How To Build Mental Grit – The importance of resilience and self-reliance

 In 2012 I wrote a different article about this subject which still attracts lots of interest – both online and via one of my books – showing me that the matter of resilience continues to intrigue a wide range of people from a broad range of professions.

The most important thing to remember is that not everyone is built of the same stuff when it comes to being able to create the necessary internal psychological structures – or mental ‘grit’ – to support themselves in times of great challenge, adversity and distress.

Being taught skills to become more resilient might suit, and work well, for some people – those who only have a few tools missing from their psychological tool-box.

However, if we’ve never even been given the key to open the door to the tool-shed we’re at a big disadvantage. First of all we need to find out what the tools look like, as well as how and when to use them properly.

Assuming that other people have been easily taught to become more resilient and self-reliant can further undermine our fragile self-concept – and adds to any existing feelings of shame and inadequacy we might have.

If we’ve experienced a traumatic childhood, either physically and emotionally, then the building blocks of resilience are more like bath sponges. The can be stacked to look like a strong structure from a distance, but when the water flows they soon become saturated and dislodged.

Present day reminders and triggers, from our earlier childhood feelings of chaos and fear, can quickly erode any logically acquired adult resilience strategies and self-talk. The emotional memories take control.

Fear quickly engulfs us and overwhelms the emotional part of our brain, snatching away our thinking and reasoning capacities. It leaves us feeling vulnerable, incompetent, and in a state of immature panic, and with the automatic response of our primitive ‘reptilian’ brain regions – that of fight, flight, freeze or flop and play dead.

What is resilience and self-reliance?

* It’s an inner state of ‘knowing’ that you can deal with what comes along in life, and that you’ll do your best to accomplish what you want and need to.

* It’s knowing and trusting that you can rely on yourself. It’s not about being insular, super-independent and isolated from others, but to know that you are there for yourself when the need arises. You can support yourself emotionally and physically.

* It’s the energising feeling of OK-ness and confidence when faced with setbacks, disappointments and the inevitable failures in life.

* It’s about not submitting to self-doubt and fear of failure.

* It’s about the meaning you give to your life events. and having a healthy perspective about any level of challenge you face.

Who is likely to have a problem with resilience and self-reliance?

Children who…

* Weren’t allowed to be themselves and to develop their own identity and sense of inner courage and strength,

* Were treated like an object for an adult’s pleasure or anger.

* Had to wear a false mask to fit in with the expectations of their family.

* Were emotionally or physically neglected or otherwise abused.

* Had to become like an extension of a narcissistic parent, or who had to be like the parent figure themselves – instead of the child they were. A lack of personal identity.

* Were emotionally smothered or over-protected, and who had little chance to try things out for themselves – and who then struggle to cope with later obstacles in life.

* Didn’t see these traits of inner grit, resilience and self-reliance modeled by the adults in their family.

What can we do to develop resilience and self-reliance in ourselves and our children?

* We can choose to become more aware of the natural feelings, and behavioural traits, of courage, competence, determination, persistence, tenacity and resilience. We can repeatedly immerse ourselves in these feelings and inner experiences, and to express and use them to create and build a firm foundation for the future. We can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the tools we need, and learn how to use them to best effect.

* We can choose to more rationally evaluate the negative situations and subsequent beliefs about ourselves and our lives. Emotions are vital but they can also overwhelm and distract us, and they need to be understood and regulated according to the situation. (Emotional Intelligence)

* We can choose to see our own emotional wounds as valuable learning opportunities, although not ones to be repeated with our children. When we then become more robust, realistic and grounded about the past we can develop the self-awareness to ensure that we don’t repeat or pass on our old ‘script’ to the next generation.

* Parents can encourage self-reliance, emotional resilience and robustness in their children by creating graded challenges and opportunities for them to learn new skills and develop their own talents. Encouraging self-worth, self-belief and esteem, tenacity, courage and determination – and praising the child accordingly.

* Separate any negative behaviour from the child’s overall personality. An act is not the person. Build the child up – don’t chip away at them or knock them down emotionally. A child should never be shamed, ridiculed or rejected. A child’s spirit should never be squashed to meet the egoic needs of an adult.

* Set up ways to help the child to learn to cope with the discomfort of delaying gratification… of waiting to have what they want, and of sitting with the uncomfortable feelings for a while, until they get the awaited rewards.

Remember, when we become, and can model, self-reliance and resilience ourselves, we can become a much more reliable person for other people too. Our own ‘mental grit’ assists those around us.

When we don’t need or demand someone else to soothe, validate and support us we can stop playing manipulative games, and instead we can take ourselves by the hand and do what needs to be done!

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR

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