Written by: Marcy Pusey, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Something about my therapist’s words both rubbed and resonated. Expired? People expire?
This is how I learned that my “resilience” had been a mask for survival. Instead of allowing my difficult circumstances to channel me from survival to resilience, I’d gotten stuck living from an innate, reactive drive to stay alive. But my survival skills had expired, leaving me empty-handed.
My fatigue, my struggle to function, and my general lethargy were the result of survival skills that were depleted.
Fortunately, resilience is always available to us. Once I learned the difference between resilience and survival, I could progress to a place of health and wholeness.
Am I Surviving or Thriving?
Survival and resilience both contain an element of elasticity. Something gets squished, like a stress ball, but when the squeezing stops, it returns to its original shape. Both your short-term survival mechanisms and resilience will appear to restore you to your previous shape. But only one of these helps you thrive.
Surviving Is Great… For A Minute
Your survival mechanism is meant to be a short-term response to a temporary threat to your identity and physical survival. Your survival system utilizes any accessible tool to keep you alive, even if it’s not sustainable—to the appearance of bouncing back.
Survival progresses into resilience if your brain perceives a successful resolution to the threat response. When you successfully outwit the threat, you return to your previous stress ball shape. This can actually lead to resilience!
The problem is: that survival stays survival when the brain does not perceive a successful resolution to the threat response. (Watch my TEDx Talk called, “You Are More Than Your Traumatic Experiences” to learn about your survival process.)
When you live from your survival mechanisms, you will eventually run out of the stamina required to keep up with the constant release of adrenaline and cortisol. This taxation on your body can lead to fatigue, disrupted sleep, aches in your body, foggy brain, and more. Living in survival mode is like living in a state of perpetual reactivity. This is when your stress ball begins to look squished… you stop returning to your original state as you slowly expire.
Resilience as a Lifestyle
Resilience takes survival one step further. Resilience is successfully overcoming the obstacles you faced, turning “squeezes” into resources, and moments into “muscles.”
With resilience, the pressure itself can equip your nervous system with the tools you need for future pressure. You now have a physiological and psychological memory of overcoming a threat to your survival. This memory fuels you with belief that you’ll be more than capable of overcoming the next threat. Remember when I said successfully outwitting the threat can lead to resilience? This is how!
It doesn’t end with belief, though. The actual resources that you activated, which successfully aided you, are added to your system’s toolbox of How To Beat The Bad Guy the next time you face him. With resilience, you continually return to your previous form, without long-term taxation of your energy, physical health, mental health, or overall wellbeing.
Is It Really Resilience?
The word “resilient” is thrown around like it’s Giveaway Day on Oprah Winfrey’s show. “Resilience for you, and you, and you!” We assume that if someone seems to be doing okay amid life’s storms, they must be exercising resilience.
But many of us aren’t living from resilience. We simply keep our heads above water, treading our lives away to stay just ahead of the next catastrophe, pandemic, or unexpected life jolt. It takes the smallest appearance of an obstacle, a “squeeze,” to feel frustrated, discouraged, and stuck in an endless loop of trying but never achieving.
Instead, root in your ability to overcome and move forward in empowerment, resources, and burgeoning muscles instead of the anxious energy to get away from the problem. Imagine the freedom, health, peace, rest, and confidence you’ll have to live from this place instead of an expiry-stamped survival skill.
Survival skills expire—resilience doesn’t.
5 Tips to Build Resilience
How do we move from survival to resilience? Here are five tips to get you progressing.
1. Use Your Imagination to Unlock Resources
Bring a memory of feeling paralyzed, abandoned, or helpless to mind. Thinking back, what resources did you have but didn’t recognize at the time? Did you have a supportive, caring person? Did you make decisions with the best information you had? Imagine your closest, safest friend being with you in that recollection. What changes about your memory? Even though the event is in the past, allowing your body to reflect on resources you did have, or even imagining that you had resources you didn’t actually have, gives your body a new experience with that old memory, reframing it in your mind. I’ve used this with clients and seen incredible shifts from helpless to empowered in just one session.
2. Empty Your Stress Bucket
Stress is inevitable, but what we do with it is key. One image I love to use in my coaching is a bucket. The bucket represents your life. As stress pours in, filling your bucket, your capacity diminishes. But resiliency makes it more manageable, and easier to carry. When stressors are flowing over the side, well—you might be about to expire. Having no margin in your bucket leads you to a short fuse, irritability, negative mindset, overwhelm, sleep trouble, and burnout. Poke holes in your bucket so that as life stressors pour in, they get processed and pour right out again. Healthy, life-giving outlets are like poking holes in your bucket. This may entail intentionally spending time with a hobby, choosing to rest, delegating, tapping into your creative brain, or spending time with people who energize you.
Proactively maintaining a healthy capacity in your bucket enables you to bounce back quickly (resilience) and easily when new life pours in.
3. Find Your Belonging Places
Speaking of people who energize, have some of these in your circle of trusted friends. One way your nervous system experiences a threat to your survival is through your identity and sense of belonging.
Much of our society is an affront to our sense of value and worth, further exacerbating our fear that we will never be accepted by our herd or group. Keeping a circle of safe people who hold space for who you are, the quirks and all, is a healing force to your system. Your ability to bounce back with resilience is buoyed when you know your people have your back, will forgive you when you need it, love you, the value you, and champion your unique wiring and the superpowers you bring to the world.
4. Know Thyself
Not only do we need a healthy community to help us “bounce back” but we need a healthy sense of self. I spent years comparing myself to others, wishing I had their particular gifting, talent, organizational skills, or energy level. One day, I reached out to a Clarity & Purpose coach certified in tools to help deepen self-awareness (Myers-Briggs and Clifton Strengths). With an incredible gift at seeing, he opened my eyes to recognize my own unique wiring, the strengths I bring to the world, and why the world needs me to be the way I was made to be! This changed everything. I no longer lived from a place of comparison, envy, and value-trapping. This allowed me to see that I have internal resources to add to my resilience the next time I am faced with a life challenge. Become a master student of yourself. Know how you are uniquely wired so that you can show up your best self, recognizing the tools innately available to you, the talents you can strengthen, and when to outsource or develop what’s not part of your natural wiring. Hiring Gary Williams of Better Future International to coach me is the best investment of time, money, and energy that I’ve ever made.
5. Tell Your Story
Finally, do not neglect to tell your story. Our brains are distinctly responsive to stories. Many people choose to share their personal stories to try and help others. But the reality is, telling your story, whatever story you choose to start with, is a powerful healing agent for unprocessed trauma lodged in your system, an anecdote to negative narratives you’ve picked up, and an opportunity for others to come around you and say #metoo. Telling your story also offers healing and resilience to the other brains receiving your story. The impact of the story is incredible and one that we should be wise stewards of. (Listen to my first TEDx talk, “How Story Empowers Kids to Shape Our World”). There’s almost nothing on this planet as impactful to your health, the health of your community, and of the world, than when we faithfully tell our stories.
What the Future Holds for Resilient People
When you choose to move beyond survival into resilience, you become powerful with the energy to impact and influence the world around you. You run the hurdles of life with relative ease and grace. When you trip, you bounce back up and finish the race. Your body, mind, and spirit are in alignment and on #TeamYou. When living from resilience, you won’t expire.
The day my therapist told me that I had expired is a landmark on my life’s journey. While her words felt like an end, they really made space for a new beginning. I needed the deaths of overworking, over-performing and overcompensating to make space for new life. A life full of abundance, freedom, peace, and hope. The expiration of my survival skills was a gift. My story wasn’t over, and neither is yours.
Think of yourself as a stress ball. Are you starting to droop instead of pop back into your former “shape”? Is it taking longer to recover your groove between “squeezes”?
It's never too late to build resilience. Choose one of the five ways to build resilience and start taking action today. Channel your survival into resilience, making the most of every “squeeze.”
Marcy Pusey, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Marcy is mama to four humans and two pups, but she’s also tossed pizzas for a pizzeria, acted in a musical, appears in a few movies, and is a castle exploring buff (or nerd, you decide). Marcy is also a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and Certified Trauma and Resilience Practitioner, international 2x TEDx speaker, Trauma-Informed Story Coach, publishing consultant, and an award-winning, best-selling author of books for adults and for children. Founder of Miramare Ponte Press, Marcy and her team provide coaching, consultation, and publishing services for storytellers of all kinds.