Updated: Jan 13
Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
When I was in my teens, my parents lost the business they had spent half their adult life building up, through an unethical business transaction.
Over the next decade, I watched them rebuild from almost zero to a new, healthy life, with a few speedbumps along the way.
If we watched that happened today, we’d probably call my parents “resilient.” But growing up, resilience wasn’t the catch-word it is today. I don’t remember there being a single term used to describe a person who was able to handle tough experiences when they hit, or recover from them after they happened.
Someone wasn’t necessarily resilient. They were just as likely described as being able to “suck it up” and get on with life. Or they were “tough as nails” or “a real fighter.”
Not that these terms have died out, but having “resilience” and being “resilient” have taken over as the mother ship in which all these words make their home. So much so that it’s easy to assume we know what these words means.
Most experts I’ve read say resilience has two pieces. It’s the ability to handle tough experiences, so that when they hit you, they bounce off. It’s the ability to handle tough experiences, so that when they hit you, they bounce off.
Resilience is also the ability to recover from tough experiences after they happen, so you can dust yourself off and keep going.
I’d also like to add a third piece. Resilience, or Inner Strength, is the ability to grow from tough situations. It’s about becoming a stronger, better person than you were in the past, before things got rough. This third piece is called post-traumatic growth.
I use the term Inner Strength more often than resilience for a couple of reasons. First, resilience is a bit over-used these days. Second, Inner Strength helps me picture my core, the muscle that holds me up and allows the rest of me to function in a healthy way.
The challenges of life after cancer can be huge. Things like:
- Rebuilding your life
- Dealing with new medical realities
- Living with the fear of recurrence
- Finding hope, joy and purpose
And cancer survivors aren’t the only ones who face challenges. Cancer and other major health issues aren’t the only things that cause major trauma. Abuse (whether sexual, physical or verbal), physical injury, military combat, addictions, bullying … you name it, it’s trauma, doing its dirty work.
To handle life’s challenges, we need to have tough minds, open souls, and healthy bodies.
Each of these – mind, soul and body – may have damage we can’t undo. But we need to see how far we can go, how strong we can get, if we want to build a life that’s full and joyful and full of meaning.
I've come up with a few basic elements to inner strength, based on people’s stories and in my research. Keep in mind there are many definitions and many takes on how to build and maintain resilience.
- Grounding – acknowledging your experience, feelings and where you're at
- Acceptance – making peace with your new post-cancer reality, and the reality of death
- Gratitude – seeing what you have, not what you don't
- Regulation – learning to live from a place of centeredness and control
- Goals & Commitment – building a meaning-filled life
- Courage – choosing to live with purpose and joy
Each of these is crucial to being able to live your best life, even in the face of struggles.
There also some key practices that I've found can help these elements take root, like
- Building physical health
- Connecting to the outdoors
- Connecting to people
- Breathing, mindfulness and self-awareness
- Learning and reflecting
- Connecting to your passion
And we can’t get there alone.
Let's partner together on this journey of building internal strength for a richer life.