By Safe Call Now’s Dr. Laura Brodie Ph.D.
Resiliency is defined as: a quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or in people to stay intact. This is a kind of strength. If you bend a fork and it bends right back — that’s resiliency. A car that is in an accident and only has a few scratches has resiliency: it holds up and keeps its shape.
Today we do not study those who make it through a crisis and take the lessons learned to guide and teach them. We focus instead on the broken and make many a victim rather than a survivor. Who is we? The mental health community. We have gone way too far in debilitating people in their pain and done little to teach them to work through the trauma and get to the other side. We have a rich knowledge of human resiliency but in today’s victim culture we do not share the wisdom gained from those before us.
I am a student of Viktor Frankl. He was a psychiatrist in pre-WWII who was captured, imprisoned and spent time in four concentration camps. He began to become curious about why it was certain people gave up and died and others fought to the bitter end for their life. What he found was an individual must have meaning in one’s life to make it through life’s traumas. Frankl gained his meaning from having written a book before he was captured but finding it was not published before he was incarcerated. He felt the need to survive to rewrite the book and publish it, even after his wife and parents were sent to the showers. He wrote on scraps of paper and anything he could get his hands on to reproduce his work. His focus was in surviving and sometimes that’s all we can do to get through the storm.
I teach undercover officers to write down their values and what they want at the end of their life. Frankl teaches in your darkest hour, you cannot control anything else but your attitude. Working in the trenches and seeing the horrors that man does to man, one can get quite jaded and depressed. The depression can be all consuming unless the attitude change happens. Surviving concentration camps teaches us that surviving horror is honorable. Focus on the why and you can survive the how, Nietzsche said it in the 1800’s.
I have seen both the desire to live and the give in to despair. The desire to live does not mean therapy will be smooth sailing but fighting for a purpose is at the core of most first responders. Focus on the fight instead of the despair can carry one through the darkest hours. Humans are horrible to each other, that is true, but we also can do amazing and incredible things with our pain. We teach other with what we’ve endured.
** Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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