Resiliency: Naming the Catalyst

by Jennifer Newton Martin, LPC

The other day my nine year old daughter came to me and asked me to purchase something that she needed in order to do a science experiment. She had seen a video of children doing an experiment that resulted in a pretend volcano erupting. She felt certain that we had all of the ingredients that she needed to repeat the experiment, with the exception of the “catalyst”. She insisted that I go to the store and buy the catalyst used in the experiment. I tried to explain to her that I would need more specific information in order to know if we had what they were describing as the catalyst or not. I explained that a catalyst was a generic term for something that enables or speeds up a reaction of some sort, but that it was not a particular ingredient.

Much to my surprise, this response made her angry. She repeated herself not once but about five times, each time more insistent that I go get the fourth ingredient that was shown in the video. She repeatedly informed me that it was in a small bottle and it was called catalyst. For each time that she re-explained what she needed, I re-described for her what a catalyst was, each time trying to do so more creatively and thoroughly than the time before. She was simply not having it. She wanted to make a volcano erupt and she just did not have time to figure out what the catalyst was. She did not want to hear me say that what she needed was something much more specific than a clear liquid in a small vile labeled “catalyst”.

What is Resiliency?

As I was laying in bed that night reflecting on my inability to persuade my daughter that we needed more information in order to achieve the results that she was after, I started thinking about a previous post on resilience. In the post, I discussed how research demonstrates that resiliency in individuals, organizations, or even neighborhoods is like a muscle that can be developed over time. Resiliency enables individuals or groups to overcome obstacles and restraints and even allows substantial growth to occur after negative experiences have impacted them or threatened to overcome their ability to cope. Higher levels of resiliency have been shown to have a positive correlation with improved ability to recover and grow. Resiliency is all about adapting in a way that is positive. In the context of counseling and Mental Health, resiliency is a trait that is being studied and discussed now more than ever before.

My daughter isn’t unlike most of us when we want an outcome or experience but don’t know how to go about getting it. Many times we desire to be something, wise or wealthy or good at relationships, so we make many attempts at experimenting, hoping that we stumble across the right ingredients at the right time and in the right place. We aren’t often calculated about examining what exactly might be a good catalyst for accomplishing what we want. Many times, growth comes from difficult experiences and circumstances, from frustrated and failed attempts at getting what we desire, if we are able to be embrace resiliency. Each time we fail we have a choice to give up or push forward more determined than before.

The Benefits of Building Resiliency

I believe that this is why looking to others can be so beneficial. We can find others who have what it is that we are aspiring to and we can ask them what brought about those successes in their lives. We can invite conversations about failed attempts and about hardship, about the very experiences and aspects of themselves and their lives that have led them to grow into what it is we want to become. There is wisdom in understanding the specifics of the catalyst, of giving it a name. There is wisdom in choosing to embrace the humility and courage needed to place ourselves in a position of difficulty, or in allowing ourselves to remain there, in order to achieve the results that we want. As Herbert Otto, a Psychologist who wrote extensively on male-female relationships and societal changes, said, “Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life.”

Perhaps resiliency is a muscle that you haven’t been mindful about in the past. However, now that you are, there might be a slight change in your perspective. Intentionally changing our narrative, or how we describe our story, particularly regarding our difficult circumstances and the obstacles in our lives, might bring about new meaning for us. We also might be better equipped to notice how we are changing and growing. Maybe there are things in your life that, though you’d rather not deal with, are the very catalysts needed to shape you into the person that you want to be. On the other side of the obstacle, you just might see a variety of beautiful outcomes, if you can harness all of your resiliency and lean into the process of change.

How to Explore Your Own Resiliency

Some questions you could ask yourself to explore your resiliency:

What areas of my life make me uncomfortable but are necessary or unavoidable? In what ways are these difficult areas stretching and changing me? If they aren’t, then how could I allow them to?

How have I labeled these aspects of my life? Have I become a victim of my story or am I able to see the difficulties in my story as catalysts that are enabling change and growth to occur? Am I harnessing the power of the catalysts in my life and letting them foster resiliency in me or am I avoiding and resenting them?

How can I reframe, or retell, my story in a way that honors my failures, difficulties, or challenges and acknowledges them as potential catalysts for positive change?

How can my story, and growing from it, be used for the good of others? How can I inspire others to embrace resiliency and see the beauty that can come from what seemed like merely obstacles?

For more information on resiliency, see my previous post Orchids: The Struggle in the Bloom.

For more information on managing negative, self-defeating thought patterns see my post Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Fighting Words?

Published by thinkagainjenn

Jennifer Newton Martin is a Licensed Professional Counselor and writer in Libertyville, Illinois.

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