It is natural to experience shock and anger when something terrible happens. Those who are “resilient,” or have a “Survivor Personality,” don’t let bad circumstances define who they are. They assess their choices and make the most wise and positive ones. I once was talking with a man who had recently lost his legs about the positive things that had come from his experience. His answer? “Two things. First, I am really proud that I can function pretty well without my legs. I am doing a lot better at things than I expected. Second, the way people visited me when I was recovering from my operation and since showed they care about me. That touched me.”
The internationally renowned Dr. Al Siebert wrote The Survivor Personality to focus on strengths that are developed during experiencing a crisis. He studied marines abandoned in the jungle, women who had been abused, political prisoners isolated for years and later 9/ll survivors who all were clear how these experiences had been in some ways valuable and made them stronger. Like the famous Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankel, they saw their lives in a larger context and refused to let others control their minds and emotions.
Al, who passed away three years ago, offered seven approaches for developing a survivor personality:
1) Orient to a new reality with questions. Be curious, absorb information and develop your own inner map. Ask yourself, “What must I do to make this turn out well? What are my inner and external resources?
2) Replace victim thinking and blaming with learning and coping. Be optimistic that you can find something good even in a threatening situation.
3) Treat emotional strain like a workout. Find the weight you can lift without too much strain and rest between efforts. Notice how you can becoming stronger. List negatives to reduce the fear they cause. List positives and do things that are playful and make you laugh. Spend more time with people who build your confidence.
4) Manage your own and others’ negative feelings in positive ways. Let others’ express themselves while you focus on finding value in their concerns, such as their ability to prepare for the worst.
5) Build your self-esteem, self confidence and self image. Identify your strengths and values. Appreciate your complexity.
6) Invent creative ways to adapt. For example, a team of people being laid off organized a consulting company to work with their previous organization that needed their help. They also worked with other organizations and learned a new set of skills
7) Let unexpected outcomes surprise you. Be open to the delightful and confusing, the strange and the wonderful. See that losing something of value opens opportunities to discover the new.
Explore how your team has been resilient and can be prepared for whatever comes your way.
Glen Fahs, Ph.D.