TLC – The One Freedom that Builds Resilience ANYWHERE
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor Frankl
These words perfectly describe what it means to be resilient.
In times of crisis, resilient people can be spotted in a crowd by their surprising confidence in their own power to choose their attitude and response. Not even despair and devastation can threaten this freedom in resilient people. Retaining this power emboldens resilient people to thrive while living in difficult or chaotic situations outside their control.
In his memoir, Victor Frankl used his experience surviving three years in the Auschwitz concentration camps to explain how even in the worst of circumstances, human life still has meaning, and human beings remain hardwired with the desire to experience a personal sense of meaning for their own lives.
Victor Frankl insisted that humans have the capacity to experience meaning under any and every circumstance (Schulenberg, 2003). Frankl’s life and work illustrate people’s power to find meaning, love, humor, and courage – even in the most inhumane and horrific circumstances.
The power of resilience that Victor Frankl describes is not a gift that some just naturally possess. It is a skill that can be built and honed through mindful thinking and speaking.
Frankl’s approach is called logotherapy. It has been effective in calming symptoms of PTSD, acute stress, anxiety, and depression. Put simply, logotherapy activities help people recognize and leverage the power of their words and thoughts to understand what is going on around them and choose the most helpful way to respond, thus keeping their dignity and mental freedom intact.
This is especially good news for youth living in challenging circumstances because as minors, they do not have the legal, logistical, or financial power to live somewhere else. Even better news, caring adults can adopt practices that easily integrate into their regular engagements with youth, creating resilience-building moments.
Here are a few simple practices that parents, educators, coaches, clergy, or other caring adults can adopt to awaken and nurture this freedom to choose personal attitudes and responses in youth:
- Distract: Divert creative attention away from the problem. When a youth’s attention is fixated on a problem, their imagination is a hotbed for worry, anxiety, anger, and fear. Re-channel their attention to imagine something positive. Help them create a dream worth pursuing. In logotherapy, this re-channeling is called “dereflection.” Dereflection uses simple questions to help the person self-distance from the problem and see themselves as a small part of a greater whole.
- Imagine: Here is a resource with 10 resilience-building conversation activities to help redirect imagination and creative energy to what cannot be taken away. Brief examples of dereflection from the activity resource include:
- Your Future Thriving Self: Imagine yourself years from now, thriving. You are confident, strong, and loved. What does your life look like? What brings you joy? How do you spend your time?
- The House of Your Life: If a house existed that was built for you to live in as the thriving person you described, what would the house look like? Where would it be? Describe the rooms. What atmosphere would the house create?
- Laugh: Face the fear by finding humor and absurdity in it. This approach, called “paradoxical intention,” encourages people to find ways to laugh at what they fear the most. According to holistic counselor Dr. Melissa Madison, “…humor and ridicule of the fearful subject can be useful when that fear is paralyzing. Fear is neutralized when action/intention focuses on what is feared the most. One iconic demonstration of this liberating approach is Jia Jiang’s documented adventure called “100 Days of Rejection Therapy,” during which he dared himself to do 100 things that would subject him to a likely chance of being rejected at varying levels of risk of embarrassment, to break him of his paralyzing fear of being told “no.” Jiang’s hilarious TED Talk describes his story and the insights and freedoms he gained from this undertaking.
Here are three constructive ways to incorporate this approach into regular interactions:
- When someone voices a fear or anxiety, ask: “What’s the worst that could happen?” and allow the person to describe that worst-case scenario. Then, in discussion, collaboratively start exaggerating what could happen. Exaggerate people’s most outrageous responses, exaggerate the extreme chain reaction that could take place, etc. Keep going until the entire thing is so outrageous, it becomes laughable.
- Facilitate an artistic version of the lesson in Harry Potter, Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling, 1999), in which students took turns envisioning their greatest fear and transforming that frightening thought into something ridiculous (such as a giant spider on roller skates). In this art activity, encourage youth to draw a picture of their fear, but artistically incorporate something ridiculous into the image, to make the thought humorous.
- Unpack one or more challenges of Jiang’s journey with the youth (or follow each episode over the course of a school year) and find a way to apply insights from what was observed. Some have used Jiang’s episodes to challenge themselves or others to duplicate the same rejection attempts, describe how it unfolded, and what they learned from the experience.
Bottom line, the more people intentionally incorporate interactions that make it normal to think and respond by choice, the better equipped everyone becomes to recognize that they are never powerless. Feeding this one fundamental freedom can meaningfully help youth—and anyone facing ongoing difficulty—become unsinkable in any and every circumstance.
The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company in Audubon serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting. For more information, go to: TheLincolnCenter.com/
About the Author
MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging
Check out Jia Jiang’s TED Talk.
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