[Paleopsych] NYT: Get a Grip and Set Your Sights Above Adversity

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Health > Personal Health: Get a Grip and Set Your Sights Above Adversity

    By [1]JANE E. BRODY

    Resilience. Call it what you will - the ability to weather stresses
    large and small, to bounce back from trauma and get on with life, to
    learn from negative experiences and translate them into positive ones,
    to muster the strength and confidence to change directions when a
    chosen path becomes blocked or nonproductive.

    Or you can sum it up as actualization of A.A.'s serenity prayer:
    "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the
    courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the

    Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, a Dallas physician, wife and mother of
    three, is the epitome of resilience. Struck with a recurring cancer in
    her 30's that required a decade of debilitating treatments, she was
    forced to give up her medical practice.

    She turned instead to writing books and lecturing to professional and
    lay audiences to help millions of others and their families through
    the cancer experience.

    Dr. Jennifer P. Schneider of Tucson is another classic example of
    resilience. Also a physician, she has a lifelong history of emotional
    and physical traumas.

    Her mother left her at age 5. Dr. Schneider weathered two divorces, a
    child with a mild form of autism, a broken leg that required two
    operations and took more than two years to heal, and most recently the
    most horrific trauma of all, the death at 31 of her daughter, Jessica
    Wing, after a two-year battle against metastatic colon cancer.

    To cope, Dr. Schneider said, she focused on things she could control,
    her patients and her writing.

    Dr. Schneider's recent book "Living With Chronic Pain" was an
    inspiration to me, as I mentioned in a column last month, during my
    bout with intense and seemingly endless pain after knee replacement.

    Growing Up Resilient

    Until recently, resilience was thought to be an entirely inborn trait,
    giving rise to the notion of the "invulnerable child," now recognized
    to be a mistaken idea.

    Resilient children are not invulnerable to trauma or immune to
    suffering. But they bounce back. They find ways to cope, set goals and
    achieve them despite myriad obstacles like drug-addicted parents, dire
    poverty or physical disabilities thrown in their path.

    As Dr. Robert Brooks of Harvard and Dr. Sam Goldstein of the
    University of Utah put it, being resilient does not mean a life
    without risks or adverse conditions but rather learning how to deal
    effectively with the inevitable stresses of life.

    Herein lies an important concept: learning. To be sure, some of what
    makes up resilience is inborn.

    But resilience can also be learned, say experts like Dr. Brooks and
    Dr. Goldstein, psychologists and authors whose newest book, "The Power
    of Resilience" (Contemporary Books), provides lessons in "achieving
    balance, confidence and personal strength."

    They are lessons of considerable importance, as there is no such thing
    as a life free of losses and setbacks. People who lack resilience are
    less able to rise above adversity or learn from their mistakes and
    move on. Instead of focusing on what they can control and accepting
    responsibility for their lives, they waste time and energy on matters
    beyond their influence.

    As a result, the circumstances of their lives leave them feeling
    helpless and hopeless and prone to depression. When things go wrong or
    don't work out as expected, they tend to think "I can't do this" or,
    even worse, "It can't be done."

    Children learn to be resilient when parents and guardians enable and
    encourage them to figure out things for themselves and take
    responsibility for their actions. When Ray Charles lost his sight at
    age 7, his mother insisted that he use his good brain and learn how to
    make his way in the world. In the movie "Ray," she watched silently
    after the newly blind boy tripped over furniture, cried for her help
    and then struggled to his feet unaided.

    It's Never Too Late

    Children need to learn that they are capable of finding their way on
    their own. Parents who are too quick to take over a task when children
    cry "I can't do this" or don't insist that children learn from their
    mistakes are less likely to end up with children who can stand on
    their own two feet, take responsibility for their lives and cope
    effectively with unavoidable stresses.

    The same applies to parents who provide children with everything they
    want instead of teaching them limits and having them earn their
    rewards and to those who make excuses for their children and
    repeatedly defend them against legitimate complaints.

    But even if these lessons are not learned in childhood, experts like
    Dr. Brooks and Dr. Goldstein, who also wrote "Raising Resilient
    Children" and "Nurturing Resilience in Our Children," say it is
    possible to learn to be more resilient at any age. The trick lies in
    replacing what they call "negative scripts" that may have been written
    in childhood, but are not cast in stone, with more positive scripts.

    People who harbor negative scripts expect that no matter what they do,
    things will not work out well; they assume that others must change for
    circumstances to improve.

    'Authors of Our Lives'

    So lesson No. 1, Dr. Brooks and Dr. Goldstein write, is "to recognize
    that we are the authors of our lives."

    "We must not seek our happiness by asking someone else to change,"
    they continue.

    Rather, we should ask, "What is it that I can do differently to change
    the situation?" Identify your negative scripts and assume
    responsibility for changing them.

    Nurture your self-esteem. Be true to yourself rather than trying to be
    what someone else expects of you. Focus on what you can do, tasks you
    can achieve, situations you can influence. Take an active role in your
    community or in an organization or activity that helps others.

    Develop a new skill: learn a language or a new sport or how to fix a
    car; take up knitting, cooking or woodworking; join a book club; try
    out for an amateur production; become a docent at a museum; help
    organizations that feed the elderly and infirm; volunteer your
    services at community groups like the local Y, school, library or

    There are myriad opportunities; just look or ask around and you will
    find them.

    Take a chance on change if jobs, habits or activities you've long
    pursued are no longer satisfying or efficient.

    Change is frightening to people who lack resilience, but those who try
    it usually find that they land on their feet, and that fosters

    And if a new path does not seem to be working out well, change again.

    Take a long, hard look at the people in your life and consider
    abandoning friends who drag you down or reinforce your negative
    scripts. For those - like family members - from whom you can't escape,
    practice ignoring their put-downs and not taking them so seriously.

    Seek out activities that elevate your spiritual life and nurture your
    inner strength: for example, art, music, literature, religion,
    meditation, the great outdoors.


    1. http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=JANE%20E.%20BRODY&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=JANE%20E.%20BRODY&inline=nyt-per

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