Unexpected detours along the way are the norm, not the exception. These detours, though they’re often unwelcome, can lead us to find new routes.These might lead us to the place we originally planned to go, or bring us to a place we never imagined. Our capacity for resilience is called upon and strengthened as we adapt to the unexpected.
Ten years into my first marriage, the path I was following resulted in a “get divorced” detour.
By then I had two young sons and a budding but not yet well-established nonprofit career. Divorce involves loss and disruption. Emotional and practical concerns loomed large among the barriers I faced.
Though the divorce detour was a rough one, within a year or so I had created an alternate route. Even then I knew it was better than the path I had been on. What made it possible to emerge fairly quickly from that rough detour? How did I manage to do so and end up in better shape than before? That answer has to do with resilience, something we all have the capacity for.
I’m thinking in particular of transformational resilience, the capacity to adapt when there’s no “bouncing back” to the way things used to be. There is only moving forward, finding positive ways to adapt to and cope with the new situation.
How Transformational Resilience Helps in Navigating Detours
Transformational resilience is involved in successfully creating and navigating a new path going from the earliest signs of change to putting a plan in place for moving forward. Here I break down how this happened. It was not in a linear, step by step way, but more of a moving back and forth among the elements I describe here.
Awakening to and expressing true thoughts and feelings.
This meant waking up from denial of the distressed state of my marriage, allowing myself to feel the pain of strong negative feelings and to see some hard truths. Expressing these thoughts and feelings in writing and in conversations with close, trusted friends was important, and helped me start making sense of what was happening. I often felt pretty bad as I was working out how to leave my marriage. Later, though I had no regrets about the decision to divorce, there certainly were times when I felt scared, alone and uncertain how I would manage. Living with those darker feelings at times is part of life for us all.
My first attempt resulted in a dead end, when my then-husband still would not engage in an open discussion about the real state of our marriage, and refused to go with me or on his own to see a therapist. Since Option A didn’t work, what could I do? It was time for Option B, separating and divorcing, because I knew I was not willing to live the rest of my life in a marriage that wasn’t working. To pursue that option, I needed to see a therapist on my own. And Option C was to start figuring out what I would need in practical terms. order to move out and start living my life as a single parent of two young children.
Adapting and coping.
I had to adapt to the reality of my situation and move on; yet to begin with I was mired in a quicksand of ambivalence and indecision. Pursuing Option B meant seeing a therapist. With her help I found clarity and gradually got unstuck. This let me to start taking the necessary steps work on my path forward – assessing my finances, locating a place to live, getting moved, finding a lawyer; and along the way maintaining communication with my then-husband, and preparing my children for the coming changes.
Finding hope and taking action.
There was a lot to accept: facing my avoidance of the red flags that were present when I chose to get married; the grief I was now causing him and my sons; and the responsibility I was assuming as a soon-to-be single parent. At the same time, I could see way-signs pointing to a better life ahead for us all. I held that vision and as I worked on Option C. I am not saying this was easy – there were still times of deep regret and ambivalence, as well as severe stomach aches and sleepless nights – but I was able to do it.
Asking for help.
Coping with this major and unwelcome life change was more than I could do alone. Help and support from trusted family, friends, colleagues and community were incredibly important. What did I find there? A literal shoulder to cry on. Help with packing and moving. Practical ideas for developing a manageable side gig to earn much-needed additional income. Second-hand clothes for my growing children. Laughter and humor. Knowing that I was never alone.
Transformational resilience isn’t magic and it’s far more than staying positive or being strong. It involves accepting all of the present reality, recognizing risks and opportunities, and drawing upon internal and external resources to find ways to adapt. It also means holding onto a positive vision for the future, and finding a path that will get you there. Being flexible enough to let go of what isn’t working and trying a new way through or around any obstacles is part of the process.
Life brings all kinds of detours and obstacles as we pursue our plans. We can’t anticipate them all, but we can prepare ourselves to navigate them successfully. Here’s what I think of as the key ingredients of transformational resilience.
The Key Ingredients of Transformational Resilience, Distilled
- Allowing yourself to see the signs of change.
- Accepting that you will have to find a new path forward, and that it may take you to a different place than you’d envisioned.
Openly and honestly expressing thoughts and feelings.
- Taking the time needed to move from confusion to clarity.
- Cultivating a community of trusting, supportive relationships and turning to that community for help.
- Maintaining hope by creating, cultivating and flexibly working toward a positive vision for the future.
As you think about it now, what has helped you navigate the detours in your own life?
Snyder, C.R. (1994). The psychology of hope. You can get there from here. New York: The Free Press.
Glasgow Centre for Population Health (2014). Resilience for public health: supporting transformation for people and communities.
Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The upside of your dark side: Why being your whole self — not just. your “good” self — drives success an fulfillment. New York, NY: Husdon Street Press.