TLC Virtual Resiliency

How Personal Narrative Can Inspire Us

“You think you have problems,” such was the wisdom my father imparted while he read the newspaper or watched a television news story about a person facing tragic circumstances. When stories of tremendous suffering are heard, we question whether or not we have the right to complain. We go from magnitude to gratitude, as in unison we join my dad and say, “I thought I had problems.”

Stories cannot be told without a means to communicate. The human brain is so developed that it has “gifted” us the ability to share stories. The ability to share stories has kept us safe. By sharing stories, one could warn others about outside dangers. Often, warnings morph into rumors and soon, social media is born.

There also seems to be great pleasure taken in hearing or seeing others fail or become embarrassed. This pleasure is referred to as “schadenfreude” and is what makes Impractical Jokers so popular. Although sometimes we may cringe in empathy, most breathe a universal sigh of relief as we think, “Thank God that did not happen to me.”

Turning back to my father’s musings, there was another piece to the story. The second part was how the person overcame and conquered their obstacles, a story of true resilience. Conception and birth is a universal story of resilience. While this personal narrative is forgotten, it does leave an indelible archetypal mark, known as the “hero.” The biblical story of Job and the iconic box office success of “Rocky” are examples of how we are drawn to stories of true resilience.

While there is a plethora of scientific research about what makes one resilient, it is the personal narrative that brings resilience to life. The merger between science and the personal narrative is where the inspiration happens. We can read in a textbook about how persistence and grit are traits of resilience, or we can be humbled and inspired by Abraham Lincoln, who overcame eight lost elections and suffered a nervous breakdown, to become President of the United States.

Recently public figures such as American gymnast Simone Biles have come forward to share how they have faced their mental health challenges. Organizations such as Same Here, have made it their mission to share the personal narratives of famous athletes who have experienced mental health struggles.

Stories of resilience should not be limited to celebrities. There are stories of everyday people who have overcome incredible challenges. These people are in our communities and they should be celebrated and be given an inspirational voice. There needs to be a “You think you got problems” challenge, not for purposes of competing about troubles, but rather providing meaningful personal narratives of overcoming.

When a cancer patient hears how another survived cancer, it provides hope and optimism. From research, we know that such characteristics are helpful to be resilient. However, it is the story that inspires, not the science.