How to Build Resilience in Hard Times

How to Build Resilience in Hard Times

More than children, “we need to focus on adults,” she said. “This generation of parents has faced no world war, no global threat” of this scale. Many parents are struggling, though she worries that some may be over-shielding their children, which can erode their natural ability to solve problems and cope with adversity.

Dr. Boss’s sentiments brought to mind the concerns my husband and I had in 1980, when our 10-year-old twin sons were facing enrollment in a public middle school where rampant misbehavior and physical threats were common. The boys declined our offer to send them to private school for those tumultuous three years, saying, “What would we learn about life in private school?”

In her new book, Dr. Boss offers guidelines for increasing one’s resilience to overcome adversity and live well despite painful losses. She quotes Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, author and Holocaust survivor, who wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” She recommends that people use each guideline as needed, in no particular order, depending on the circumstances.

Find meaning. The most challenging guideline for many people is to find meaning, to make sense of a loss, and when this is not possible to take some kind of action. Perhaps seek justice, work for a cause or demonstrate to try to right a wrong. When Dr. Boss’s little brother died from polio, her heartbroken family went door to door for the March of Dimes, raising money to fund research for a vaccine.

Adjust your sense of mastery. Instead of trying to control the pain of loss, let the sorrow flow, carry on as best as you can and eventually the ups and downs will come less and less often. “We do not have power to destroy the virus, but we do have the power to lessen its impact on us,” she wrote.

Rebuild identity. Also helpful is to adopt a new identity in sync with your current circumstances. When Dr. Boss’s husband became terminally ill, for example, her identity shifted over time from being a wife to being a caregiver, and after his death in 2020, gradually trying to think of herself as a widow.

Normalize ambivalence. When you lack clarity about a loss, it’s normal to feel ambivalent about how to act. But Dr. Boss says it’s best not to wait for clarity; hesitation can lead to inaction and puts life on hold. Better to make less-than-perfect decisions than to do nothing.

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