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Cultivating Emotional Resilience

Difficult and painful emotions are by no means easy to navigate – and, they are a part of the human experience. Cultivating emotional resilience can help us to navigate the ups and downs of life. We start to develop this ability by learning how to sit with discomfort. Many of us have been practicing emotional resilience and the art of “sitting with discomfort” this past year (perhaps without even realizing it!) – the discomfort of not knowing when COVID will end; when there will be a vaccine; if we will lose our jobs; if we will lose our loved ones. It has been an absolute rollercoaster – yet, here we are, surviving in spite of it all.

We cultivate emotional resilience by expanding what is called our window of tolerance. Practicing mindfulness and self soothing strategies helps us to do this. When we are in our window of tolerance, we are grounded and regulated. When we are out of our window of tolerance, we are dysregulated – we may shut down or experience the fight/flight response.

Therapy can help us to increase our window of tolerance and cultivate emotional resilience. Many people who come to therapy for the first time carry some misconceptions about what this entails. The therapeutic process can aid us in learning how to tolerate what life throws at us – including (and especially) painful and difficult emotions and experiences.

Therapy is not a quick fix or a way out of experiencing suffering. Grief, sadness, anxiety and even rage are all part of the human condition. Often, the only way out of these emotions is through them – experiencing them in their entirety. The goal of therapy is not to rid ourselves of these emotions but, rather, to find peace with them. As the great poet Rumi wrote, we must “greet them at the door laughing”. What other choice do we have?

Often, though not always, something profound comes as a result of suffering. We may sublimate our pain into something truly beautiful. My favorite metaphor for resilience is the one that nature offers us: the lotus flower, which spends much of its life in the mud at the bottom of a pond – and, eventually, emerges from the depths to blossom.

The first step is accepting and embracing the idea that we can never be free of pain and suffering – and, we can build up our emotional resilience so that we, too, may blossom.

Book Recommendation: No Mud, No Lotus - Thich Naht Hahn

Poem: The Guest House - Rumi

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