Well + wise: Being resilient


September 1, 2021

Trusting in your innate ability to bounce back after hardship

by Juliet Lam Kuehnle

Well, we’re still talking about — and dealing with — the impact of the pandemic, and we will be for quite some time. This past year-and-a-half has impacted us in many ways and tested our resolve. Still, it is possible to undergo hardship and be OK.

I often tell clients that therapy isn’t about learning how to make discomfort go away but learning how to tolerate it. Therapy is also about understanding how the “negative” shapes us and allows us awareness of the “positive.” The movie Inside Out depicts this well: We wouldn’t know joy without fear and sadness. There is room for all emotions, and there is power in learning to tolerate all of them and trust that some situations are temporary. In psychology, we call this resilience, or psychological flexibility. We often use the image of a tree being blown around in the wind by a storm and ultimately being righted when the wind passes. Humans are this way, too! We may be tested and pushed, but we are best served to trust in our innate abilities to bounce back. 

Deanna Goldner is owner and therapist of Queen City Psychotherapy and is a licensed clinical social worker and a licensed clinical addictions specialist. “Our ability to be resilient is influenced by both nature and nurture,” Goldner says. “Nature is our internal makeup of how we are emotionally wired. The ability to persevere through difficulties is part of our nature. Nurture is based on external factors, such as our social networks. The support of one’s community serves to bring out and enhance one’s ability to persevere. However, this ability stems from our innate drive to work through problems.” Goldner cites a study that measured the happiness levels of both people who had lost the use of their legs and people who had won the lottery. “They found that after a year of these events, the lottery winners were only slightly happier than paraplegics.It is evident that the paraplegics found ways to manage their new life challenge and restore their moods. This finding brings light to our natural disposition to recover.”

Especially as pandemic restrictions and recommendations continue to shift and we create our next normal, it’s important to believe in our ability to bounce back and tolerate whatever comes our way.

Kuehnle recently spoke with former NFL player Eugene Robinson, a coach and anchor of WCNC’s Charlotte Today. Below are excerpts from their interview, lightly edited.

What can you share about your mental health journey?

When I think of mental health and wellness, I have to harken back to my dad. Growing up, my dad was an alcoholic. There’s a lot that goes on with that, but when you’re a kid and you’re exposed to it, it’s devastating, and it stays with you. Alcoholism impaired his judgement, and because of that, we kids suffered. You become a product of what you see. 

It can shape you. We carry that younger child, that inner self, no matter how old we are. Forgiveness is such a pivotal moment.

I can remember looking my dad in the eye and asking him for forgiveness, because I had something against him, and I needed to get it off my chest. It healed that relationship and healed me. 

As you became more successful, your relationships surely shifted. How does someone so young handle that? You’re human, so no matter the success, you [can] experience significant hardship in your life. 

I’m just like anybody else — I hurt, and I cry. I was a kid who was hurt. I have a passion for anyone going through something tough. I extend much more grace because there are so many things we humans have to fight, and it’s not easy to do. So [for] anyone dealing with mental illness at all, it’s no joke. I know that it can be devastating, and it’s something people have to work through and have to do that really hard work to get to the other side.  

Juliet Kuehnle is the owner and a therapist at Sun Counseling and Wellness. The full version of Kuehnle’s “Who You Callin’ Crazy?!” interview featuring Eugene Robinson can be found on Instagram @yepigototherapy or wherever you stream podcasts.

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