Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Introduction. I met Dave Goldberg in the summer of 1996. He was very comforting and lovely. It was love at first sight. He was assuring and very understanding. However, 11 years into our wedding, one day, he suffered from a heart attack while on a treadmill and passed on. I was in utter shock and disgust and didn’t believe that this was happening to me. My kids very truly upset too. I felt like I was in a void. At times, I felt like I could hear Dave calling out to me in my sleep. Ordinary events were painful to go through. I was worried my kids would never be the same again. The songs on the radio weren’t helping too. People encouraged to let grief run its course. Adam Grant gave me advice too. The fact is that many people who have lost parents turn out to be resilient. Time will heal the wounds, or so they said. I have no choice but to get over the shock. This book is about how to build resilience. Adversity is everywhere. I am fortunate for the support I have received throughout. It is possible to find greater meaning. Life is never perfect and sometimes we have live Option B.
Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity – and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone. – Sheryl Sandberg
This book is about the capacity of the human spirit to persevere. We look at the steps people can take, both to help themselves and to help others. We explore the psychology of recovery and the challenges of regaining confidence and rediscovering joy. – Sheryl Sandberg
Breathing Again. A friend I knew was too trusting and gave a co-worker a ride home. However, he raped her in the end. I offered this lady help. If you don’t believe in all 3, you will find it easier to cope. It is never all your fault and there are things which you might not be able to do better. Learn to stop saying ‘sorry’ after a while. Not everything was terrible after all. We had access to grief counsellors. Working also helps with the pervasiveness bit. However, if you return to work too soon, grief can interfere with the performance. Employers should provide flexible arrangements and financial assistance etc. Humans tend to overestimate how long negative events will impact us. I tried to banish the words ‘never’ and ‘always’ from my vocabulary. The pain temporarily eased up after a while. Humans are also wired for grief. Deep breathing helps me to calm down. The second derivative thoughts were not pleasant at all. I learnt from Buddhism that suffering is inevitable. Over time, my kids and I learnt to respect our feelings. Sometimes, it is necessary to take cry breaks. Focusing on worst case scenarios also had me feel better. We also pray before every meal and thank God for the food. Counting the blessings in your life can make you happier and feel satisfied. We are also financially stable and that is very important to us all. Once, I went for a mammogram and I was alarmed. Thankfully, it was a false positive. Even heartache doesn’t last forever. When life kicks you under, learn to breathe again.
3 P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization – the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness – the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence – the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. – Sheryl Sandberg
Part of every misery, is misery’s shadow… the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. – Sheryl Sandberg
Dealing with grief was like building physical stamina: the more you exercise, the faster your heart rate recovers after it is elevated. And sometimes during especially vigorous physical activity, you discover strength you didn’t know you had. – Sheryl Sandberg
Kicking the Elephant Out of the Room. I went for a college reunion with some of Daves’ friends. Sometimes, asking someone about their illness can comfort them and show that you care. I felt miserable when friends didn’t ask how I was doing after Dave’s passing. People avoid asking because they want to avoid difficult questions. However, the fact is that people who have endured terrible things want to talk about them. Some parents who have lost children also want others to speak about them from time to time. ‘Mum effect’ is when people avoid sharing bad news. By remaining silent in your suffering, you isolate others. It would be good to have friends who ask you difficult questions but do not judge on your answers. People who have been through adversity can connect better with others who are suffering too. Cultural pressure to conceal negative emotions is common. The fact is that most people do not know what to say, especially when it comes to personal matters. I thought that I carrying an elephant around. A month after my husband’s passing, I shared my thoughts openly on Facebook. After that post, I received a lot of love and compassion. Not everyone will be comfortable about talking about personal tragedy. Opening up can improve mental and physical health. Instead of ‘How are you?’; ask ‘How are you today?’. I acknowledged the elephant’s presence and after opening up, many colleagues did reveal that they did not dare to speak up because they were afraid of saying the wrong thing.
I had failed to ask him directly about his health not because I didn’t care, but because I was worried about upsetting him. – Sheryl Sandberg
When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my cousin’s friends who died of lemons. – Postcard
When someone is struck ill with cancer, you can ask ‘I know you don’t know yet what will happen – and neither do I. But you won’t go through this alone. I will be there with you every step of the way.’ Or ‘I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you. – Sheryl Sandberg
The Platinum Rule of Friendship. Adam encountered a kid, named Owen. He had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and later took his own life. When you are feeling stressed, you need an outlet. For instance, you can call a counsellor at any time of the day. Sometimes when we feel like reaching out to help, we might suddenly hold back because we fear saying the wrong thing or offending the person. This is like choosing escape over empathy. The trick is just to show up, showing up can make a huge difference in a friend’s life. It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you are not the one suffering. Instead of saying ‘I will do anything to help you’, you could say ‘let me get you a burger, let me know what you not take’. Specific acts are more useful for someone in need. Even holding someone’s hand can be a big help too. One can offer comfort to those closest to the tragedy and gain support for those further away from the tragedy. We all grieve differently. It is very rude to suggest that someone should be over their grieving period.
Growing up, I was taught to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. Take a cue from the person in distress and respond with understanding – or better yet, action. – Sheryl Sandberg
Self-Compassion and Self-Confidence. Coming to grips with ourselves. Self-compassion is rarely talked about in our society. Everyone makes mistakes. These imperfections make us human. Self-compassion is the key to a faster recovery from trauma. Focus on the mistake and not the person’s character. Guilt and shame are completely 2 different feelings. Learn from your mistakes and own up to them. Writing down your thoughts in a journal might be useful and has much therapeutic effects. The more you acknowledge the negative emotions that you are feeling, the better you can tackle them. Talking into a voice recorder can have a similar effect to writing. Learn to understand that your worth is not tied to your actions. Self-confidence is the key. I am grateful to have a compassionate boss, Mark Zuckerberg. I start journaling and realized that it helped me tremendously. Even when you are really down, you can focus on 3 small wins and write them down daily. Just reminding that something had gone well that day can improve your day instantly. Learn to count your contributions too. Take one extra step even though you are afraid. Learn to treat those who are undergoing a tough time as regular team members and praise their work occasionally. The number of single mums are rising and a lot of them are having a tough time too. Over time, I journaled less. I want to move on and start living again. I am not alone.
Psychologist Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as offering the same kindness to ourselves that we would give it to a friend. It allows us to respond to our own errors with concern and understanding rather than criticism and shame. – Sheryl Sandberg
This loss of confidence is another symptom of pervasiveness: we are struggling in one area and suddenly we stop believing in our capabilities in other areas. Primary loss triggers secondary losses. – Sheryl Sandberg
Bouncing Forward. The one I become will catch me. When you can’t change a situation, you will have to change yourself. Some people can experience post-traumatic growth. This means bouncing forward. It can take 5 forms: forming deep relationships; discovering meaning in life; gaining appreciation; finding personal strength and seeing possibilities. One can walk away with greater resolve. The little things do not bother you so much anymore. If you can find your why to live, you can find meaning to live. I appreciate my close ones more. If you visit poorer communities, you might start to appreciate life more. Gratitude is the key to happiness. Now, I celebrate birthdays every year. You do not need to wait for special occasions to show your gratitude. One could write thank you notes. Every day is precious and should be lived to the fullest. Going through difficult times together can cause one to forge stronger bonds together. It is also important to find meaning in suffering. One could do so via spirituality and religious beliefs. It is important to stay hopeful in your darkest hours too. Trauma can help to build resilience. Work can provide a source of meaning. You can energize yourself with meaningful work. A brush with death can lead to a new life. Some believe in co-destiny, where bereaved parents view their child’s life in a larger framework. Parents can do good, which becomes part of their child’s impact on the world.
In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus
In prosperity our friends know us. In adversity we know our friends. – Old Saying