A Self-Help Book so Comprehensive That it Could Double as a Textbook …
… or perhaps “A Textbook so Succinctly Written That it Could Double as a Self-Help Book” ? My point is that “Developing Resilience” is both relatively brief (at 183 pages, not including references and index), and comprehensive in covering both theory and practical applications.
Inherent to human life on earth are inevitable losses and setbacks. By my reckoning, maybe five major adverse events by age 50 for each of us, typically setbacks such as (1) major illness or injury, (2) career or education, (3) relationships and marriage, (4) money and finances, and/or (5) crises of personal meaning or goals. So how and where do we find the strength and renewal to pick ourselves up and go on, hopefully even growing stronger and wiser in the process? The answer lies in the somewhat elusive faculty of “resilience”, and Michael Neenan, an expert cognitive-behavioral therapist, speaks with great insight and experience defining and illustrating this complex and multifarious human capability.
In Neenan’s system, attitudes that promote adaptation, growth, and overcoming adversity are those that are: (1) somewhat flexible rather than rigid and automatic, (2) mostly realistic rather than unrealistic (especially those that are unrealistically fearful or negative), (3) beliefs and attitudes that are helpful and useful, rather than defeatist and nihilistic, and (4) the kinds of beliefs that you would recommend teaching to others that you care about (i.e., beliefs that you know in your heart would make people better off if they – like you – were to adopt them). At the heart of becoming more resilient, therefore, is examining our own attitudes and trying to bring them into conformity with the above principles of flexible, optimistic, realistic, and teachable to those we love. There is some example or case history to illustrate these principles from Neenan’s professional caseload or personal life on almost every page of the book.
A few other aspects of this book I appreciated included an emphasis on “ordinary resilience” or “routine resilience”, in contrast to “extraordinary resilience”. The latter refers to the amazing (and indeed inspiring) tales of those who heroically overcome incredible tragedy and loss to live epic lives that inspire and awe the rest of us. However, Neenan posits that “routine resilience” is much more common and necessary – i.e., being resilient in the face of life’s more mundane stresses and setbacks such as stress at work, problems in relationships, or life’s other, ubiquitous challenges. Thus all of us can and should learn how to be more resilient in our everyday lives.
In the face of grappling with such an abstract and complex concept as resilience, the book is refreshingly pragmatic and includes separate chapters on “Resilience in the workplace”, “Resilience in relationships”, and “Resilience in dealing with difficult people.” There is also a chapter that directly addresses the most common attitudes that undermine resilience – attitudes such as “I’ll never get over it”, “Why Me”, “It Shouldn’t Have Happened to Me”, “I’m a Pessimist by Nature” and other, similarly rigid, negative, unrealistically fatalistic yet perfectly common beliefs.
I would recommend this book as both a self-help guide for the lay person, and a succinct primer textbook for the professional therapist or counselor alike.