resolutions, we imagine a future with more health, happiness and prosperity than the past. We are people of hope on the cusp of a new year.

Even as we speak of and plan for better days to come, we can acknowledge that we often gain most not from what goes well but what goes wrong. We grow in our mistakes, our trials and our flaws. Life is full of ups and downs, and its variety shapes us into the people we are becoming.

In 2013, resolve to live more fully and completely. Resolve to see opportunities in challenges and blessings everywhere.