More and more people are writing about the need for resiliency in expat communities. Human Resource Managers are specifying ‘resilience’ as a new criterion for overseas selection. Schools are bringing in special educators to teach parents how to enhance their children’s resilience. But what exactly is resilience and why is it so important that expats are resilient?
What Is Resilience?
Resilience is coined as the ability to bounce back after experiencing adverse life conditions. Resilient people tend to have experienced numerous challenges in the course of their development and have managed to either keep their balance, or pick themselves up when they have tripped and fallen.
Understandably, these types of skills are incredibly useful when you move/live/work abroad, because as an expat, you are typically thrown into a wide array of new and challenging situations which may cause you to fall down, before you can pick yourself up again.
Resilience is best described as an evolved and inwardly dynamic quality. The road to resilience can be rocky, but interaction with your “inner critic” is the launching pad for how resilient you will be in the face of adversity.
Have you heard the term “inner critic”? It is that negative voice inside that tells you “I shoudn’t”, “I can’t”, “I’m not smart, pretty or rich enough”, or “I should be smarter, richer or prettier.” It is first important to recognize these messages as simply beliefs about ourselves, instead of truth, which we usually take them to be. Then we can ask, “What is actually true in this situation?” and we may be surprised to find it is far less dramatic than we initially thought.
Your ability to overcome difficult circumstances is directly linked to how much you believe these negative messages. If you can create a little distance between yourself and the negative message, a small shift occurs which can open the door to new ideas. When events become overwhelming – when ‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’ brain chemicals surge and when things go wrong, resilience can emerge as the capacity to still find the faith, determination and reason to cope, despite all odds and more often than not, help an individual to create ways to get through.
How Do I Build Resiliency?
Ideally, the resiliency skill set works best when it is internalized early in human development. However, you can proactively build your resiliency to help you go through tough times abroad. Here are six suggestions as to how:
1. Clarify Your Values: Hard times usually offer an opportunity to clarify your values. Resilient people know the difference between a disappointment and a tragedy. Resilient people learn to ask themselves “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” If you really think about it, things are not as important as we often give them the power to be. Did you lose your job? There are a myriad of emerging job markets. Getting a divorce? Yes, it is painful, but are you doing things that help you find your true power and strength? Fighting with a friend? That hurts too. But if the relationship is worth anything, the willingness to have a peaceful interaction will usually get you to some type of resolution. Having financial problems in a tough economy? Sure, it is a problem, but it is a problem that can usually be soothed with some timely planning and diligence. Sometimes thinking too much can be counterproductive, with our mind spinning around in circles, or what psychologists call “obsessive thought”. There are times when we do not know what the next step is, but we must be willing to be with the unknown and allow the solution to unfold, in it’s own time.
2. Build And Maintain A Network Of Caring People: Tough times usually help us to recognize who our true friends are. Build upon this network of authentic people. Be present for others who need to tap into their resilience and they will be present for you when you could use some help too. Resilient people make the effort to stay connected and to be on the giving as well as receiving end of the relationship. They are the kind of people who will offer up a useful referral, who call when they hear about something that is challenging someone, who write quick emails and take a minute to check in with someone who might be struggling. They make themselves available for someone who is sick and they make sure they are present during someone else’s dark days. They are the people who make time to enjoy a meal with a friend, or bring goodies for folks in the office. This is not about “kissing up.” This is about rising above the level of a typical fair-weather friend. Good friends help each other through tough times. Who they are becomes truly obvious in the face of adversity. Nurture these relationships.
3. Practice Mindfulness: Resilient people can find their “center” and stay balanced during turbulent times. A resilient person is someone who finds a useful way to understand even the most difficult obstacle or hurt. Dealing with a painful event mindfully can help make us stronger. Suffering can help us develop compassion for others. A setback may in fact pave the way for something better to happen.
There are two easy and extremely useful mindfulness exercises. The first is ‘Ten Breaths’. You simply place a hand on your belly, and as you breathe in, feel the belly expand and as you breathe out, feel it contract. You are not trying to make the breath do anything, just follow it. After a few breaths, you can add a count for each complete breath, inhaling and exhaling, until you get to ten. You will be amazed at how powerful this simple practice can be. The second exercise is to set a timer to go off once an hour. When the timer goes off, just be mindful of a few complete breaths and this will bring you back to center.
4. Develop Your Sense Of Humor: Resilient people can appreciate the comedy frequently inherent in tragedy. Even dark comedy can make us laugh. When all else fails, resilient people can laugh at themselves. Sometimes a good giggle is exactly what is called for.
5. Give Other People Some Slack: Resilient people set realistic expectations of themselves and others. They understand that people are not always their best selves when stressed, or hurt, or dealing with trauma. Their reaction when someone upsets them is more often curiosity than anger. Before cutting someone off or out, they want to know the facts and gather more information. They are patient and excellent listeners to the other person’s perspective. They want to make things right again.
6. Make A Plan: Finally, resilient people are not upset by change. In fact, they often use it to spring into action. Change is their impetus to create a plan. Resilient people proactively gather information, brainstorm their options and commit to a combination of possibilities that will help their situation to improve. They are open to thinking outside of the box. In fact, they are often brilliant at it.
These are just some suggestions for building your resiliency skills abroad. Feel free to create your own recipe – and I wish you a wonderfully satisfying time overseas!
Author: Dhyan Summers, MA, Licensed Psychotherapist is a California state licensed psychotherapist in private practice with the expat community in New Delhi, and around the world via Skype.
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Beautiful Store, Resale of Donated Goods, Seoul
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S-PLANT Dental Hospital, Prosthetic Dentistry-Orthodontics, Gangnam, Seoul
Apple Tours and Travel Service, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Schools Nursery to University
Chadwick International School Songdo, PreK-12 International School, Songdo, Incheon
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Seoul Foreign School, English School, Age 2 to 18, Seodaemun, Seoul
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Asia Society Korea Center, Seoul