Monday, September 1, 2008


In an effort to learn from recent experiences, this week I've been reading about emotional resilience. I'm currently intrigued with the idea of sensitivity and whether to be sensitive is a strength or a weakness. Unfortunately the books I've read so far haven't been terribly helpful and I draw more consolation from this quote from Alain de Botton, author of at least one, possibly more, of my all-time favourite books.

"What annoys me about most self-help books is that they have no tragic sense. They have no sense that life is fundamentally incomplete rather than accidentally incomplete. I find a certain kind of pessimism consoling and helpful. Part of fulfilment might be recognising how awful life is."

If this sounds negative, consider the beauty and depth of feeling that makes life what it is. Without pain and loss and grief we wouldn't have joy and excitement and pleasure. Or as my friend Sue puts it, "It sucks. But it's beautiful! But it sucks. But it's beautiful!"

And in keeping with my theme of the human condition, here's a tragic love song by Bill Bailey, who I'll be seeing live in about 2 hours, yaay!


dbrebner said...

I wonder if emotional resilience is not directly connected to the issue of sensitivity.

It's almost surreal watching the paralympics – after the medal ceremonies the athletes describe their disability. For example, Sophie, the girl who won 3 gold medals and a silver in the pool lost her leg in a motor mower accident when she was five years old. That's a lot of emotional resilience from her and her family – even if people felt it very keenly.

The ups and downs of relationships with friends, family and lovers – the depth of emotional visceral turmoil caused by love, lies, loss, betrayal, guilt, abuse, accidents, deaths - are all part of life. How depressing it would be if, like an autistic, those events just washed over you like a wave - not really registering.

I guess someone so sensitive that an event 'low' on the scale causes them psychological trauma is going to struggle – but feeling deeply shouldn't have to be a barrier. The highs will never seem as good without the lows.

I think of emotional resilience as the ability to keep re synthesizing your life. Not to act like a rock, just taking whatever is thrown at you – but to take what makes sense for you, your core values, what is rewarding for you - and keep moving forward.

As Bill Bailey might say 'the deer now blinded stumbles into a ravine'.

Lucy said...

There's a plethora of self-help and self-"improvement" books, websites and courses out there teaching (if not directly then at least by implication) that happiness is the natural state of being. You should be happy, and if you are positive, good things will happen to you and you will achieve all your goals.

I guess the thing that bothers me is that there's so much weight put on being happy and positive that sadness and grief are looked upon as negative, when actually, not only do you have no choice in the matter, but you need both.

This also touches on the concept of status anxiety (coined by Alain de Botton) and the great level playing field of democracy, which teaches that everyone is equal, therefore you are the only reason that you're not a millionaire. You're a failure because you had equal opportunities with everyone else, so you must have blown it.

Unfortunately today's society is geared in such a way that if everyone felt secure and comfortable in their skin, the economy would collapse. There's nothing to be gained from allowing that it's okay to be sad or uncertain and everything to gain from propagating the idea that sadness is something that requires a remedy.

I do have a point relating back to the sensitivity issue! I think my conclusion is that to be sensitive you also have to be strong, which is essentially what I take from your comment - sensitivity and emotional resilience aren't connected so much as complementary.