On bloated resilience

Photo by Brady. 2016.

“Why can’t I just get better, Brady? It’s crazy! And no one knows. No one really knows how depressed I am. I’m such a fraud. I just can’t seem to get over it like I should! I’m crazy!”

Admittedly, when I conduct therapy, I deal with a lot of resiliency narratives that are slippery, insidiously undermining, and hard to dismantle. People can come into therapy wanting to conquer depression, cure anxiety, rid themselves of insecurities, overcome every obstacle, and succeed at life in the most positive way possible. To this point, one of the first agenda items I write in my notes is: lance this bloated idea of resilience.

Because it naïvely does more harm than good.

Because it, in itself, is a problem.

Resilience is that plucky idea that you can, and should, be able to bounce back from any difficulty. Moving to succeed, after failing, thus demonstrating resilience and fortitude, erases the emotional and psychological necessity of the full experience of failure. Not the experience of failure for the purpose of eventually growing to succeed. Not failure for the purpose of future humility, to redefine the failure as an actual success. Not failure for the purpose of redirection to focus on other avenues of success. Fully experiencing failure means embracing failure as is, of being defeated, of losing.

It is important to experience our failures as failures, and not anything else.

To this point, one of the first agenda items I write in my notes is: lance this bloated idea of resilience.
Before I write further, yes, there is the natural caveat that there are many things in life which are neither successes nor failures. As such, there is an implicit possibility to view one’s actions or one’s life as a success or failure, when there isn’t necessarily that necessity. When it is though, when something is done that is felt as a failure, then it is. It is a failure. As a shrink, I don’t challenge it, and in my work with others, I try to not challenge another’s experience as much as possible. With others, I don’t deny the feeling of failure, the feeling of can’t, or of won’t. If it feels like defeat, then it is. If it feels too heavy, too hard, or too much for someone, then it is not my place to deny that experience.

Dismantling resilience, in part, means accepting failure as it is, and not denying its presence, which is what so many good intentioned resilience narratives do.

….

There is a line in Tera Naomi’s song, Job well done that states it clearly and completely: “maybe someday you’ll realize your mistakes and maybe make yourself accountable for one; and they say success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.”

I wish our failures weren’t orphaned, or disowned, or cosmetically changed into successes, but allowed to be as they are: owned failures. Wherein owning and feeling a failure isn’t beating yourself up for failing. Owning a failure isn’t shamefully or continuously torturing yourself for having failed and being defeated. Many people think that attacking themselves for failing is owning their failure, and in many ways it isn’t; because it de-centers the failure towards a feeling of being weak, awful, pitiful, stupid for having failed at all.

And this doesn’t help.

When we overvalue resilience, we do so at a tremendous cost.

Many people think that attacking themselves for failing is owning their failure, and in many ways it isn’t.
If a failure is met with a reactionary desire to succeed with more vigor, then the failure isn’t allowed to be felt. It isn’t allowed to be. You aren’t allowed to be. In many ways, we can double down in this regards: failing at allowing yourself to fail.

If the only narrative you, or others, or society, promotes is one of positivity, overcoming struggles, and never quitting and never failing, then all else is devalued, is dismissed, is deigned unimportant; but sometimes we do fail. We can hurt so much that we cannot imagine feeling better. Then in those times, empty platitudes of grit and resilience further inculcate worthlessness, because one didn’t succeed. Those supposedly encouraging words have in them an emotional shift of moving towards success that denies the very real experience of failure. You can hurl jargon and call it self-sabotage, narcissistically rooted denial, or even a subtle self-micro-aggression, but it’s all the same effect. Anything other than allowing a failure to be a failure disallows and denies a person from having their own experience. That hard if painful experience of failure.

For it is important to fail and to lose. Not so that you can win with more effort later, or to savor your success; that puts success at the center of failure, which isn’t the point. Failure is important because we have our limitations. And it is okay to fail. To cry. To not be strong. To be defeated. To feel our limits and our inability to push past them.

There is a necessity in failure. Not to jump to the next step for success, but to stay in the place of failure. Of maybe having hurt oneself. Of maybe having hurt others. But of owning your actions. Of feeling the impact that your actions, and yours alone, have had, and not using them to shame yourself and beat yourself up. This is the other slippery part. Shaming failure is as harmful as praising resilience; both are problems.

It’s okay to feel defeated. Because you are. And you aren’t crazy for being defeated.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

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