By Sheryl Sandberg
Psychologist Martin Seligman found that there are three P’s — personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence — that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship. The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.
The first P is personalization — the belief that we are at fault. This is different from taking responsibility, which you should always do. This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us.
When Dave died, I had a very common reaction, which was to blame myself. He died in seconds, from a cardiac arrhythmia. I poured over his medical records asking what I could have — or should have — done. It wasn’t until I learned about the three P’s that I accepted that I could not have prevented his death. His doctors had not identified his coronary artery disease. I was an economics major; how could I have?
Studies show that getting past personalization can actually make you stronger. Not taking failures personally allows us to recover — and even to thrive.
The second P is pervasiveness — the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life. There’s no place to run or hide from the all-consuming sadness.
The child psychologists I spoke to encouraged me to get my kids back to their routine as soon as possible. So 10 days after Dave died, they went back to school and I went back to work. I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a deep, deep haze. All I could think was, “What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?” But then I got drawn into the discussion, and for a second — a brief split second — I forgot about death.
That brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family were so loving, and they carried us — quite literally, at times.
The loss of a partner often has severe negative financial consequences, especially for women. So many single mothers — and fathers — struggle to make ends meet or have jobs that don’t allow them the time they need to care for their children. I had financial security, the ability to take the time off I needed, and a job that I did not just believe in, but where it’s actually OK to spend all day on Facebook. Gradually, my children started sleeping through the night, crying less, playing more.
The third P is permanence — the belief that the sorrow will last forever. For months, no matter what I did, it felt like the crushing grief would always be there.
We often project our current feelings out indefinitely — and experience what I think of as the second derivative of those feelings. We feel anxious — and then we feel anxious that we’re anxious. We feel sad — and then we feel sad that we’re sad. Instead, we should accept our feelings — but recognize that they will not last forever. My rabbi told me that time would heal, but for now I should “lean in to the suck.” It was good advice, but not really what I meant by “lean in.”