Emotional Resilience: Compassionate Approaches to Loss

Emotional Resilience: Compassionate Approaches to Loss

While there is much talk these days about resilience, it tends to be defined in terms of relationships, resources and infrastructures. However a vital element is often overlooked – the need for emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is the capacity to hold space for loss, upheaval, and shock – allowing us to process, feel, and experience impacts. As psychotherapists can tell us, this “pause” is what builds real resilience. And it is needed now more than ever.

The recent events in Boston remind us of the trauma when the very things that bring us pleasure, gratification and connection can turn in one horrific moment into the opposite. What has been associated with connection, hope, identity and pride has now become associated with violence, risk, threat and danger. In the wake of such ruptures in normalcy, we try to make sense – through talking with one another, reviewing the events repetitively, as if to gain some sense of meaning or understanding. And yet such events tend exist beyond understanding; all we can do is to sense our confusion, grief and anger. This is the work of mourning.

Loss can take many forms. Most notably it can be a loss of identity (who am I without this thing, activity or relationship?), loss of innocence (longing for a simpler time, what I call “environmental melancholia”), or the tangible losses of place, homes or prosperity. In fact, there is always an element of loss when we learn and gain knowledge; we let go of who we were, as we step into new levels of awareness about our world and what this means for ourselves.

When it comes to climate change, we are also engaging with facing practices, which have provided much pleasure, comfort, identity and security. To suggest such things as heating one’s home, taking a vacation with loved ones, or that cross-country road-trip may contribute to great harm is precisely about losing what was once innocent. The better we can acknowledge this, the more honest our work can be.

We tend to be allergic to acknowledging loss; that we may fall into a black hole of despair and never emerge. Actually the opposite is usually the case. When we have compassion and allow space for the experience of ups and downs, shock and repair, we develop greater capacities. And this is what resilience is all about.

A year ago I wrote about “making friends with fatalism,” inviting us to soften towards our feelings of despair, rather than fight against it. Making friends with our fatalism is about practicing compassion for ourselves and our world.  

Dr. Renee Lertzman is an applied reseacher and engagement consultant. She can be reached at here.