How to build resilience in difficult times

More than children, “we need to focus on adults,” she said. “This generation of parents has seen no world war, no global threat” of this magnitude. Many parents struggle, although she is concerned that some may shield their children too much, which can affect their natural ability to solve problems and cope with adversity.

The feelings of Dr. Boss was reminiscent of the concerns my husband and I had in 1980, when our 10-year-old twin sons had to be enrolled in a public high school where rampant misconduct and physical threats were common. The boys turned down our offer to send them to private school for those tumultuous three years, saying, “What would we learn about life in a private school?”

In her new book, Dr. Boss guidelines to increase one’s resilience to overcome adversity and live well despite painful losses. She quotes Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, author and Holocaust survivor, who wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” She recommends that people use each guideline as needed, in any order depending on the circumstances.

Find meaning. The most challenging guideline for many people is to find meaning, understand a loss, and when it is not possible to take some form of action. Perhaps seek justice, work for a cause, or demonstrate to try to right a wrong. When the little brother of Dr. Boss died of polio, her heartbroken family went door to door for the March of Dimes, raising money to fund research into a vaccine.

Adjust your sense of mastery. Instead of trying to control the pain of the loss, let the sadness flow, carry on as best you can and eventually the ups and downs will come less and less. “We don’t have the power to destroy the virus, but we do have the power to lessen its impact on us,” she wrote.

Rebuild identity. It is also helpful to take on a new identity that aligns with your current circumstances. When the husband of Dr. Boss, for example, became terminally ill, her identity changed over time from wife to caregiver, and after his death in 2020, she gradually tried to see herself as a widow.

Normalize ambivalence. If you’re not clear about a loss, it’s normal to be ambivalent about how to act. But dr. Boss says it’s best not to wait for clarity; hesitation can lead to passivity and put life on hold. It is better to make less than perfect decisions than to do nothing.

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