“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir
After the loss of my dear father, a close friend who knows grief deeply said to me, “You will be amazed at how the brain finds a way to cope with the most unimaginable things.” In a state of shock, I couldn’t yet digest his words. I was floating above the surface of reality. Looking back, my mind was already at work just like he said. Periods of floating above the surface or “feeling numb” were helping me to survive the first few days of a tragic loss. Since that time, I have come to appreciate how truly resilient the mind is.
The human brain is brilliant. It knows what it is doing. You could compare the mind to the electrical system in a house. There may be times when the circuit breaker “trips”. This circuit is overloaded with too much electricity flowing though the system. The breaker shuts down all outlets to protect the home and avoid a fire. The brain can do a similar thing. When reality is “too much” and the body or heart is facing immense pain, the mind will shut off emotions so you can survive. The feelings do not disappear but are kept at bay. The emotions will return in doses or “waves.” These waves of sadness, grief, anger, and pain can be powerful but they do not last indefinitely. The water subsides and you can catch your breath. Over time, you begin learning the waters, able to better anticipate oncoming waves. You learn it’s possible to endure these waves, riding them back to shore. As time passes, the currents continue but you may find that the waves grow farther apart.
This process is a part of beginning to live a new reality. Change is difficult. Change caused by tragic circumstances is uniquely hard. The resilient brain you are gifted with knows this intrinsically. It recognizes a need to float above the emotion as well as a need to dive back in and feel. Memories are the brain’s way of keeping you connected to precious and significant people and experiences in life. Memories and grief are interconnected. Grieving, while painful, is in essence loving and honoring the truth. Those we love are stamped upon our hearts, and through the release of tears we visit with them. The mixture of feelings, of joy as well as pain, suffering as well as love, combine to form the tapestry of the human soul.
“Numb the dark and you numb the light.”- Brene Brown
So, what does it mean to be resilient? The APA definition above says to “adapt well”. I believe that adapting well requires greater self-kindness and a deeper respect than we often give to our beautiful minds and hearts. We can do hard things. Yet, many people possess an inner critic who is harsh. This internal critic judges, compares, and doubts one’s ability to move forward. Adapting well means offering ourselves greater love and patience in the midst of the storms as well as the calm. It also means taking each day a day at a time while being open to what we can do and what we need in order to do it.
To all those in the midst of suffering, wishing you strength and love through the difficult journey.
Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her counseling practice here.