Why We Don’t Need to Become More Resilient

Being seen as resilient has always been a badge of honor, but we’re finally starting to question whether we want to wear it. Resilience comes at a cost that’s way too high for most of us; it can create unsustainable expectations of superhumanism when we feel pressured to endure situations that are beyond our nervous system’s ability to cope. 

For women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace, it has meant facing the adversities of structural racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and/or transphobia. It has meant an impossible climb up the organizational ladder, exclusion from leadership positions, wage inequity, and a fight for reproductive justice, as well as other basic human and family rights. It’s exhausting. And it was designed to be exhausting.

The systemic biases and barriers faced by marginalized employees means that they must prove themselves through perseverance. For those of us from these “underestimated” communities—a term coined by Myles Worthington—the ability to deal with workplace challenges becomes an expectation by our cisgender, heterosexual, white, male (and female) counterparts. Why? Because we deal with so much adversity daily, whatever we encounter at work “should be easy” to endure. We’re told by peer leaders and coworkers that our grit is admirable, and that they respect our will and determination to remain strong in facing whatever may come our way.

Leadership Responsibility

For leaders, it’s vital to understand what goes unchecked within our organizations and what contributes to employees feeling the need to wear the badge of resilience? 

● Inaction:

When abuse of authority is obvious and everyone turns a blind eye, it clearly demonstrates the lack of values, morality, and consciousness of leadership. 

● Lack of support:

When employees are in need and leaders do not offer care and professional support, it puts the onus on “resilient” employees to self-resource, further adding to the emotional labor they are forced to exert.

● Conflict avoidance:

When it arises—and it always will—not addressing situations head-on and with immediacy signals that employees are alone and, therefore, cannot rely on those in the organization who have the authority to help.

On an individual level, behavior that may be perceived as being “difficult,” “too loud,” “too ambitious,” or “unprofessional” for women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ employees includesspeaking up, setting boundaries, filing complaints with HR, showing up authentically, and advocating for fair and just treatment. There are countless occurrences within every sector and industry that point to why highlighting inequities and advocating for our needs is seen as “too much.” 

Emotional Suppression

Most of us have been inadvertently taught that our needs don’t matter, that there’s no time for rest, and there’s work to be done so there’s no time for emotion. In Heal to Lead, I explain that “toughening up works against trauma integration by burying one’s emotions even further down… Rewarded in our culture, resilience is often included in accolades, but very few people talk about how it can reinforce low-conscious behavior, such as aggression as a means of emotional protection, inflexibility, and artificial ego inflation. When this happens, leaders become rigid and less emotional. We know that when leadership lacks self-awareness, employees and entire organizations suffer unnecessarily.”

Posttraumatic Growth Versus Resilience

We don’t need to become more resilient. We need to take radical responsibility for our own healing, integrate our trauma, and transform holistically—called posttraumatic growth.

“Instead of the toughness it takes to withstand or bounce back quickly from a challenging experience, posttraumatic growth is a horse of a different color. ‘Posttraumatic growth is a process, and the outcome of this process is positive change in five different domains of life: opportunity, relationships with others, personal strength, greater appreciation of life, and change in belief system of life.’ Coined in the 1990s by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, posttraumatic growth, or PTG, can be a natural occurrence, or it ‘can be facilitated in five ways: through education, emotional regulation, disclosure, narrative development, and service.’”

In practice, posttraumatic growth explains the profound change that is possible after trauma, rather than simply gritting our teeth and pushing through. There are signs of PTG that only you may be able to recognize internally—as well as things that will be obvious to others— including the ability to regulate your nervous system, and access to an expanded window of tolerance for the full spectrum of our emotions. The point of healing is not to remain calm, quiet and devoid of emotion; it’s to feel alive, able to thrive, and better able to cope with the ups and downs of life and worklife through healthy emotional expression.

How Leaders Can Help

As leaders who want this for ourselves and want to support our colleagues, we can start by:

  • Having the courage and integrity to have our colleagues backs when someone is wronged;
  • Enlisting the support of coaches and other professionals to support trauma-informed leadership development, conscious communication, and/or conflict resolution;
  • Hiring speakers and workshop facilitators to present on workplace wellness, trauma healing, posttraumatic growth, mental health, empathy, and emotional intelligence.
  • Advocating for (and normalizing) mental health professionals for anyone who expresses the desire to speak with someone; and
  • Creating an environment where emotional expression is welcomed and not stigmatized.

When we have colleagues who are struggling, what we cannot do is what has historically been done:

  • Comparing systemic issues to workplace adversities as a means of downplaying a colleague’s experience;
  •  Ignoring a colleague’s experience because we feel discomfort or are unsure how to proceed;
  • Allowing toxic positivity as an overlap—in that adversity can be tolerated to a detrimental degree without acceptance of negative feelings surrounding the hardship;
  • Sitting by in hopes that issues will resolve themselves or be dropped; and
  • Suppressing or ignoring colleagues’ emotional needs.

In Summary . . .

If you believe that you are a conscious leader of people, or would defend your boss as one, the expectation of more resilience is not the answer—for ourselves or our coworkers. 

If we want to heal—and engage with our workplaces as healing environments—we need to think bigger and act differently. We need to address what goes said and unsaid in every room we are in. Leaders need to step up and engage in their own healing so that they may lead others from a place of security. We’ve all experienced trauma, and everyone deserves posttraumatic growth.

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This guest post was authored by Kelly L. Campbell

Kelly L. Campbell (they/she) speaks and writes about trauma, leadership, and consciousness—”The New TLC.” The author of Heal to Lead: Revolutionizing Leadership through Trauma Healing (Wiley, April 2024), Kelly is a Trauma-Informed Leadership Coach to emerging and established leaders who know they are meant for more. Kelly’s vision is to empower more than half of humanity to heal its childhood trauma so that we may reimagine and rebuild the world together.

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