No one wants to encounter obstacles in its path, suffering losses or face adversity. All these situations are surrounded by a negative aura, especially because in our society we are used to polarize the experiences, cataloging some of them as positive and, therefore, desirable and others as negative and undesirable.
But the Taoist philosophy teaches us that “positive” and “negative” come together in all situations, and that is bad the excess of negativity as well as that of positivity. To live a more balanced life you should learn to see the positive in the negative, learn the lesson hidden behind the failure and focus on how recuperate after a fall.
Only adversity allow you to discover your true strength
“The blows of adversity are bitter, but never sterile,” said the French philosopher Ernest Renan. When faced with situations that lead us out of our comfort zone, when we are forced to abandon the calm waters to face the fury of the tide, then we need to activate our psychological resources to survive. In these moments of inner struggle we can produce a psychological change, a learning process that will turn us into more resilient people.
In fact, a person who doesn’t know the adversity doesn’t know itself completely, doesn’t know what are its limits and hasn’t tested its strength. So, we can consider the hardships as a sort of telescope that instead of pointing outward is heading within us. Then, when we get out of this situation, we will not return to see life in the same way and will be changed, we’ll have enriched our “box of psychological tools.”
Therefore, we can understand adversity as an opportunity to know each other better. Once the tide is calm and we reflect, we realize that we are a bit stronger, more mature and wiser.
Resilience is like a muscle that gets stronger in adversity
Resilience is the ability to exit the situations strengthened. It is not just to recover from the “hangover” and continue as usual, but develop new resources we hadn’t to project into the future and cope better with the new problems that will arise.
In this regard, it is particularly enlightening a study conducted at the Royal Mardesen Hospital in Sutton and King’s College Hospital in London. These psychologists wondered if the way to deal with the disease can affect its course.
Thus they identified the five most common reactions to the diagnosis of cancer: fatalism, hopelessness/helplessness, anxiety, denial and fighting spirit. Then they discovered that when the initial clinical conditions were similar, those who faced the disease with a fighting spirit and showed resilient had a better prognosis.
But the most interesting result was that those who had suffered major trauma in the past and had overcome them with their own strength, were more likely to face successfully the new problems and find the tools necessary to solve them, because they had more confidence in their capacity.
This indicates that resilience is like a muscle that is trained and strengthened in adversity. If we have already gone through difficult situations and exit them, when we find ourselves faced with adversity we will have more confidence in our abilities.
In fact, another study carried out by the Boston College indicates that resilient people are able to experience positive emotions even in high stress situations. So they can reduce their level of physiological activation and quickly find a new balance.
In resilient people certain brain circuits work differently, especially the anterior insula, an area that is responsible for creating an emotionally relevant context for the situations in which we live, and which is linked to basic emotions such as pain, fear and hatred. This means that in resilient people the insula is activated only by really negative stimuli, which allows them to “preserve” their psychological resources and avoid stressing out unnecessarily.
Adversity only make sense when foster learning and growth
“The world breaks everyone and then many are strong in the broken points,” wrote Ernest Hemingway. Undoubtedly, adversity is not synonymous of growth. Not all people grow up with problems, some prefer to turn their backs in haste without learning nothing. Others take a negative attitude or become chronic victims, something that will only bring them more problems and misfortunes.
Therefore, in front of adversity is necessary to adopt a proactive attitude. We can’t expect that life will not bring us challenges and obstacles, but we can prepare ourselves to overcome them and grow. When facing difficult situations ask yourself what you can learn and how they can help you become stronger and more positive person. Probably at the beginning it will be difficult, but when you will be in calmer waters is important for you to reflect on the experience. Only this way pain and suffering will have a sense.
Waugh, C. e. Et. Al. (2008) The neural correlates of trait resilience when anticipating and recovering from threat. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience; 3(4): 322–332.
Tugade, M. M. & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004) Resilient individuals use positive emotion to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 86(2): 320-333.
Taylor, S. E.; Lichtman, R. R. & Wood, J. V. (1984) Attributions, beliefs about control and adjustment to breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 46: 489-502.