Resilience is a sign of maturity and bears the marks of all the challenges we have encountered. It grows with the experiences we go through, reshaping our thoughts, behaviors, identity, relationships, and priorities. The greatest enemies of resilience are denial and avoidance. Denial and avoidance of reality are immature and maladaptive defenses. Whenever you find yourself in denial or avoidance, reconsider the direction you are heading.
Today, I will review 7 attitudes that block adaptation. They are not the only ones, but they are among the most common. It’s important to know that these attitudes are not set in stone. They are based on life experiences, acquired beliefs, and supported by an emotional trigger (e.g., fear, abandonment, shame) manifested as stubbornness, resistance to change, and rigidity.
- I am a victim. It’s not my fault. When something happens to you, you slip into the victim role. Feelings of anger and helplessness are present all the time; you constantly blame others and see the world divided into victims and aggressors. Anyone trying to intervene in this story, including a therapist, will be attacked, rejected, or accused of blaming the victim. In traffic, you are always furious, feeling like the victim of other drivers; at work or at home, if told you haven’t done something well, you immediately become defensive, making your partner feel guilty and accusing them of being aggressive for daring to be dissatisfied with something. You were sick once, and now everyone has to protect you. You are always sensitive, and others must always be cautious because you are or have been a victim at some point. You compete with others for who suffers more, who is the bigger victim.
- I will never get over this. Major life events can sometimes make us fall apart, but the process of rebuilding, healing, can happen if we make room for it. Indeed, recovering from something very painful may take a long time, but it is possible. Just as we can recover physically from trauma or illness, we can also recover mentally. Perhaps you went through a divorce, and you weren’t the one who wanted it. Two or three years later, you still haven’t gotten over being left or betrayed. Your relationships either don’t exist or are unsatisfactory; you still think about what was done to you, and how you are left forever with a broken heart and shattered trust. Some people choose (consciously or unconsciously) to remain stuck, while others allow themselves to heal and move on.
- I can’t stand it! Low frustration tolerance is the perception of how much frustration you can endure (delaying gratification). How much can you endure boredom, negative emotions, a lot of work, all kinds of inconveniences, setbacks, etc.? If something cannot be obtained quickly and easily, then you give up. An intelligent man, with a very sharp mind, wants to work for a top company. He knows what he needs to learn to qualify for those positions but never starts. He looks at the study materials, then starts organizing his schedule. It always turns out that there is too little time for so much information. And he repeats this reasoning cycle for several years already: he wants to get hired there, but there is too much to learn, and he doesn’t have the time. The evaluation never includes how he can make time for learning and stick to the learning schedule he set for himself. It also doesn’t include the hidden thought that he is not willing to put in that effort, not willing to make any kind of sustained effort in the long term. He wants it to happen now.
- Why me? This is a thought I often hear. Faced with harsh realities, people ask, “Why is this happening to me?” We have the idea somewhere in our minds that the world is a fair place. But what I always explain to my patients is that justice is a social, cultural construct. The world itself is amoral. Things just happen. Sometimes we can establish causality, but justice is not the question. There is nothing fair about being hit by a car, a war breaking out, or getting sick out of the blue. Fighting reality and being angry is futile. It consumes precious energy in critical moments. This question, “Why me?” is an attempt to make sense of something that happened randomly. As if understanding why will prevent it in the future. To some extent, this is correct, but not everything can be prevented or controlled. Sometimes things just happen, and we need to learn to live with this unpredictability.
- It shouldn’t have happened. Often the first reaction, but also the second, and the third, sometimes the only reaction is one of not taking responsibility. Sometimes we choose not to look at actions and consequences, choose to minimize them, push them aside. Then, when the terrible thing happens, we act intrigued and puzzled, seek an explanation and blame, and complain that life is too hard, people are mean, etc. But the path that led to this crisis point was long and formed by our small steps and daily actions or inactions. Reality is ruthless and amoral. It spares no one. Choosing to ignore now, at some point, the consequences will appear.
- A mother wonders why her 16-year-old son consumes marijuana daily and wants to treat him for addiction (more like depression), but she has been refusing for years to do something about the broken couple relationship and ignores the nonexistent father-son relationship.
- A husband wonders why his wife no longer wants to have sex, but he never thinks about making dinner or listening to her when she tells him how she feels. He concludes that he is not appreciated enough, needs sex, so he goes to someone else.
- You are depressed and stagnant at work, wondering where you will work until retirement or if you will become redundant (especially now, with this technology), but the last time you took a course was in the first five years of your career.
- I have to know for sure. Fear of failure, shame, making mistakes, preconceived ideas, nonsense learned at school or at home underlie an all-or-nothing attitude or the need to be 100% sure before doing X. When the reality is that when you start, you are not sure at all, and practice is what you need to become more confident. Unfortunately, for many people, learning experiences have been dominated by violence, humiliation, shame, and absurd demands.
- A mother who always says something like “move, you don’t know, let me do it,”
- A teacher who makes you the laughingstock in front of the class because you don’t know the answer,
- Colleagues who laugh at you, and no adult tells them it’s not okay because maybe the adult made a joke at your expense.
We all have a lot of memories like these. They underlie the need to be sure before starting something. But the safety we seek is not about what we do but about how we will be treated if it doesn’t work out. The goal is not to have a 0 risk; the goal is to estimate the risk we expose ourselves to and make plans to manage these risks.
- Why can’t I be happy? “I always wanted to drive car X; now I drive it, but it doesn’t make me happy.” “I wanted so much to vacation in place Y, but when I got there, I didn’t feel any happier.” “I thought I would be happier if I got married, built a house, and had children.” Happiness is a concept debated for a long time by philosophers, psychologists, and doctors alike. Physiologically, we become immune over time to the chemistry of happiness. The first beer when you’re thirsty, the first designer bag, the first exotic trip are very intense. But over time, the intensity decreases. Happiness is a peak of intensity that passes. Satisfaction is a state that lasts over time. But any form of long-term satisfaction requires the existence of a deeper meaning for our choices and actions. As long as we don’t have a profound sense of what we’re doing, any feeling of happiness will be fleeting.