Recipient’s inner voice: I can’t keep going like this
Cheerleader: “I would have cried for days…I wish I were as resilient as you are”
Recipient’s inner voice: I cry myself to sleep every night.
Cheerleader: “You went through all that and you are still standing! That takes a lot of resiliency”
Recipient’s inner voice: Sometimes I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed. Can’t you see I’m drowning?
But they say I’m resilient!
While these statements are well-meaning, used to motivate, acknowledge and validate one’s strength to adapt and persevere in challenging or distressful situations, these statements can also contribute to encouraging and reinforcing potentially unhealthy behaviours, reactions and responses, that, might be necessary to nurture and cultivate and be resilient during tough times.
Does “you are still standing” reflect an outcome to be admired from a difficult situation?
What about not crying or getting angry?
Again, you may mean well by complimenting someone else’s ability to successfully adapt to a challenging situation but there may be more constructive ways to share and express your admiration and encouragement than the word “resilient”
So, if you are in the role of the “Cheerleader”, proceed with caution-you do not want to reward unhealthy, defensive coping mechanisms!
If you are in the role of the “Recipient”, consider opening yourself up a little and stepping into vulnerability. People will often react to what they see and interpret from the outside and from their lens. To get the support you really need, to hear the words that you really want to hear, let someone in. Yes, you can be resilient and still hurt.
So here are a few insights on resiliency and what other options one can say.
Resiliency is NOT
Never-ending resource-it needs to be cultivated and nurtured regularly
Minimizing your experience
Denying, masking or negating your emotions
Being unaffected by adverse circumstances and experiences
Barely surviving, but rather successfully adapting to threatening or challenging situations
Hanging on when you need to let go
Feeling and expressing positive and negative emotions and feelings
Failing, but learning and getting up again
Acknowledging your reality-and sometimes it’s not great
Having hope and faith
Forgiveness, of self and others
Letting go, and knowing when to do so
Accepting loss and defeat
So what to say instead when you are admiring what you perceive in someone to be resiliency?
Think about what exactly you yourself mean by telling them they are resilient. Then break this down and share specific examples or points.
Point out a specific action, step or behavior they took and express your inspiration, admiration, or whatever you would like to express
Highlight a strength or unique gift you identified and acknowledge what how it helped them
Explain what you mean by ‘resilient” if you are to use the term
Acknowledge their struggles, open emotions, and reaching out for help as part of being “resilient”
So go ahead, compliment someone on their resiliency-at the end of the day you are not responsible for how someone perceives this, but it is good to be mindful of how the word can be misinterpreted😊