Be Antifragile not Resilient


What does not kill me makes me stronger – Friedrich Nietzsche

In case you haven’t heard, resilience is one of the great psychological buzzwords of the day. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. My clients often tell me that their schools and workplaces champion the idea of psychological resilience. Isn’t it great that institutions are concerned about the mental health of their staff/students? Maybe. But for many people this pressure to be resilient creates additional difficulties. Why? To explain, let me introduce you to Eric:

Eric recently attempted suicide, thankfully unsuccessfully. This attempt had taken everyone by surprise. Eric’s marriage had broken down and his workload had been unceasingly high for over a year. But he had assiduously maintained his stiff-upper-lip persona throughout all this. When he arrived at therapy, he said that his goal was to gain “resilience”.

Eric had found his circumstances so bleak and hopeless that he had attempted suicide. Sometimes life can be tough, and it feels like we need to be tough to survive. Eric certainly felt this way. His answer to tough times was to tough it out.  Keep it all together because any crack would make him a weak person, and weak is the last thing he wanted to be. So never seeking help. And when he finally cracked – “more resilience please”! But what’s the alternative? Surely not to collapse and dwell in weakness and suffering?

Because some do dwell in weakness and suffering:

Manuela wore her damage for all to see as if in a lanyard round her neck. It was as if she had an ID badge that says – “treat me gently, I am fragile”. And due to the greater understanding of mental health issues in society, many respected the badge and treated her tenderly. But life can be tough. Not everyone respected her damage. She was constantly being hurt by the uninvited harshness life threw at her.

So, what to do?  Be resilient like Eric – a rigid oak tree that refuses to bend until broken. Be fragile like Manuela, a delicate reed, being blown over by the slightest of breezes. Is there another way?

Statistician/philosopher/stockbroker, Nassim Nicolas Taleb, noticed that many complex things in life are neither fragile nor resilient. Fragile things are like a fine china cup – one fall and they are broken for good. Resilient things are like a hard-plastic cup which can be dropped 1,000 times without injury. Taleb noticed that many things (like people for example) actually become hardier when exposed to a high (though not toxic) degree of stress. It is like we are a cup that gets damaged when it falls but becomes stronger through the healing process from that damage. He coined the term – Antifragile – to describe this attribute.

Being Antifragile is a different way to view psychological crises – as opportunities for re-establishing meaning and growth. Is a crisis a terrible thing that we must feel shame about and deny? Is a crisis a badge we wear openly to warn others we must be treated gently? Or, is it our organism telling us – “you were living in a way that was unsustainable or contrary to your values – YOU NEED TO CHANGE”? We humans live long lives and play many roles – like the snake that sheds its skin we must be open to reinvent ourselves from time to time.

I believe that the focus on resiliency denies us the opportunity to become better as a result of a crisis. I believe that the resilience-focus seeks to tells us – “never break, you will only become weaker”. I believe that organisations often push the idea of resiliency because of the arse-covering-motive: “don’t have a break-down on our watch, we don’t want to be liable”. Well, if you need to have a crisis, you have a crisis! You feel weak and admit weakness. And then you pick yourself up and learn and are better for it. Taleb says –

                “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors”.

You are designed to handle stress. You are Antifragile!

4 thoughts on “Be Antifragile not Resilient”

Speak Your Mind


Suite C5
102-106 Boyce Rd
Maroubra Junction, NSW 2035
(02) 8958 2585

Have Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.