Building Resilience In A Chaotic World

Some people are born into this world with a natural and strong vessel of resiliency. Whether due to genetics or a more intangible cause, they are strong in their body and mind right from the start. We all see this with little babies who are no more than a few days old. When later combined with a network of family and community who accept them for who they are, who provide the capacity for contact and intimacy, the result is strength and the ability to act and create a life for themselves that is ‘good enough.’ These people seem able to handle the winds of life and change, the instability of the world in general. They have an inherent capacity to continue on, regardless of the challenges presented to them. Their health and spirit have been strengthened over time by loving parents and family. Even if one parent is severely damaged, the other and the community, or extended family around them are able to make up for that loss. Their underlying constancy of life is sufficiently strong to allow them to bear the chaos and change of life. And once in a while, a rare few seem to just be born with this resiliency despite a destructive environment and perhaps less than healthy body. But many of us are not so fortunate. We seem to have been born with a fragility or sensitivity to the world from the very beginning, or it was torn apart by the family vessel, by wounded or lost parents and insufficient family members to repair whatever damage may have been done. Some of us are in a constant state of shock, despair or frustration. Some carry this fragility without it being known to the world. Others show it constantly. However it is manifested, be it a broken body or desperate soul, most with this fragility also have a fragile capacity for intimacy. Intimacy and contact is experienced as too painful. It has been so wounded in the beginning that as we go through life, we cannot seem to have healthy relationships no matter how much we try.

At some point, some of the deeply fortunate ones discover or create a new web of resiliency. We find lifemates or community or mentors who are able to hold us in such a way that this fragile net begins to be repaired. Ironically it does not begin by ‘loving ourselves’ but through the patience and love and nourishment of an other, that we are able to rebuild this net that has been destroyed in many places. The underlying fabric of life begins to be repaired in adulthood at some point through the discovery of others, of community or even a single person who unknowingly is resilient enough in themselves to sustain the constancy of intimacy for another.

Sadly, some in this fragile category just end up on the fringe of life, damaged irreparably, often addicted, incarcerated, institutionalized, or alone. Yet even for these people, with some exceptions for sure, there is the possibility of repair. But in these circumstances we are presented with a tremendous challenge, as it is only for God to determine the timing and conditions of that repair. One individual is never the answer, though many try and believe they are the one who can heal the other. This is rarely the case and is rather a trap that ends in even greater misfortune as the helper slowly discovers they are not able to be ‘the one’ to save the another person, often leaving them feeling empty and inadequate. It is so easy for good-hearted people to believe that with enough love, someone else can be healed. But this is truly not the case, or at least it has never been my experience. People, sadly, cannot be loved into health and resiliency and well-being unless they are a willing and active participant.

So what is the solution for those who live a fragile existence? It usually begins by self-identification. We must first be able to face and accept that we are in this category of human beings despite our wish to be otherwise. Many of us have built a false artifact that we present to the world, an artifact of something we are not, an artifact of total strength or confidence or the opposite- an artifact of victimization and helplessness. Either way, we must face that we have created an artificial self that is not real in order to make up for our fragile self. We must also acknowledge that this fragility is not our fault, we did not ask for it, we did not create it and we are nor morally weak for having it. But we must face it straight on. We must give up the false hope that someone will come along and save us and bear the truth….the truth that we must save ourselves. We must save ourselves by first acknowledging and then seeking out the appropriate conditions for repair. There are many variations and options for this repair but there seems to be one quality which is essential…the capacity to build and bear intimacy with another, the capacity for contact that allows a free flow in both directions of love and support and contact and sharing. This building process is usually a slow one. Initially we must resist the pattern and urge to destroy relationships, to run or become such a flame thrower that others are so hurt that they must leave us. We must resist the urge to destroy what is good because it feels so unbearable or we feel so undeserving underneath it all. But we must continue on and save ourselves in spite of ourselves.

Sometimes we begin by seeking out at least one person who can maintain a constancy with us as we struggle and fight and regress and act out on our self-hatred. This repair usually starts with just one person. Often this one person then reaches their limit and we must let go and begin building with another person. Again and again we make contact and stay……we stay as long as we can. And slowly this fabric of life begins to be rewoven and rebuilt. We must have the fortitude to continue even when we are constantly failing. We must have the capacity to get back up and continue the repair. We can only do this by continuing to acknowledge that we are broken. And this acknowledgement can only come by courageously and fearlessly telling the truth about ourselves and the people around us, by allowing that fragile self to be seen and known by another and by the experience that this other can bear our fragility. Thus, the extreme difficulty of this facing of ourselves can only begin from within and cannot be done by anyone else. It Is truly the path less taken. And it is truly a path that is abandoned by some when the road gets too difficult. I am also speaking here about our personal lives, not our work lives, which fall into an entirely different category for sure.

But let us always be willing to begin again, those of us with fragile constitutions. Let us constantly begin again and know that repair is possible as long as we are alive and breathing. Repair is possible if we can bear ourselves long enough to recognize the people and environments who have that inherent resiliency, or who have at least traveled the path of repair further along than we have. Like Jacob’s ladder, one hand extending down to pull up the next soul, we must reach up for the next hand, seek it out, not flee or destroy, but continue to build. Always continue to build. Always continue to be willing to face our darkest demons. And still occasionally acknowledging that some in our lives have come to the end of what they can contain in us or what we can contain in them. Two people equally wounded in resiliency cannot help each other. Our ego must be able to bear that we need someone stronger than ourselves to show us the way and to put ourselves in that environment and allow them to show us and allow ourselves to bear the discomfort of intimacy. Strangely, it is intimacy that is so very hard to bear for those of us whose underlying fabric is so fragile. For most, it must come in tiny doses and increases from there. And the form is unimportant. Sometimes it is a therapist, sometimes a trusted friend or family member, sometimes a life partner. The form is less important than the willingness to reveal ourselves to at least one human being on the earth whom we know has the capacity to see us.

And including all of this, for most of us with fragile constitutions, we must also be willing to accept that a part of us may never be repaired and that does not make us bad people. It just makes us fragile people who must constantly be willing to accommodate our lives for this aspect of our being. Some parts of us will continue to be strengthened and healed. Some may not. We must be able to also face and bear that reality. And we must teach the world around us to bear it as well. Brokenness is not a moral issue. It is a fact of life. We must continually strive to repair while at the same time strive to bear what has not yet been woven together again. And the key is the capacity for intimacy, true intimacy that holds both boundaries and generosity of heart.

True intimacy is not about a bleeding out of the life force. True intimacy contains deep contact while at the same time the capacity to separate and know that the beloved other shall return. The bearing of separation is as much a part of intimacy as is the bearing of generous expression of love and contact. True intimacy allows for the other to leave and fulfill their own life’s mission, while knowing they will return, and all the while maintaining a sense of well-being and emotional contact even as the other is absent physically. Then again, we must seek out those of resiliency who do have the capacity to return, not just bond intensely and then leave or move on to the next person, never to be seen again.

Thus, the dance of repair of a fragile vessel is a life-long event. We all have places of strength, some more than others, but we all have some. We must build on those places especially those of us who are the fragile ones. By starting where we really are, rather than where we wish we were or think we should be, we can continue to build on the true strength that exists in us. And it all begins by bearing intimacy. This is the manna of life, the true means of fulfillment. We all know that a life of luxury and wealth is an empty existence if we have no one to love and share it with. We all know that when we have love in our lives, the true outer creation and vessel of environment begins to flow and we find the home and work life that is right for us. But only when we have people in our lives whom we know can contain our truest selves. This is the richness and the repair. By becoming more and more honest with ourselves and those we love and who love us, we are never helpless or hopeless.

-Shems Prinzivalli

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