Chronic Resilience and Learned Optimism

Learning Resilience and Optimism. Coping with chronic illness.

My sister manages a student property center near one of the best universities in the country. It is known that more students from that school will withdraw due to psychological breakdowns and will have more suicide attempts than any other area college. She has already had several incidents this year at her property alone that ended with students being checked into the hospital for said reasons. They are all the most elite academics, but now, they are in competition with one another. Once the valedictorian of his high school is currently struggling to pass his college courses. So why are even the best and brightest failing to cope with the pressures of life?

I’ve been reading the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. There was an entire revolution in psychological treatment called “Positive Psychology” which began after he wrote this breakthrough book in 1990. Before that, psychological practices were geared toward treating mental illness. Seligman asks the question, why aren’t people fulfilled and thriving when we know more about human behavior than ever before? Now, psychologists and counselors help people to become more than just not-sick, but actually thrive.

In his book, Learned Optimism, he theorizes why there is more depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug addiction than ever before when we live in a happiness-driven society. He believes it is much, much more than public awareness of mental health driving diagnoses. Children were once taught how to overcome obstacles and persevere, but teaching practices have shifted to the current focus of boosting self-confidence regardless of efforts. He proposes that individuals of prior generations were raised to believe they were surrounded by various types of support, and that sense of community has been lost today. In the past, people realized that their support system shared responsibility for every success, failure, and overall person they became. Because there was an awareness that outside forces contributed to their lives, when their hard work paid off, they were sharing their triumphs; when they failed, they wouldn’t fall too far or stay down too long as they had a safety net.

In the past, Americans valued country, faith in government and patriotism. People were raised connected to a personal faith in God, organized religion provided a community, connection with family was the cornerstone of society, and people were inclined to make close connections inside of their local communities. Just the sheer idea that others believe in you can be the difference between a devastating pitfall that derails your life and a curve ball which you can bounce back from. Today, we don’t grow up ingrained with the same surrounding support system, lasting connections, or faith in God and country.

Society teaches that your successes are your own to take pride in and celebrate. You are paving your own way in this world. There is a great focus on self-determination, but the tools for coping with inevitable life failures are incredibly lacking. We are taught that personal responsibility and success is everything, but when we fail (as we all do), the personal fallout can be devastating.

I was already planning to write this piece on Learned Optimism when I happened to read an article on Resilience and was surprised to find that the number one quality suggested in becoming more resilient is to create the same types of support that past generations grew up with (as in Learned Optimism). Surrounding yourself with close connections, friends, family members, becoming more connected to faith, plugging into community, and making permanent, lasting relationships with “people who affirm you, recognize your strengths, natural, innate abilities, and provide the support and acceptance you need” will increase your resilience [Mary J. Yerkes].

Other ways to become more resilient: accept good enough, focus on what you can control, find meaning in life, accept advice from your loved ones, take care of yourself, ask for/accept help, don’t be surprised when life changes suddenly, expect things to eventually get better, set goals you can achieve, laugh. Being resilient isn’t about silencing yourself through turmoil or ignoring your emotions, but resiliency is a method of utilizing multiple positive coping strategies along with a mindset that is postured to “roll with the punches.”

The author of Learned Optimism says, “If we habitually believe, as does the pessimist, that failure is our fault, it will undermine everything we do.” Pessimists feel personally responsible in all success and failure, and helpless to make changes. This thinking leads to tendencies for depression, anxiety, and chronic pessimists are more likely to have health troubles later in life. Does this mean that society’s focus on self-reliance and self-esteem is creating generations of pessimists?  The good news is, both resilience and optimism can be learned!

———————————————————————————————————-

Learned Optimism by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.

Chronic Resilience: An Interview with Danea Horn by Toni Bernhard

10 Tips for Building Resilience in the Face of Chronic Illness by Mary J. Yerkes

Do Higher Levels of Resilience Buffer the Deleterious Impact of Chronic Illness on Disability in Later Life?

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About abodyofhope

I do not know why it is that we must wade through tragic circumstances to find truth. We nearly drown! But under the water, there are pearls. I hope in writing this blog, more will come to the surface. Over the past 11 years living with chronic pain, patient advocacy has affected my life through so many remarkable young people, women and men: SURVIVORS. These individuals are HOPE personified. I wish to honor them in the same spirit they have encouraged me to press on. Four years ago, I became bed-bound from a variety of chronic illnesses after a procedure meant to help the pain condition I had been managing for several years- went bust #BIGTIME. In the last 4 years, my entire life has changed. I have changed, but I am still striving to live my best life possible. Along with sharing inspiring pieces, medical/holistic research, and awareness articles, this blog is also an attempt to put my own pieces back together. Welcome to A Body of Hope, and thank you for visiting. [Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/ RSD, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Dysautonomia, Chronic Intractable Migraine, Cluster headache, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Occipital Neuralgia, Hypersensitivity to Sound & Light, Fibromyalgia, Cerebrospinal Fluid Imbalance......blah, blah, blah] >>> P.S. My headgear is protective for pain. I just rock it hard.

Posted on October 15, 2015, in Growing, Inspiration, Recovery, Transformation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I’ve been meaning to read Learned Optimism for some time now, especially because I’m a learned helplessness kind of girl. Everything you wrote had me nodding. Great points, and great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you connected to it!!! I hoped you would as I have read some thought provoking writing from you about learned helplessness and MS.
      I actually found my way to Learned Optimism while researching the effects of chronic pain and learned helplessness. It certainly makes it more challenging to be mentally and emotionally resilient when your body is the opposite of resilient by nature.

      Like

  2. great post as always. Optimism is something I don’t always have and need to do some ready on. I am going to see if I can download on my kindle this book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and making me think as you have a way of doing. great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You and me both, sister! I think even the most optimistic people have self defeating tendencies and those he considers pessimists tend to take more responsibility for their behavior. The book is available on Kindle. I hope you enjoy reading it as I have!
      Thanks so much for reading and your sweet encouraging comments. Xx

      Like

  3. Great post! I read Learned Optimism a while ago when I was having trouble with depression as well as my pain. It made sense and although I haven’t got there yet, I think the points you’ve highlighted make an enormous difference to wellbeing. Awesome stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s great to get your insight on the book, as well. I agree that it isn’t an overnight cure, though the one thing I have found useful is becoming more aware of my own self-defeating or “pessimistic” tendencies.
      Is there a book you have found useful for those living with chronic illness and depression and/or recovering from trauma?
      Thanks so much for your always thoughtful comments!

      Like

  4. Excellent post, I have shared to my own blog , I hope that’s okay!…this sentence especially rings truths to me…Just the sheer idea that others believe in you can be the difference between a devastating pitfall that derails your life and a curve ball which you can bounce back from. Thank you for writing this piece, its brilliant ! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And this is exactly what your blog helps us to do! Our pain journey is shared together and each person inspires and/or encourages us in some way. Having a daughter in her first year of college, it is so important that she know she has our support and for her to be proud of her successes, yet own and learn from what didn’t work. I pray that I had instilled the building blocks of resilience and learned optimisim in her these last 18 years. 🙂 thank you for this great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just Plain Ol' Vic

    Interesting, I am going to have to check up on this more. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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