How to Build Resilience in Difficult Times

More than children, “we have to focus on adults,” she said. “This generation of parents has faced no world war, no global threat” of thi...


More than children, “we have to focus on adults,” she said. “This generation of parents has faced no world war, no global threat” of this magnitude. Many parents struggle, although she worries that some are overly protective of their children, which can erode their natural ability to solve problems and deal with adversity.

Dr. Boss’s sentiments recalled worries my husband and I had in 1980, when our 10-year-old twin sons faced enrollment in a public college where misbehavior and physical threats were common. The boys declined our offer to send them to a private school during those tumultuous three years, saying, “What are we going to learn about private school life?

In his new book, Dr. Boss offers guidelines for building resilience to overcome adversity and live well despite painful losses. She quotes Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, author and Holocaust survivor, who wrote: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. She recommends people use each guideline as needed, in no particular order, depending on the circumstances.

Find meaning. The hardest guideline for many people is to find meaning, to make sense of a loss, and when that’s not possible, to take action. Maybe seek justice, work for a cause, or demonstrate to try to right a wrong. When Dr. Boss’ little brother died of polio, his heartbroken family went door-to-door for March of Dimes, raising money to fund research for a vaccine.

Adjust your sense of mastery. Instead of trying to control the pain of the loss, let the grief flow, carry on as best you can and the ups and downs will eventually happen less and less often. “We don’t have the power to destroy the virus, but we have the power to reduce his impact on us,” she wrote.

Reconstruct identity. It’s also helpful to adopt a new identity that matches your current situation. When Dr. Boss’s husband became terminally ill, for example, her identity shifted over time from wife to caregiver, and after his death in 2020 she gradually tried to think of herself as a widow.

Normalize ambivalence. When you lack clarity about a loss, it’s normal to feel ambivalent about how to act. But Dr. Boss says it’s best not to wait for clarity; hesitation can lead to inaction and put life on hold. Better to make less than perfect decisions than to do nothing.

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