The Shadow Side of Resilience

I talk a lot about resiliency. It’s what I coach and it’s what I fall back on. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity, it allows you to know that we’ll be okay even through hardship, and it is the thing that keeps you asking, “What can I learn from this?” even when you find yourself steeped in troubled thoughts or conditions.

Mindfulness is a tool for resiliency, as mindfulness allows us to pause, see beyond the current moment in a meta-view, and regulate ourselves to keep on. We need to be able to identify our emotional state before we can hope to regulate our emotions, otherwise we are swept away with them. We need to be able to recognize the cyclical nature of our thoughts, otherwise we believe them to constantly be true and they run us.

Healthy resiliency is certainly an asset. It affords you choice, it ensures that you’ll get the job done, that you are accountable. You can accept that, well, it is what it is, and you can keep on doing what’s needed. Those of us who are resilient also often know ourselves very well. We’ve sat with ourselves closely. These traits of resilience are sometimes inherent and also can be trained, but I’m pretty sure that most resilient people have done a lot of personal work. The world is full of adversity. If you are responding well, then you’ve done some work.  

I have immense amounts of gratitude for my own resilience. As a quality, it is the essence of my inner badass, and oh how I love my inner badass. I am accountable and responsible, I am attuned and creative, I am mother, partner, homeowner, school administrator and creator, business creator, group facilitator, individual coach. I am fierce and loving both. Without some relatively hard-won resilience, I know for a fact that those things wouldn’t be possible. There was a day when anxiety dominated, when adrenal fatigue caused collapse. There was a day even before that in my early twenties when alcoholism was a real possibility, it was in my genes, and I looked in the mirror and chose a different path. There was a day when I was a fighter, battling for my voice, and my personal advocacy was pretty one-sided.

Because, you see, resiliency is the ability to deal with adversity, but it is often the result of having to deal with adversity. Many of us have had others - parents, siblings, teachers - confirm limitations or inadequacies that we spend our entire lives either believing or untangling. Sometimes it’s worse than that, and the adversity is higher - no food in the house, a parent that screamed and hit, emotional abuse confusingly disguised as care.

And so, therefore, if we become resilient and are able to bounce back, there may also be a shadow side to our resiliency. And maybe because we just had a lunar eclipse in the fierce sign of Leo, these days I am examining the shadow to the fierceness of resiliency.

If you are fierce, you can take care of things. You’ve got it. And yet you may have a lot of trouble asking for help.

If you are independent, you know you can rely on yourself, and you also may be prone to being more alone.

If you are a badass, you may take on too much, because you know you will always handle whatever is in front of you.

Maybe you left an unfulfilling marriage because you remembered who you were before all of that, and you’ve done a lot of personal work, but how are you at being in relationship? How are you at accepting love?

Maybe you have learned to use your voice that so often before felt quieted, but it often still sounds like a bark.

Maybe you are so used to handling it on your own that you are embarrassed or completely unnerved to share how it is you really feel.

The shadow side of resiliency is also the shadow side of the #metoo or feminine rising movement - we risk isolation when we begin speaking up against what is unjust. We risk creating separation as we name what we will no longer tolerate. This is happening so much that the menfolk are now afraid. We need to maintain dialogue, maintain our heart, as we establish our ferocity.

I am a big, big fan of ferocity. Don’t get me wrong. If we are resilient, we are strong. If we are strong, we may misinterpret that to mean there’s got to be a fight. There doesn’t need to be a fight; that’s the shadow. That’s the part to lean in and heal.

The shadow side of resiliency, of always having the ability to rise, is that it is assumed you always will. Resiliency can make it seem like you can handle anything, because you can, or you will. You will always do what is needed. You will figure shit out.

Women are insanely resilient. As inherently nurturing as we are, we are likely going to pick up the children from school, even though we want to collapse, come home, make nourishing (or close to nourishing) food, and provide a quality activity. We’ll make sure everyone knows they are loved and probably read them a bedtime story. We’ll make sure to check in with our friend that’s been having a difficult time. That pile of bills you hesitate to open? You’ll figure that shit out, too, when it’s necessary. The work emails? You’ll wake up at five tomorrow morning to get to them so maybe you can get a robust-enough seven hours of sleep.

Being resilient can save your ass. But it also has a shadow. You can be resilient and handle anything, but can you also risk vulnerability? Can you ask for help? Can you learn to reciprocate a healthy love?

We often earn our resiliency because we needed to rise; it wasn’t an option. We have trauma. We overcame the hard stuff. Somehow, through it all, we held onto the essence of who we are and who we want to be. Most importantly, we listened to that voice inside of us that said that anything less than true survival and rising wasn’t acceptable.

First, resiliency. Then, we learn to soften. We learn to listen. We learn what we are holding at arm’s length because in the past, it wasn’t safe to let anyone any closer than that.

Resiliency carries us through. When we integrate the shadow of resiliency, the shadow side that sounds something like, “I’ll take care of it,” “The only person I know I can count on is myself,” “No one else shows up anyway,” we are able to be resilient and whole. Resilient and loving. Resilient and resourced.

Integration is required. Vulnerability is required. A little practice involving trust and surrender. Sometimes, those lessons are much harder than maintaining the fight. Vulnerability, trust, and surrender - those are strengths beyond mere survival.

Beyond surviving, there’s thriving. You didn’t come this far to hold on to the pain of what built your resiliency. You came to thrive as you, your most authentic self, free of burden, free of limitation. Integrated. It is possible. Just keep leaning in.

Written Feb 2018