For Frederic Flach, MD, resilience is “the psychological and biological strengths required to successfully master change”1, the recurring cycle of disruption and reintegration. In his book Resilience: Discovering a New Strength at Times of Stress, Frederic Flach writes about the importance of resilience, what it is, and how to build it. He also shares the profile of “The Resilient Personality”.
Stress is nothing new. What’s new, and even more so since Frederic Flach wrote his book, is the exponential rate of change experienced. This is exacerbated by the disintegration of traditional structures that provided support in the past.
On the plus side, our traditional viewpoint of what is proper behaviour is also not change-proof. This means what may have been marginalized by what is an outdated paradigm is now deemed acceptable. By opening up and allowing for a greater spectrum of emotions, we can begin to stop pathologizing how we feel. There is nothing wrong with how I or you feel. The question is whether these emotions support us or not in creating the life we want.
From years of clinical work, from friends and from his own investigation of the creative process, Frederic Flach put together what he called “The Resilient Personality”.
The attributes of resilience he shared are:2
- Open to new ideas
- Having a wide variety of interests
- Having a robust sense of self-esteem
- Independent and flexible, open to advice and help
- Strong network of support
- Able to give and take in relationships
- Seeing and building strengths, gifts, and talents
- Sense of humour
- Aware of the feelings of both self and other people and can communicate appropriately
- Strong sense of responsibility, discipline, and tolerance for distress
- Having focus, being committed to life, and having a philosophical framework
These resilient attributes are dynamic and fluctuate over time and in different circumstances and challenges. The more resilient a person is, the more quickly they can distill the lessons and reassemble for a personal renewal and for a higher adaptation, better prepared for future challenges. The key to a resilient personality is flexibility.
Nervous breakdowns, rather than reflecting illness as such, may be manifestations of the normal disruption that accompanies these transition periods or, as is often the case, an intensified form of such disruption, one that may at times assume catastrophic proportions because earlier transitions in the life cycle were not successfully accomplished.
Frederic Flach, MD3
To Frederic Flach, the illness is not in the falling apart. Falling apart just may be what is needed. The illness lies in the failure to learn from the experience, reorganize, and reintegrate after stressful events. When this happens, the illness is getting “trapped in a persistent, chronic state of dysfunction.”4
Many features of the resilient personality can be found in early childhood and shaped by later experience. We are open systems, subject to the forces of the external environment. Stressful events and challenges are unique opportunities to assess what is in our wheelhouse and what can be.
While we may be unable to remove all sources of stress, we can build our resilience to better negotiate and even master change. Here we shared some of the attributes of resilience Dr Frederic Flach discovered from decades of clinical work. None of these qualities are rocket science. They are skills you and I can develop. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that falling apart is a healthy stage of adapting to change. Let’s stop pathologizing burnout and a temporary time-out. Rumi wrote “the wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Are you ready for the Light?
1 Frederic Flach. Resilience: Discovering a new Strength at Times of Stress. p xviii
2 Ibid. p 113
3 Ibid. p 41
4 Ibid. p xiv