How to Choose Hope and Build Resilience in the Face of Grief

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

This post is based on an Instagram Live interview with Riverbend Clinician and Reproductive Mental Health Specialist Nikki Walther and Jesie Steffes, LPC. Join us for Riverbend Therapy Chats each week on Instagram Live (@riverbendtherapy) as we discuss mental health topics and answer your questions.

Resilience has become a buzzword in our culture, and we want everything—from our architecture to our children—to be resilient. Often, we associate resilience with the ability to let difficult experiences roll off our backs, to quickly bounce back to “normal,” or to always find the silver lining in a tough situation.

That is not resilience. Being resilient doesn’t mean that we can’t let things hurt us, that we have to shut out our pain, bury our emotions, and “just move on.” For this week’s River Bend Therapy Chat on Instagram Live, our clinician Nikki Walther, LPCC, spoke with Jesie Steffes, LPC about building resilience in the face of difficulty—especially when experiencing infertility.

People experiencing infertility or other forms of deepest soul-level grief often get unhelpful “just” messages from well-meaning friends and family—just move on, just keep trying, just relax. Resilience, as Nikki and Jesie explained, is the opposite of that. Resilience says, “It’s OK that you’re not OK right now. You can feel broken, you can let this experience reduce you to ashes, and still believe that you can move through this pain in your own way and at your own pace.”

Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds nice, but how can I move through my river of grief when the current is so strong that it’s taking all my energy just to not let it pull me under?” Simply the fact of standing in that river, or choosing to get back up if the current has knocked you down, is resilience. And each time you practice resilience it becomes easier to reach for the next time you’re in pain.

Resilience isn’t about big gestures—you don’t have to sign up for a triathlon or throw yourself into a demanding project at work or immediately start your next round of fertility treatments. Resilience is about acts of hope, and when you’re walking through a difficult season in your life, these can be as simple as:

→ Getting out of bed, even if you get back in five minutes later

→ Brushing your teeth or taking a shower

→ Doing a few gentle stretches

→ Sitting on the porch to feel the sun on your face

Making a meal or snack

Listening to what your body needs

→ Remembering to be kind to yourself

Hope and resilience are intimately connected: believing that you can move through pain takes active hope. Hope isn’t a passive thing you either have or don’t. It’s not an emotion or a feeling. It’s a choice you make, a muscle you exercise. It comes, as noted above, from taking small steps, from doing the next right thing.

Sometimes, holding space for hope feels dangerous; we’re afraid of the pain we’ll feel if we “get our hopes up” and then are disappointed. And yes, unmet expectations can hurt. But the truth is that hope is never dangerous. In fact, the alternative to hope—continuing to live in fear—is pretty much guaranteed to cause us pain.