Stop Congratulating me on my Resilience
Seriously, stop congratulating anyone on their resilience.
Sorry if that sounds harsh or abrupt. You mean well, but you aren't actually helping.
We're doing a disservice to all kinds of people when we highlight someone's resilience, especially as the finish line. Sometimes, including the people we're congratulating. Guess what? A LOT of us are resilient. A LOT of us have had something happen (again, those 'T' or 't' traumas of all sorts - some of us living in them continually). While we may not always be or always feel resilient, most of us actually are, and have experienced using our resilience at some point in our lives. How do I know? Because you're here, breathing, right this instant, reading this blog. (And hey, thanks for that!)
Here's my most common 'Wow, you're so resilient, story.' I go to X speaking event, where I discuss with some level of candor, my experience with domestic violence, but more explicitly, my experience with the system after I left my abuser. I explain shelters and limited-day stays, I explain homelessness, the court system for survivors, raising children in that chaos, losing jobs, changing my identity, the whole thing if they want me to... And at the end, someone inevitably comes up to me and says 'Wow. But it's just so great you survived. You are so resilient. You made it.'
I survived. I 'made it' because I didn't die.
That is not the win, folks. Resilience is not to be lauded. Resilience is to be scooped up, cared for if needed, patched up, loved up, fortified up, and moved forward. Because survival - because not dying - that's in no way the same as living. Resilience will help you survive but it won't make you live. And taking people we perceive as 'successful' after a trauma and assigning that success to their resilience, creates a whole series of unintended consequences; especially for those who are struggling themselves.
When we talk so much about resilience (and we really, really do) we present it like a destination. It's presented as the finish line if you can just endure this one more moment, this one more setback, this one more challenge, you will succeed by continuing to exist. It gives those living though trauma a clear message - be happy you just survived.
Here's what people don't often understand about my story and why I don't want to be called out for being 'resilient'.
Survival isn't enough. And 'you made it' (i.e. "Our entire home was destroyed by the flood, but we survived.') is a misleading platitude that indicates somehow the chaos of the 'after' just doesn't matter. But, you're still homeless, or jobless, or hungry, or needing to heal, or broke (or all of that!) and your present should matter. It should matter to you and it should matter to everyone else too. Because while you were engaging your incredible resilience - while you were fighting for your life, cleaning up from the storm, caregiving a sick child, enduring abuse - the world was still moving forward; and it was doing so without you. This is why so many of us who are 'so resilient' feel so damned tired all the time. Also, why we can get trapped in what I like to call 'continuous resilience'. Constantly just surviving and just getting by, coupled with the misnomer that we should somehow be relegated to just that existence, means we fall further and further behind.
Resilience is a super power. It absolutely is a key skill we must foster (that's a whole other post!) but it is not the solutions-giver we present it as. It glosses right over the work that comes after. That's the hard, sometimes ugly, but really, really powerful stuff.
Think of it like a boat you're riding on. Life is moving forward on the boat, you go to the deck to observe something and suddenly you fall off the boat into the water. No one else sees you fall off the boat so they keep going on their journey. Meanwhile, your resilience has kicked in and you are fighting to reach the surface of the water. You know you'll drown if you don't, so you fight like hell and break through to the air. You survived. You are totally, amazingly, resilient.
You are also still in the water - and the boat is long gone.
Your journey didn't end, it just began. You have to acclimate to your completely new and unexpected surroundings and start making decisions. Are you going to try and find the boat again? Are you going to tread water to see if you get rescued? Are you going to try and find your way to land? Whatever you choose, swimming to the surface saved you, true, but it didn't do anything to help you deal with this next part. And the only thing that specific, 'swim to the surface' skill is going to help you with is if you get washed under again. Is it important? Sure. But is it the end? Not even a little bit.
After resilience, we still have to swim. As individuals, as organizations, as companies, we can't rely on only resilience and we need to stop talking about it like we can. We have to talk about the growth that must come after. I'm not where I am today because I was just resilient - I put my life back together (to the extent that I did) because of what I did after. Those skills are hardly ever visited. Those needs are hardly ever visited, either (also a future post on the systemic needs of post-traumatic growth coming soon). And therefore, not very many people get to a place of even stability, after a trauma. They might swim for a while, or tread water, but too many exhaust before the reach another boat or the shore and begin a whole new journey. If we can get there, it's tremendously powerful, not only for the survivor but for those around them who benefit from an unmatched experience in tenacity and thrive-orship (it's not a word - but it should be!). If we don't get there, it's a collective loss on our society and community, that resonates and is felt very, very personally.
So let's not talk about resilience - unless we also talk about the work after. How was your swim? Where did you land? And what did you learn when you got there? It's essential information for the next boat you board.