Resilience: Book review and further ponderings

by Kat

resilient lady on book coverTherapist lady: “While you’ve got your notebook out, there’s a book I think you might find to be useful — Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Southwick and Charney.”

Aspergirl: “You’re going to have to spell that.” *Writes memo to self in pocket-sized purple notebook (also filled with jottings and poems).*

Dear readers, as I’ve previously discussed in Backstories, I’ve experienced periods of emotional isolation and attempted to make sense of my own internal narrative. In the space between a couch and chair, I’ve talked through how I see the world because of events in my past and how my sometimes irrational, yet emotionally valid, thinking shapes my current perceptions of the world.

I’m slowly learning to set better boundaries with people who’ve hurt me in the past and remembering to spend time recharging after problematic social  interactions. As I often remind myself during these times, this isn’t easy, but I do believe that this is doable. You will get through this, slowly but surely (and then you will practice intentional self-care — read as marathon Community episodes with tea).

My therapist sometimes gives me homework assignments to do in the weeks between our sessions. The funny thing is that she’s relatively non-directive, so usually her suggestions come in the form of “might help if you…” or “I wonder if you could…” and I tend to at least try what she’s mentioned. Reading Southwick and Charney’s book about the neuroscience and social science research concerning resilience seemed like a worthwhile use of my time (1).

In the book, resilience is defined as “the ability to bounce back after encountering difficulty” (p. 6). Southwick and Charney cite Harvard psychologist George Vaillant who uses a vivid metaphor to describe resilient individuals: They are a “twig with a fresh, green living core. When twisted out of shape, such as a twig bends, but does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing.” I remember relating to that description because it resonated with me — I’ve been learning to listen to my backstory, while I appreciate how I’m endured both in spite of and because of it. I suppose I’m resilient.

I finished reading Resilience today. It’s the kind of book that I needed to read in small doses, sort of like one would practice creative writing or mindfulness meditation. I found it to be incredibly useful, partly because it helped me to develop some context for my narrative, and also because it informed my future self-care (so when I’m feeling _____, I could ____). In the book’s final chapter, after telling resilient people’s stories and explaining  the brain’s responses to painful events, Southwick and Charney list 10 resilience factors for individuals (p. 171). These factors are listed below and described in more detail in the preceding chapters:

Fostering optimism; facing fear; solidifying moral compass; practicing religion and spirituality; attracting and giving social support; imitating resilient role models; physical training; mental and emotional training; enhancing cognitive and emotional flexibility; and finding meaning, purpose, and growth

The illustration on the book’s cover reminds me of the young woman that Natalie Merchant describes in her song, “Wonder” — “With love, with patience, and with faith; she’ll make her way”  (2).

  1. Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney
  2. Natalie Merchant’s music video for “Wonder” (It’s basically a huge sing along, and I love it.):