Suffering and Resiliency

I do a lot of research into Indigenous issues, particularly around how Indigenous people can begin to decolonize their minds from colonial violence. I don’t claim to be a psychological expert or anything like that, however I do have my own lived experience and education that has helped me uncover truths about the Indigenous condition, or at least for some of us.

In my experiences there have been resilient people who can create and be vulnerable without fear because they know in the end that, even through rejection and betrayal, they will be fine in the end. These folks tend to go far in life. Then there are less resilient people who can create and be vulnerable, but not without fear and struggle. These folks struggle with vulnerability but learn how to adapt, they remain curious about their own psychology, and never lose hope that one day they will succeed. Then there are folks that cannot create nor handle being vulnerable because life has given them reasons not to, or have learned not to trust in themselves or anyone else because the world they were born into has always been a world where personal shields and a metal heart has meant survival.

I don’t blame these folks.

I identify as somewhere in the middle, and it truly is a spectrum. Recently I fell into a hole in which I had to consider whether or not I would choose the path of a metal heart and hate, or the path where I honor the struggle and find resiliency. In other words, I faced adversity and how I managed that adversity would determine how I would continue on. Fear is a painful emotion, and how we manage that pain is how we become less resilient or more resilient (and it’s okay if you disagree with me).

Sometimes we think that if only we were enough in certain areas (money, appearance, status) then maybe, just MAYBE we’d be enough and we wouldn’t be suffering in the way we currently are. This has been my last couple of weeks, particularly around being triggered on abandonment and unworthiness from sci-fi books my English professor assigned to the class, and then subsequent life events continued me on a spiral of unworthiness and fear. To stay in that mindset of “If only I had… then maybe I’d be good enough or have enough” is to exasperate your pain and fear, because even if we had all of those things we’d still find a reason to be miserable because our resiliency would be low. The rich, the beautiful and the popular all struggle if they stay in that mindset and refuse to build resiliency.
For me, I have considered resiliency to be two paths, and they often work in tandem or separately, depending on what you need, and most importantly they’re a practice rather than a quick fix. Those things are Self Compassion and Empathy.

Dr. Kristin Neff was the researcher who studied self compassion and identified three components: self kindness (how you’d talk to a friend, but to yourself), mindfulness (recognizing the pain), and common humanity (recognizing that pain is part of the human experience). Read more here.

Dr. Brenè Brown was the researcher who studied empathy and identified four ways of developing resiliency over the “I’m not good enough” thoughts (i.e. shame, or the belief or experience that we’re not worthy of acceptance and belonging): Acknowledging personal vulnerability (the stories or triggers that made you feel not worthy, or, literally, “open to attack”), critical awareness (what cultural or environmental conditions reinforce your perception of your worthiness? e.g. what our culture says about body weight, or masculinity, or maybe it was personal trauma in your environment), reaching out (receiving empathy from another person, someone who can feel with you, or better yet, to say “me too”), and “speaking shame” (knowing the difference between shame and other emotions and expressing it appropriately). A great video that explains this.

For me it has been easier said than done, because it truly is a practice. Since I was a child I always believed I wasn’t good enough because I was queer and a God fearing christian (I still am a Christian… and, surprise surprise, a queer). I’m neither so resilient that vulnerability isn’t so tormenting, nor so non-resilient that I must numb every pain and vulnerability I experience.

Again, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Regardless, we can’t be happy unless we learn to be kinder to ourselves, and although that sounds cliche, it’s one of the deepest truths about the pursuit of happiness — not money, status or appearance. Life is difficult, or life is suffering as the Buddha said it, but it’s our job to find meaning and purpose even in the darkest of times otherwise life will do us in; it’s a force of nature, not a fairy godmother, and it waits for no one.

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