Resilience training offers bounce-back, allowing us to weather tough situations without caving in. Founded in a belief in one’s self, resilience helps us overcome difficult situations.
The Wolins, a married mental health team, suggest seven key strengths comprising resilience. These strengths are by-products learned by successfully toughing out situations:
· Insight- asking tough questions and giving honest answers.
· Independence- distancing emotionally and physically from the sources of trouble.
· Relationships- making fulfilling connections to others.
· Initiative- taking charge of problems.
· Creativity- imagining and expressing art forms.
· Humor- finding the comic in life
· Morality– relying on conscience rather than self-interest or practical considerations.
Allen Morrow and his family demonstrate keen human accomplishment evolving from wrenching emotional hardship, teaching us that reframing a tragedy as a life challenge enables even grieving parents to move forward. The Morrows had to ask tough questions, find honest answers, and reframe their future because they have no choice. Their son is dead and giving up is not an option.
In 2011, handsome, quick witted and engaging, 22 year old Allen deftly maneuvered his pathway in jobs and friends, but until 2011, Allen had experienced little success with life. Entering psychotherapy at age 16 at Mom’s request, Allen’s school performance was uneven. He was fond of gently massaging the truth, and was generally undependable in anything other than self-interests. But Allen wanted to leave home and become a citizen of the world.
After two years of individual therapy work, Allen graduated high school and was ready for group therapy, an ideal means to help clients who are self-centered. At 18, he became the youngest member in an adult therapy group in our Rittenhouse Square offices. Allen bonded to his group quickly, relying on “group truth” to help him through his confusion as he entered freshman year at college.
Clueless about bad campus influences, Allen was pulled into a group of upper classmen whose sense of fun included cutting class. He quickly became so immersed in dysfunctional patterns that his academic advisor wrote him and his family, informing them that Allen had only six weeks to make up 4 papers and 3 exams (most of the first semester), if he intended to continue. Because he avoided the truth, he had hidden his severe academic problems.
Quickly, the clinical team and family helped Allen learn needed resilience skills which helped him focus. By February he had completed needed make up work. Basking in the admiration of both group members and family, Allen went on to graduate college in May, 2011, three years after matriculation.
His parents wisely continued to fund therapy and by the fall of 2011 he had matured into healthy living and new friends, including his first real girlfriend. Family relationships had improved dramatically. Working in construction and food service, still in the same therapy group, his perceptiveness and quick witted feedback for others won him respect and affection. Allen was on his way to a successful future, able to enjoy his hard won victories, but, in one senseless moment, his life stopped short with the loud crash of silence generated by an event too painful to consider.
On New Years, 2012, three generations of Morrow family gathered to celebrate together. On January 3, Allen climbed into his sturdy old car and was killed instantly as his car swerved on ice on a local two lane road and hit a tree. Numbed, the family chose to make no public display, struggling quietly and planning next steps with a trusted few. “We simply cannot give up,” Alice, his mother, says. “Allen would not have permitted us to give up. He needs us to make a contribution to the world he was so excited to enter. And we will. “ Alice and her husband Paul have decided to work internationally to help underdeveloped countries.
“Allen would be proud of us. “Paul says quietly. “I bet he can see us here, working towards the goals he set for himself.” The resilience which Alice and Paul instilled in Allen is now necessary for them to move life forward. The death of a child is more difficult to absorb than even the death of a partner because the human scheme sets expectation of death during aging. At this writing, The Morrows face the future squarely. Their insight and courage have become their springboard to constructive action and they are a model for us all.
To consider: Faced with this level of tragedy, how might you have coped? How can you develop needed resilience to cope better in the future?
To Read: Steven Wolin. The Resilient Self. Villard, 1993.