Brokenness, a Prerequisite to Resilience? By Giselle Marrinan
Whilst driving from Edinburgh to catch the ferry to Belfast, I happened upon an interview on BBC radio Scotland with an 81-year-old cyclist called Mavis Paterson. Her story is incredible and a real testament to how resilience can be borne from tragedy and brokenness. I have listed the salient points from the interview below, but you may wish to research this lady further:
- She is officially the oldest women to have recently cycled the 960 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats
- She must go into hospital soon for hip and knee replacements. She has osteoarthritis and is in a lot of pain whilst walking
- She has raised more than £60,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support
- When she was 70, she cycled across Canada
- For her 80th birthday last year, she cycled for 24 hours
- She lost her 3 children all in their 40s
How does she keep going you may ask yourself? I think the clue is in something she said,” I always set myself a goal and a challenge and it takes my mind off the grief that I suffer with losing my children”
By my reckoning, we have two choices when loss knocks us sideways. We can stay in the ensuing sadness and grief or we can pick ourselves up and find meaning in the life we have left. I speak from experience here. Over the last 3 years, I have lost my older brother, my 2 aunts and mum in quick succession. Sure, I went through the grief and sense of loss and still have moments of acute sadness, but I decided to put my energy into writing my book which I dedicated to my mum. She died in February and my book was launched in November of the same year.
I am not by any means saying, that we all deal with loss in the same way, but what I am saying, is that it is good to develop some resilience/coping mechanisms sooner rather than later. If it’s one sure thing about life, over time, we will be blindsided by something unforeseen and totally out of our control.
So how can we start building resilience? I have taken some tips from my book, ‘Another Zero’ which may help address the issue:
Tips on Building Resilience
- Make a simple decision today, of how you can begin to change your toxic thinking. This could begin with, something as simple as: giving those you meet, the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty! Just because someone you know passes you by without waving, doesn’t mean they are necessarily ignoring you. It could be they are preoccupied.
- Ask yourself: Why you need to hold on to old patterns of thought and behaviour. How is it benefitting your life? When we repeatedly stimulate a ‘circuit’ in the brain, we strengthen it. So, make sure to trigger as many positive thoughts and memories as possible.
- Let go of the need to control and possess things and people. I saw a quote from Saint John of The Cross, which summarized this point beautifully: “ There is a freedom in a love which does not have glue on its hands: it brings more joy, more refreshment; this joy just cannot happen in a person who is possessively caught up”.
- Develop, the ‘then what?’ pattern of thinking (taken from the field of REBT – rational emotive behavioural therapy). If you tend to worry, ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Chances are, in most scenarios, it won’t be as bad as you thought.
In a company, for which I worked years ago, I remember playing out this scenario with a finance officer. For every fear, he voiced, I repeated: “And then what?” He started with his fear of sales decreasing; then budgets not being met; then finally, the fact that jobs would be cut with the ensuing inevitability of staff losses. When he had burnt himself out, with every negative scenario he could envisage, I said to him: “If you lost your job, you would have more time to go fishing” (knowing that this was his secret passion in life). He stopped dead in his tracks and looking intensely at me, his face changed from a grimace, to a smile and eventually a laugh. Worry defused! As it turns out, things weren’t as gloomy as he had depicted, and everyone kept their job. Lesson learned!
The next time you or someone in your circle starts to worry about something that may happen, try out this technique. Keep going until you unearth the worst-case scenario. What is the outcome you or your friend fear most?
- Beware of the language you are using to and about yourself. For example: you could be using the word ‘always’ just a little bit too often. Look for evidence in your life to counter statements that begin with always e.g. “I always suck at relationships”. You might have a great friend for years, so this isn’t true and so on.
- When something bad happens, don’t react immediately. Give yourself a few minutes to think about the best response. In most cases, according to psychologist Jennifer Delgado: We have an ‘emotional hijack’ (also coined as an amygdala hijack, by Daniel Goleman) when we act too quickly, due to being carried away by our feelings. If this happens, we tend to do or say something which we later regret. If you doubt the seriousness of the repercussions of this, consider the famous fight in 1993 where the boxer Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Some people believe the former’s action, occurred because he reacted too quickly, for fear of losing his title; thus, bypassing the brains emotional filter, the amygdala. His mistake is purported to have cost him $3 million dollars and his boxing licence. Always think first! The power of emotions can overtake our rationality.
- Be mindful of what you are letting in through your eye and ear gates. Things like the news, negative documentaries showing the seedy underbelly of society, or gratuitously violent and sexually explicit movies, can have a deep-seated influence over our subconscious mind. Subliminal messages can seriously affect your way of thinking. They tend to cover 5 main topics: sex, fear, drugs, food and violence. Dale Archer has cited many studies on violent video games. They have shown that, if the brain is repeatedly exposed to these, eventually the person will lose touch with reality and may even increase hostile behaviour. Be careful of life’s hypnotists!
- Think of someone you really respect, either in your social circle or beyond. Ask yourself how they cope with tough challenges? What can you learn from them?
- Come to terms with failure. We all fail now and again. See it as strength. If we didn’t fail, how else could we learn? They say: when you fall off a horse, you should get back up immediately (Trust me, I know this is true).
“Happiness is like a beautiful wild animal, watching from the edge of a forest. If you try to grab it, it will run away. But if you sit by your campfire and add some sticks to it, happiness will come to you and stay”
- Take time out of each day, to meditate / pray. Get into a routine of giving the brain a rest. There are more ways to communicate with us than ever before. Unfortunately, this can distract us from what is important. So, we need to take time to go inward and away from distractions
- Have some quiet periods scheduled into your day. Since I stopped my crazy busy lifestyle, I now, thanks to my age and where I find myself in life, have more time to commune with nature. One of my favourite occupations is observing the birds, on my walks. Fellow Belfastonian, Robert Lynd says: “In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence”. Is this also true of life in general? No matter what age we are, or whatever our circumstances, we must be silent now and again to absorb and engage in our precious life.
I recently watched a Ted Talk, given by the novelist, Pico Iyer on ‘The Art of Stillness in an Accelerated life’. His recommendation of: “Taking a few minutes out of every day, to recall what moves you most and where your truest happiness lies”, stood out and caught my attention. If you don’t know the answer, isn’t it worth dedicating some time out of your life to find out?
“Sometimes making a living and building a life, point in opposite directions”
- When you catch yourself using the words: “I can’t”; at least investigate the evidence behind this statement. I always compare this to being a barrister in court; bring the evidence for and against your case. If the facts don’t stack up, revisit your original statement. Somewhere, your beliefs about yourself and your own abilities may be flawed.
- Don’t let one bad experience determine your path in life. You are bigger than that. Use the lessons learned, to move on and maybe help others. If you need professional help, then seek it.
- Surround yourself with people who affirm you as a person. We have all seen what physical assaults can do, because the results are obvious. However, this is worth noting: when people hurt us with abusive language and negative statements, researchers have found that the same area of the brain, (known as the cingulate gyrus) is impacted as when, we are physically injured. In other words, the pain is similar, meaning that physical and emotional pain, have similar neural signatures. Knowing this fact, will make you more mindful of those people, with whom you have chosen to spend most of your time.
- Make a list of all your good points. Some people say there is nothing good about themselves and feel quite embarrassed to be asked to do this task. Remember this is your secret list. At first this may be foreign to you. Start off with something tiny and build on this. This will develop resilience and will be helpful on days when your confidence takes a nosedive.
- Start a positive book. Keep a record of all the notes, cards and positive texts, emails etc. that anyone has ever said about and to you. You may also want to write in memories of special days, moments, and occasions in your life where you felt truly alive and free. You may want to stick in pictures of people who make you smile. Whatever you choose to include is up to you. With one proviso! It must be positive!
“Like the Tuatha De Danann, I will turn sideways towards the light, to avoid conversations that will make me a smaller person”
What pieces of gold make up the fabric of your life? If there is a lot of gold, perhaps there have been many challenges?
The Japanese use the art of ‘Kintsugi’ to repair broken pottery. They don’t see their treasured broken pottery as the end of the object’s life but rather as a defining moment in its lifespan. It is a poetic metaphor for looking at our lives don’t you think.
Did you ever notice that when you go through a crisis whether small or large, you can’t but help being transformed by the trauma? What will repair your spirit?
Remember one thing, your brokenness does not define you. You are more than this and at the end of the race you will be pure gold!
You will have lived a life and faced the challenges head on. The cracks are a testament to your life! There is beauty in this. In your history.
*Giselle Marrinan is the author of ‘Another Zero’ at Book Hub Publishing and sits on our Advisory Board.