Can You Really Cultivate Resiliency? {Book Club}

Today we continue with  The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and are talking about Guidepost #3– Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness. If you’ve missed any of our earlier discussions, you can find them by clicking on the introductory chapters, The things that get in the way and Guidepost #1 (Cultivating Authenticity), and Guidepost #2 (Cultivating Self-Compassion).

Several years ago when I was attending an annual conference called Mental Heath and M-work (the last word isn’t the real name of the conference, I trust you can crack the code), I attended a workshop on resiliency in m’s and don’t cha know, I wish like the dickens I could get my hands on the handouts. But, with all of the moves in this line of work, they are shredded and in a landmine in Asia. Rats!

One of the biggest take away’s from the workshop and this chapter is good news! Resiliency can be cultivated. Wouldn’t it be depressing if  either you had or didn’t have resiliency?!

Looking at the list of the five most common factors of resilient people, there weren’t any big surprises there. What did surprise me (and Brene as well) was the connection between spirituality and resilience — and at the core of spirituality was the theme of connection. Now, Brene herself is a Christian, but as a researcher, as she’s said, she “just follows the research” and wasn’t fishing for this. If you haven’t had a chance to read this chapter, “from the foundation of spirituality, three other significant patterns emerged as being essential to resilience”:

1. Cultivating hope

“Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process.” Now, Brene seems to be referring to hope not in the way a believer would say “our hope is in God,” though those two types of hope are certainly cousins! And made me appreciate all of the scriptural references to hope. God wants us to be resilient and have hope! Isn’t that an encouraging thought?! If you’d like a small boost, here are 20 Biblical references to hopeDoes hope come easily to you? I appreciate the way that Brene tied hopelessness to powerlessness.

2. Practicing critical awareness

“Practicing critical awareness is about reality-checking the messages and expectations that drive the ‘never good enough’ gremlins.” When I reread this in preparation for our discussion, I thought of one of the resources listed last week: ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts) and the importance made in scripture of hold every thought captive. Brene talked about how we are bombarded with messages  and expectations about every aspect of our lives. And in our roles as cross-cultural workers we are getting messages from our home cultures, host cultures, and Christian cultures. Talk about the need to cultivate critical awareness so that we are focused on God and tuned into the Holy Spirit being the lead voice in our heads and hearts.

3. Letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.

“When I (Brene) interviewed the participants whom I described as living a Wholehearted life, they consistently talked about trying to feel the feelings, staying mindful about numbing behaviors, and trying to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.”  I know that each generation of cross-cultural workers has their own set of blessings and challenges, and for us, one of our two-edged swords is the internet. Part of prefield training nowadays focuses on the ways that escaping on the internet (through Facebook, Pinterest, mindless surfing, or watching TV) can be used to numb from the vulnerability, discomfort, and pain that comes from a life of cross-cultural service.

They can also be used for connecting and engaging! So, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water :). I found Brene’s questions helpful. “After years of research, I’m convinced that we all numb and take the edge off: The question is, does our _______ get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough? Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connecting? Are we using ______ to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?”

Her principle on “When we numb the dark, we numb the light” was one of those a-ha moments for me when I first heard it. It makes sense, but I hadn’t had someone put words to what I’d sensed.

As usual, this chapter was packed full! It offers us quite a buffet to pick from for our discussion in the comments. I love these chats!


Next week: Guidepost #4 — Cultivating Gratitude and Joy

Photo Credit: spettacolopuro via Compfight cc

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  1. Danielle Wheeler March 24, 2014

    I was fascinated by the way that Brene linked spirituality and resilience.  We’ve talked here before about how in this book Brene doesn’t come across from a strong “Biblical” point of view, even though she’s a Christian herself.  I think what she’s actually doing is brilliant.

    How do you evangelize in an effective and contextualized way to the educated secular society of America today?  I think you might just do it like Brene is subtly doing here.  Anything that comes across as “Biblical,” anything that shouts “Jesus is the answer!” will automatically be rejected by secular society.

    But…if you instead SHOW them the kind of life they are all hungry for, if you tap into those desires for wholehearted living, and then prove that there is an undeniable connection to spirituality, then you will prick hearts into curiosity and seeking.

    The whole book is about working through those soul binding issues that separate us from communion with God.  Again, she doesn’t say this, because it would cause people to reject it all.  She risks losing her Christian audience, because her book is not chalked full of the “Christian speak” that makes us comfortable.  But if we have eyes to see, I think we can discover what she’s doing.

    And then we can take the soul searching, life changing work she’s done, invite the Holy Spirit in to make it possible, and find change for our own lives and those we lead.

    Personally, her work on perfection is especially challenging me.  Wrestling with my gremlins to become a “good enough-ist” in different areas of my life.

    1. Brittany March 25, 2014

      Danielle, I agree.  I was one who was put off at first by her “language” and lack of Christian-ese because that’s what I’m used to.  I’ve gleaned so much from this book, and it is not one I would have picked up on my own.  She does a really good job of incorporating both study/science and Biblical truths.

    2. morielle March 27, 2014

      Loving these thoughts, Danielle. It never ceases to amaze me the way that God uses his children in so many different places, and in so many different ways. And its so encouraging to know He’s doing it with me and you — even though I can’t really comprehend it.

    3. Carolyn April 2, 2014

      I’m wrestling with those same gremlins, Danielle… I shrink away from even typing out “good-enough-ist”, and yet my quest for perfection leaves me dried-out and grouchy every day… hmmm.  Something’s not right here!

  2. Brittany March 25, 2014

    I think my biggest take-away from this chapter was the numbing.

    “Escaping on the internet (through Facebook, Pinterest, mindless surfing, or watching TV) can be used to numb from the vulnerability, discomfort, and pain that comes from a life of cross-cultural service.”

    Ouch.  How often, at the end of the day, do I just want to watch a show from back “home” and live vicariously through my friends via Facebook.  “We cannot selectively numb emotions…(p. 78)”  Seems like things would be great if we could just numb the bad and fully experience the joy, but clearly, that’s not how our perfect Creator designed things, so He has purpose through it.  “When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.” (p. 81)

    Sometimes, I feel myself becoming apathetic to everything.  I am realizing that when I’m numbing the discomfort, it’s true, I don’t feel anything, even the good stuff.  I appreciate the tool of questions Brene provided to evaluate my numbing behaviors.  Do my “take-the-edge-off” activities get in the way of authenticity, etc?  I need to implement the practice of asking myself these questions to determine whether my behaviors are healthy (stay connected to home, unwind, relax with my hubby) and which ones are keeping me from experiencing authentic joy!

    Lastly, I think the tool mentioned at the end (AEIOUY) is a great way to take inventory at the end of the day!  I’d like to think through these things as well.

    So much more I could comment on…but I’ll leave it at that.  =)

    1. Amy Young March 28, 2014

      Brittany, I’ll be curious to hear how your experimenting with the area of numbing goes — I found over the years that sometimes we tend to place on pedestals folks who are busy all the time with “work” — bible studies, events, having folks over, hosting parties. Busy, busy, busy. And shame folks who take time to numb a little bit throwing them in with people who escape too much (and yes, some people do). Ah, the tension we are called to live with. I have found that I need at least two nights a week were I can numb out (either through reading, watching TV, puttering on the internet) without having something scheduled. OR if it’s a really busy week, I know that it is A WEEK and not A PATTERN. If I know I’ve got down time coming, I can be more plugged in and enjoy the times I with people.

      So much to comment on, as you said! 🙂

  3. Kimberly Todd March 25, 2014

    Amy, you did a nice job of contextualizing these ideas for foreign workers.

    I, too, was extremely interested in the connection between spirituality and resilience, particularly the definition of spirituality that emerged from the data. And the reality that we cannot selectively numb is TRUE. It has never occurred to me with such clarity that the way to deeper joy may just be leaning into sorrow.

    Random aside: I really want to get ahold of Kilbourne’s and Katz’s DVDs (from the part about critical awareness).

    Finally, I  love the quote from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross about being “lit from within.” Let it shine.

    1. morielle March 27, 2014

      Hi Kimberly, do you mind sharing the definition of spirituality that emerged from the data? I wasn’t able to get a copy of the book due to internet restrictions but I can’t help following this discussion, and that part of your comment really peaked my curiosity!

      1. Kimberly Todd March 27, 2014

        Absolutely, Morielle! Brown prefaced the quote by clarifying that she isn’t talking about “religion or theology, but about a shared and deeply held belief.” Based on the interviews, she defines spirituality this way:

        Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

        She goes on to say that without exception spirituality emerged as a component of resilience.

        I think there’s something utterly humble about this definition and its implications for living well.

        1. morielle March 27, 2014

          Phew, yes, that is quite a definition. You’re right, it is very humble and has deeeep implications for living, and I love it. Thanks for  typing it up for me!

  4. Jennifer March 25, 2014

    Absolutely… I think one of the lessons I have been learning, which is validated here, is that I need to not be afraid of feeling the bad, and do what I can to avoid the negative emotions, because at the same time I do not feel the good. I know that I personally have become more resilient as I have become more prepared not to avoid feeling and expressing the negative emotions at least to myself. In many ways as I do, the hold of those emotions on me actually becomes weaker rather than stronger. I have noticed in the last few weeks that when I express in some way a “negative” emotion I am feeling about something, or do something about it, which once would have been enough to put me into a “challenging” place for a while, it has actually had the immediate opposite effect and I have felt peace and other positive emotions, even though nothing has changed, and sometimes the actual situation has become more challenging. These are interesting times!

    1. morielle March 27, 2014

      Jennifer and everyone, I love all the different ways you’ve expressed this idea of the importance of feeling pain. I am notorious for running away from pain, trying to dull it in any way, but everything you’re saying is true. Dulling sorrow prevents me from living fully. Read Ecclesiastes last night and loved how this discussion shed all kinds of new light for me into Chapter 7. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.” (Ecc. 7:2-3)

      1. Amy Young March 28, 2014

        So glad that even though you couldn’t get the book (SORRY!), you can still participate in the discussions 🙂

    2. Amy Young March 28, 2014

      I’ve also found that as I’m more able to feel/express the negative, more often than not, they pass through a bit more quickly than when I ignore them … which seems kind of backwards ;). One of my new mantras is “feel, don’t feed the feeling.” It can be tempting to “feed” our annoyance and in not wanting to do that, we think the only other option is to ignore it. I’m trying to grow in feeling something without overly feeding it —

      1. Jenny March 28, 2014

        Oh I really like that mantra, Amy! Somehow I internalized growing up that negative emotions were sin… I (and God) have been on a journey for the last few years of undoing that lie and one of the recent stops has been learning to feel emotions but I sense the tendency to want to feed them as well. It’s a good thing to remember.

        I’m really enjoying the book in general and have so many thoughts that I can’t coherently process them into anything just yet, but wanted to chime in the discussion anyhow and just say hello. Great book choice. Also, didn’t realize she was a Christian though by this chapter I was really starting to wonder- very cool to hear!

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