“Resilience is born by grounding yourself in your own loveliness, hitting notes you thought were way out of your range.”

Gregory Boyle (Tattoos on the Heart)

That’s a poetic way to define resilience, isn’t it, arising at a beautiful crossroads where love and human potential seem to meet. We don’t hear resilience talked about this way very often—and it’s certainly not how most CEOs would describe it.

Gregory Boyle is definitely a CEO, though. He’s spent the last 30 years leading a multi-faceted organization with as many as nine different retail operations running at any one time and a $20 million+ budget.  He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which turns out to the be the world’s largest gang intervention and rehabilitation program. He’s also a Jesuit priest.  And he’s definitely a Caregiver who has an especially resilient mindset around his work. Gregory Boyle focuses on the potential he sees in people who need his help much more than on the pain they’re experiencing.

This is my second of 12 weekly posts on resilience. Over the years, I’ve found that building a more resilient mindset isn’t really a one-size-fits-all proposition.  Doing it effectively means understanding what a non-resilient state looks like based on your story type, and then applying the specific gift and attitudinal focus that works best for that type to shift it. This week’s post is about the Caregiver story type; you can read the first series blog focused on the Innocent type here

In a non-resilient state, Caregivers are more likely than any other story type to feel deeply overwhelmed by what’s going on, what’s being asked of them and what they must do to deliver.  When it comes to restoring resilience, they’re often told to focus on self care. That’s never a bad idea, but here’s a surprising fact: research shows that self care may not help very much unless it’s accompanied by a specific kind of attitudinal shift.  Caregivers are most likely to become more resilient when they redefine their relationship with their core gift of compassion.

Understanding the Caregiver’s gift

Every story type has a common non-resilient state where stress can take them, along with a gift that can help them shift to a more empowering mindset for bouncing back.  Here’s what that looks like for a Caregiver:

Type Non-resilient state Resilience-building attribute or gift Resilience-building focus Related values
Caregiver Overwhelm Compassion Human potential Service, Kindness, Development
Innocent Disillusionment Optimism Hope Ideals, Faith, Values in Action

 

It’s probably no surprise that Caregiver types can find themselves feeling very overwhelmed by circumstances.  Situationally, Caregivers often have jobs that involve direct service to people in a lot of need.  They may be first responders, rescue workers, medical professionals or in other roles that can involve chaos and pain. They can be customer service reps or help desk workers dealing with people who are frustrated and impatient for help.

Caregiver types may not be in those kinds of roles at all, though. A job doesn’t make you a Caregiver story type at your core. Your attitude, your motivation, your strengths and your values do. Whether you’re an accountant, a landscaper a project manager or a waiter, anyone can be hard-wired to see a need for help–and an impulse to respond.

All Caregivers can share the common traits that lead to a non-resilient state, though–things like taking on too much responsibility for others, enabling dependency and internalizing the trouble and pain around them. Here’s where compassion comes back into the picture, and the lessons of Gregory Boyle.

Compassion is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with someone else’s suffering and feel motivated to help alleviate it.  Taking compassionate action (like kindness, generosity or advocacy) actually activates pleasure circuits in the brain and increases the giver’s sense of well being.

Here’s the cautionary note, though: truly resilient Caregivers can recognize and respond to the suffering they see without taking it on and making it a part of them.  They can shift their focus from the pain to the potential and capacity for wholeness that all humans possess.

That’s what Gregory Boyle has done in his work with thousands of former gang members from the roughest streets in America.  Where others see criminals, Father Greg sees people who are yes, in need of help—but more importantly who are full of life-giving and life-supporting potential. He takes that idea a step further, too. He believes that his work is less about helping and more about finding actual kinship with them.  With that level of regard, he doesn’t disempower them with pity or by continuously doing what they can learn to do for themselves.

This is an essential lesson for all Caregiver types. When you focus on the problem more than the potential, your impulse to help can become impulsive.  This is especially true during times like we’re in right now.  Stress and uncertainty creates fear and can trigger Caregivers to take on even more. You may begin to reinforce your own sense of self in an unhealthy way by “helping” in almost every situation you encounter (even the mundane ones, which can lead to a surprising level of overwhelm and anxiety).  Your co-worker isn’t finishing her work so you take on some of her assignments. Your child isn’t doing his chores so you let him off the hook. Your direct report can’t seem to finish an article so you rewrite it yourself.

When you shift your focus to the potential, you move to a higher, more resilient level of the Caregiver: you develop others and foster their growth instead of enabling them. You can see people as whole instead of broken. You can build your resilience by developing a mutuality of regard and responsibility for what needs to be done at work or at home instead of taking the burden on yourself.  You can shift from shaping dependency to advocating for potential.

Activating the Caregiver resilience quotient

Becoming a more resilient Caregiver involves an energetic shift.  Start by checking in with your sense of being overwhelmed, and then consider what could be on the other side of it. Use some of these questions to prompt ideas and actions:

  • What are you taking on for others that they could learn to do for themselves?
  • What are you taking on that has little meaning for you (and how can you give it back to its rightful owner)?
  • How can you enable more growth and development in the people around you (and avoid co-opting their potential with too much help?)
  • What loveliness do you see in yourself that deserves to be nurtured?

Remember that as a Caregiver, you have the capacity to help others unearth their own loveliness—and find some of your own.  As Father Boyle says: “Through your kindness and tenderness and focused attention of love, (you) return people to themselves. And in the process, you’re returned to yourself.” There’s so much potential there!

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and Founder of the Narrative Intelligence Collective.  She’s also co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (take the free version here). 

 

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