NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Resilience: Bouncing Back from Life's Challenges

I recently had an opportunity to talk to a close friend's 84 year old mother.  I'll call her Alice (not her real name).  Alice is one of the most resilient and optimistic people that I know.  She's an inspiring person to people who know her.  One of the most admirable things about Alice is that, despite the many challenges she's had in her life, she's always bounced back and learned from adversity. I wanted to hear from her how she remains so resilient and optimistic about life.

Resilience and Wisdom:  Bouncing Back
As I mentioned, Alice has faced many challenges and losses in her life, including the deaths of two her husbands, financial hardship while she was raising her children, and a bout with cancer when she was in her 50s (fortunately, she's been cancer free for more than 30 years).  So, it's not that she's led a charmed life at all. She knows what it's like to go through hard times.

When I asked her how she became so resilient, she laughed and had to think about it for a while.   Then, she told me that, from the time she was a child, her mother was a good role model.  She said that her mother, who raised five children on her own after her husband died when Alice was 12, always maintained a positive attitude about life.  

Alice said, "She always told us to take each day as it comes, neither dwelling in the past nor dwelling too much in the future."  This reminded me of the slogan from Alcoholics Anonymous about "one day at a time."  Alice told me that she felt many people spend too much time worrying about the "what if's" in life and worrying about "what might happen."  She said that one thing that she learned in her long life was that it makes no sense to her to dwell on regrets or, alternatively, to worry about the future.  She said, "Life is full of surprises that you can't anticipate, so why worry about it?"

Alice talked about living in the moment, another thing she learned from her mother, "No matter how busy she was, she would take a moment to notice things--whether it was the beauty of a flower or the crisp air of an autumn day."  She laughed and said her mother had never heard the term "mindfulness," but she was a mindful person who remained open to things around her, both positive and negative.

When she brought up regrets, I asked Alice if she had any regrets in life, anything that, if she could do over, she would.  She thought about it for a moment and then said that, for the most part, she didn't have regrets.  She felt that whatever experiences she had in life made her the person that she is and she learned from her experiences, so she couldn't regret them. 

Alice also told me that, after she was diagnosed with cancer, she became a lot more aware of her health.  She changed her diet.  She makes sure she gets plenty of sleep.  She also still walks 30 minutes every day to get exercise and fresh air.  She never smoked.  

One of the things I like most about Alice is that she has a great sense of humor and she's a great story teller.  Whenever we get together at my friend's home, Alice is usually at the center of the group telling stories and making us laugh.  She also laughs at herself.  She told me that she finds one of the best forms of "therapy" for her is watching funny movies.  Charlie Chaplin movies are among her favorites, especially because he combined humor with pathos.  

Another thing about Alice that impressed me is that she remains open and curious about life.  She loves to read, both fiction and nonfiction.  She's part of a book club in her neighborhood.  The people in the book club are a lot younger than her, but she enjoys their company and listening to their ideas.  She looks forward to learning and continuing to develop her mind.  And, she remains a very sharp and insightful person.

At the end of our conversation, Alice said to me, "Aren't you going to ask me how I feel about dying?" Her question surprised me, at first.  While it's obvious that someone in their 80s would have thoughts about death and dying, I hadn't planned to ask her about this.  She told me that she hoped she would live for at least a few more years in good health because there were still things she wanted to do.  Then she said, "But I'm not afraid to die. I've lived a good, long life.  What else could I ask for?"

We live in a time when our society reveres youth and beautiful appearances.  But I think we can all learn a lot from older people like Alice, who remain resilient, optimistic, curious, and open to life.   

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

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