On today’s episode, Carrie sits down with Donna Cox Gibbs, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and author. They explore the true essence of resilience – not just bouncing back, but moving forward through life’s challenges.
- Misconceptions about resilience and its true nature.
- The significance of self-awareness in recognizing physical, emotional, and relational responses.
- How faith and spiritual well-being contribute to building resilience.
- Balancing emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects for whole-person resilience.
- Practical tools for navigating life’s challenges and developing resilience over time.
- Donna’s Book: Bounce: A 60-Day Devotional to Jumpstart Your Resilience
Related links and resources:
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD, Episode 103. I’m your host, Carrie Bock, and we are all about reducing shame, increasing hope, and developing healthier connections with God and others. Today on the show, I have Donna Gibbs, who is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and supervisor in North Carolina.
She’s going to be talking with us today about resilience, which I’m very excited to just kind of see where this conversation unfolds.
Carrie: Welcome to the show.
Donna: Thank you, Carrie.
Defining Resilience as Bouncing Forward:
Carrie: So resilience is sometimes described as the ability to bounce back from the difficult things that have happened in our lives. And how would you define resilience in your own words, and what does that mean to you personally?
Donna: I always think resilience. Gets a little overcomplicated in most places. I think we make it more challenging to understand than it really is. So I just think of it as being able to move through hard struggles and trials of life and just keep moving where you don’t get stuck. I also, I think of images sometimes and I think we’ve talked about bounce back, bounce back.
That term is used so often in regards to resilience. I don’t think it’s actually an accurate picture of it. It sounds more like a rubber band that just snaps back. Right. I think it’s actually probably more accurate like a bouncy ball that bounces but then ends up in a different place. I think that we bounce forward moving through struggles and trials with resilience rather than bouncing back because there’s some things in life that we move through. And things will not be the same. We don’t bounce back. And so I just think it’s just moving forward through our struggles and not getting stuck. I think it’s that simple and that hard.
Donna’s Personal Experience with Resilience
Carrie: Yes. How have you seen resilience play out in your own life?
Donna: Well, I mean, we all have stories. We all have our challenges. And again, I think it’s moving through trials and struggles. I remember one time, and I won’t get into the specifics of all the medical, I won’t bore you with all the details, but I remember one time in the first day of what turned out to be a three-month hospitalization. The physical battle of my life, and I remember my physician who is a dear friend.
Well, he grew to be my dear friend through that process. I didn’t know him really before then, but a godly man and an excellent physician. And I remember him coming by my bedside day 1 of that stay, and he’s delivering the news of what’s happening and his recommendations. And what he said to me was, if things go well, you’re going to be here for a really long time.
And he said, if you were to get depressed, things may not go. Well, and he looked at me and kind of leaning forward with that somber tone. And he said. Knowing what I do for a living, he said, I need you to use every tool you’ve ever taught another person and you’re going to have to use it now. Because if you don’t, you’re going to get depressed and it may not end.
Well, I remember just taking a deep breath, taking that in like, okay. When you move through a situation like that, things are never the same again. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good again. And that’s what I think about resilience, that it’s seasons like that, life that teach you amazing things that you don’t learn any other way.
You do not learn those things on a mountaintop. Again, when I think of resilience, I think bouncing forward. As a counselor, so many times walking someone through tragedies or trials of life, And sometimes, not always, but sometimes I will look at them in the beginning of that process, and I’m kind of the cheerleader saying, I will hold the hope for you, but I will say there will be a day when you won’t necessarily be grateful that you went through this, but you will be grateful for all that comes out of it. And that’s that, as we move forward, going to bring some things that.
Carrie: I mean, I think that’s excellent. That’s very excellent. So much truth to that in the sense that our whole, like, identity has to change when you go through a hard time like that, that God uses those situations to build character. And to build things like perseverance, that’s what the scripture teaches us.
Innate or Learned Resilience
Do you feel like resilience is a trait maybe that some people have more of than others? Like maybe it’s more innate or is it something that can be learned and developed over time?
Donna: Yeah. I don’t know if you recall, it’s a couple of years ago, I remembered seeing some announcements or whatever you’d call it. A type R personality trait. Do you remember seeing something like that coming out? No, it was something that caught my eye because I’ve been studying resilience and just noticing what’s going on in the lives of my clients. And it’s close to me. And so I thought that type R stands for resilience. And one of the things they talked about is that this personality trait, they see it as being those who have a type R personality trait are more successful than someone with a type A personality trait.
So, we think of those type A as being very driven people, very competent, very achievement-oriented, ambitious, but those who have resilience actually are more successful. So there’s mysteries, I think, that remain as to whether someone is born with the leaning towards resilience. I do think that there’s different personality types and traits that lend one more easily to adapt to change and to trials and situations.
But I also know, I’ve done this so long, worked with so many clients over the years, and so I’ve watched someone maybe who has been stuck for decades, and I’ve watched as they learn, and as they implement some strategies that build some resilience. I think of resilience as something that we become, not necessarily who were planted as being who has God given us all the ability to move through those suffering moments? Absolutely. But I think there are some mysteries that remain in that whole innate piece. I don’t know.
Carrie: Yeah. I mean, it’s a good process and it’s always good to know that we can learn things even if we feel like we’re more bent towards type A or we’re more of a perfectionist. A lot of times people really struggle when life doesn’t turn out the way their mind had planned it turning out, for sure. And that can be just absolutely devastating and wrecking, whether that’s a death, a divorce, a serious illness, a mental health issue coming up. And it sounds like for you that happened, like there was a crossroads of like, okay, this could either go really good. Even when it goes really good, it’s going to still be hard. Or it could go, your doctor was concerned about your mental health essentially affecting your physical health. Right?
Donna: And we know that it does. So a legitimate concern. And I think about what you’re describing to expectations. We all necessarily attend to, but we have certain expectations as to how things will go life and how things will go, how conversations will go different things when they don’t those unmet expectations, unrealistic or not, those unmet expectations can really throw us for a loop. And our tendency is to try so hard to just get back bounce back to what we think that things would be right. That’s part of what gets us stuck and prevents the resilience.
Carrie: Not being able to pivot, I guess, is maybe a word in the midst of your circumstance. Like, okay, I’m just trying to make situation A work out. Situation A is obviously I have to come to the acceptance. There’s a part of that grief and loss acceptance piece that comes that my life is not going to look like path A, but I still can have path B that’s also good, and that God really works in the midst of all of those situations, I think, that people go through for our good, based on what we’re told in Romans, and it’s really, really hard sometimes, though, for us to wrap our mind around that.
It really takes faith to believe that, okay, there is something good on the other side of this life-changing diagnosis. I definitely have seen that in my own life and the lives of others as well. Obviously, you shared a little bit with us about your experience. Was there anything else that led you towards writing this devotional that you’ve been working on, Bounce, a 60 day devotional to jumpstart your resilience?
Donna: Yes. I mean, personally, all of us have a list of things where messiness of resilience in it, but professionally speaking, I started noticing and I’m guessing 7, 8, 9 years ago, something like that. I started noticing a shift in my practice and my work with clients. And I started noticing that the types of trauma that were walking through the door, just more intense, more common.
I noticed that over a period of time, almost all of my caseload became those who were moving through or experiencing some tragedy, some traumatic, unthinkable life event. And I couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be a difference. Between those who were stuck and maybe had been stuck for a short time, or maybe had been stuck for years, decades, versus those who not only were they not stuck, but they began to integrate this traumatic experience or this trial of life into life, and they ended up seemingly stronger than they were when they started.
That perpetuated for me a lot of reading and research because I wanted to know, how do I help the people who are in front of me? How do I help them the most? How can I encourage someone who has been stuck for so long to be able to relinquish the grips of that? For several years, I began writing more and in the realm of resilience and working more and more with clients who were almost exclusively traumatic cases.
And then COVID hit. You use the word pivot. When I think back on COVID, I think pivot was the key word. It defined organizations, businesses, that were able to survive COVID. It’s as though we’re not just shut down, and we’re not able to survive COVID. And when we look at why bounce, I remember one day driving, I live in North Carolina, I was on a trip driving to Florida.
It’s a long trip for us. And I was just praying about how to lead our practice effectively, how to pivot, and also how to minister to so many whose mental health symptoms had been exacerbated because here was now a trial, something unthinkable that was universally experienced. And was exacerbating the symptoms of many who had been struggling with whatever story they were dealing with at the time, whatever challenges, maybe marriage or family, or maybe just a history of anxiety or a trauma history or whatever it might be. But those symptoms were turned up some and many who had never ever experienced or were aware of experiencing mental health symptoms were experiencing brand new symptoms. Yes, they didn’t know what to do with it. And so what I felt got impressing is we have to find a way to help more than 1 person at a time and whole person resilience.
Just what we talked about what your mental health affects your physical health well, so does your spiritual health. So does your relational health? Your emotional health, it all matters. It was then that I sensed God leading all had some of those conversations with God that were not an audible voice, but they didn’t have to be.
It was strong enough and just sensing him impressing a resource that will address the whole person that will provide some tools. Primarily taking them to the word, but in bite sized chunks so that it builds a rhythm of resilience.
Practical Tools for Navigating Life’s Challenges and Developing Resilience
Carrie: What are some of those traits or things that you teach people or exercises that people can use to strengthen their resilience? Kind of some practical tools.
Donna: I think awareness is key. Just being able to check in and just as I talked about that whole person resilience, being able to check in, what am I noticing physically? Is that kind of a body scan head to toe? Where do I notice symptoms of distress being able to take care of your body and to be aware of symptoms that you maybe have relationships being able to assess?
Where are my supports? How healthy are my relationships? Do I have some destructive relationships in my life? And, you know, just being able to check in with those things emotionally. What symptoms am I noticing? What are those symptoms telling me? If God created our emotions with purpose, and we have the capacity to experience them, then what are my emotions telling me? And so forth. But then the bottom line, is that rhythm of a spiritual, relationship with Jesus. And that’s why that’s the core of Bounce as a devotional versus just some other daily toolkit because that is where we get our refreshing. That is where we get the truth to be able to challenge thoughts that are distorted.
That is through the Holy Spirit and all of the fruit that comes from that. So when I just think basic, basic things, I think just starting with that awareness, but from a whole person perspective, because we are whole people.
How Faith and Spiritual Well-being Contribute to Building Resilience
Carrie: Right. Absolutely. I was thinking as you were talking about how many different times in Scripture there’s evidence of self-examination.
I can’t remember if it was Paul or Peter that said like, examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith. They’re in the Psalms, it talks about search my heart, know my thoughts, and how that connection between Us and the Holy Spirit really bringing some of those things to our awareness as we’re in that moment with the Lord, with scripture for the Holy Spirit to reveal certain things to our life. Like, Hey, this relationship is not going in a healthy place or Hey, you know you’re in an inappropriate relationship, maybe, for example, that you don’t need to be in, you need to put that out immediately, or maybe your relationship needs some boundaries. These are things that you need to do to refresh your life spiritually and emotionally.
The spirit has the ability to reveal all of that to us. And a lot of times we’re just such in this hurried, crazy whirlwind pace that we don’t take the time really to sit with some of those things.
Donna: You’re exactly right. We really do. We are just constantly on to the next thing and rarely do we pause for the kind of awareness that the scriptures refer to and what we’re talking about when, you know, how do you assess whole person health?
Unless you stop and most times we don’t because we’re just not that intent or just busy trying to survive whatever we’re dealing with. If it’s a hard spot in life that we’re facing. Great point.
Carrie: What has been your most significant lesson or insight that you’ve gained about resilience through your personal journey?
Donna: Personally, professionally, I always say, and truly one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me is the ability to have the job that I do. To sit across from people as they welcome me into a sacred space and I get to watch what God is faithful to do. And I’ve seen that exact same echo in my own life.
But ironically, the office that I’m in right now is in one of my colleagues because the Wi-Fi in mine is not working great right now. And when I came in and sat down, I remembered this picture that’s behind me. It was hand-painted on a pallet of wood from somebody on our team for my colleague who uses this office because she just lost her husband and she was a widow. Already been thinking about your question. And then I walked in. I was like, that is the exact same thing that I was pondering. This, is 1 of my favorite quotes, Charles Spurgeon, who said, “I’ve learned to kiss the waves.”
Carrie: So we had an internet glitch here that happened and Donna came back, but somehow we didn’t get the recording of the second half of the interview.
So I wanted to kind of just follow up on what she was saying and summarize what the rest of our conversation was about since you missed it. Donna was talking about this Charles Spurgeon quote, “I’ve learned to kiss the waves” that throw me against the rock of ages. How those hard times in our life push us towards God, how that process of building resilience is messy at times, how there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs that happen for us, but that ultimately, if we are abiding in Christ, we’re growing closer to him.
I had asked her about something that she would tell her younger self. Donna said that nothing is impossible with God. Just when you think this marriage may be over, or when you think there’s no way I’m going to come out of this situation, there’s nothing else that can be done. Medically, things are hopeless.
God has the ability to turn all of those situations around and we talked a little bit about how we’ve just seen that over and over in our counseling practices, just people coming and by the grace of God, they’re still there and that they made it through such hard things. Definitely. This is the first day of the AACC conference.
Donna’s Book: Bounce: A 60-Day Devotional to Jumpstart Your Resilience
Donna is going to be here over the next few days and does actually have a book signing coming up. Look for her book, Bounce: A 60-day Devotional to Jumpstart Your Resilience. It sounds like it would apply to a lot of our listeners who are really struggling through challenging times, either with their mental health or just life circumstances.
Thank you guys so much for listening and sorry for our technical glitch here at the end today. Despite some technical difficulties, this turned out to be a great episode. I’ve seen so many people get stuck in the grief and loss process because we are so focused on how things shouldn’t be this way that we don’t sit with the fact that things actually are that way.
Being resilient requires submitting yourself to God in the character transformation that he desires to do in your life. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Stay tuned for our next episode where we talk about kindness on the podcast. Kindness to ourselves and others.
Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of myself or By The Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Maingrum. Until next time, may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.