Dr. Tina B. Tessina: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

Resilience is the ability to recover and learn from negative experiences and traumas so thoroughly that they only impact you in a positive way, and taking the anger, hurt and pain and transforming them into hope, determination and direction. It’s what people mean when they say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” In this […]

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Resilience is the ability to recover and learn from negative experiences and traumas so thoroughly that they only impact you in a positive way, and taking the anger, hurt and pain and transforming them into hope, determination and direction. It’s what people mean when they say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tina B. Tessina, PhD LMFT.

She is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 40 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages, including Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today; It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step , How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together and How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. Find her at

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I lost my dad when I was 18, but didn’t really process the emotions at that time. Then, at 27, I went to therapy because of marital problems, and eventually got a divorce. When all the accumulated grief of those things began to come out, I went much deeper into therapy, and began to learn about my emotional terrain. But, on some level, I think I became a psychotherapist mostly because of my mother — she suffered from undiagnosed depression, and I wanted a way to heal her, which never happened. In the process of all this, I discovered that I had a gift, and since then, psychotherapy has been “my job on Earth” as Dr. Bernie Seigel describes a true vocation.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I was signing books at the American Booksellers Assn. Conference in Los Angeles. A young man came by whose name tag said he was from Mexico. I greeted him in my few words of Spanish, and he moved on. I had a long line seeking autographs, and I forgot about it. A couple of weeks later, I got an email with the subject “An Invitation to Mexico” I thought it was spam, but my publisher told me my book “The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before 40” had been published in Spanish, and the email was legit. Over the next year, I did two book tours in Mexico, one in Colombia, and one in Costa Rica, and had many exciting adventures.

What I took away from that is to do my best in every possible situation, because I never know what the possibilities are. I had no idea being friendly to that young man would lead to a great adventure.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I am completely self-made, moving from being an industry accountant for 15 years, to starting my own bookkeeping service so I could have a more flexible workday and take college classes, to getting my Masters Degree at an experimental program from Lindenwood University, to getting my 3,000 hours of supervision with a mentor I admired for his Humanistic approach, to starting my own private practice when I got licensed in 1978. This makes me able to relate to a broad range of clients, who want to bounce back from dysfunctional pasts and take control of their own lives.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Rev. Denton Roberts, M.Div, LMFT who first saved my life when I was suicidal and despairing, then mentored me in becoming the kind of counselor I wanted to be. He is gone now, but his life and work are still a major inspiration.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the ability to recover and learn from negative experiences and traumas so thoroughly that they only impact you in a positive way, and taking the anger, hurt and pain and transforming them into hope, determination and direction. It’s what people mean when they say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Actually, my personal story comes to mind. I am the last surviving member of my close extended family. I lost them all between the time when I was twelve and eighteen. At that point, I had no support, no backup, and I had to figure out life on my own. I had to leave college, even though I had a full scholarship, because I ran out of money for housing, food and books. I became a waitress, then eventually got an office job, worked my way up until I was told point blank: “We don’t promote women beyond where you are.” Changed jobs until I became the accounting supervisor of a company traded on the NYSE. Married in 1965, discovered my husband was a gambling addict when our car was repossessed, and divorced in 1972. I was in despair and suicidal. Then I found therapy which saved my life, discovered I had a talent for counseling, and put myself through five years of college and 3 years of counseling under supervision, and got licensed. I learned how to pick myself up from despair and go after my goals. I have since helped many people who came to me with their lives in tatters, learned how to heal their wounds, and went on to live the lives they love.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

When I was studying to be a California Marriage and Family Counselor, I was told over and over again that there were no jobs for MFTs, that most of the people who got licensed didn’t make it, and that it wouldn’t work. I stuck to my guns, learned from people I admired and made my life into what I wanted it to be.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

After my divorce, all the grief of losing my whole family came crashing down on me, and I was in despair. I went into therapy, learned about myself, re-thought my dysfunctional past, and eventually came out of the experience with an amazing set of tools for creating a satisfying life.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

My Dad was my hero. He was tough on me, but kind. He never let me give up, and he helped me think through the problems I faced to come up with solutions. Losing him at 18 was a massive blow, but I still use the skills he taught me today.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. A solid sense of self. If you have spent time getting to know yourself, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, your best and worst character traits, and have figured out how to like who you are, you have the foundation for resilience. Seeing yourself as a whole person means you know what tools you have to use in difficult times, and also which pitfalls to watch out for. For example, if you have a kind heart, that can be a tremendous strength because you can heal yourself and help others heal with your love. On the down side, a kind heart means you need to learn how to set boundaries, so you aren’t being used and abused by others, and so you don’t spread yourself too thin. It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction can help you understand yourself more deeply. You are the only person who will be with you from birth to death, so you need a good relationship with yourself.
  2. The ability to understand the expectations placed on you, and to either accept or deny those responsibilities, rather than just going along. Knowing how to pick and choose the responsibilities you want to accept, and are capable of realizing will keep you from being overextended and ineffectual.
  3. Understanding where your motivation comes from, and how to focus yourself on accomplishing what you want to do. Motivation comes from celebration and appreciation. When you learn to celebrate what you accomplish and appreciate your own achievements, you generate the energy you need to take the next step.
  4. Being grounded in a culture or tradition that supports you, being surrounded by people who love and support you, and mostly loving and supporting yourself creates resilience. When you know you will support yourself even when the going gets rough, others want to support you, too. From this environment of support and encouragement, you can pick yourself up when you fall down and continue to move ahead.
  5. Knowing how to generate hope and focus on the solution, instead of worrying about the problem. Instead of giving up, resilient people regroup after a setback, learn from the experience and try something new to solve the problem.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be Peace: within yourself, within your family, within the world. I believe that when you understand how to be peaceful within, and stop fighting with yourself, you have no need to fight others, and eventually the world will benefit. Inner peace is not just a calm façade that covers turmoil, it requires grappling with your inner selves and achieving true peace there. I watch my clients’ lives and demeanor change as they become comfortable with who they really are.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Hillary Clinton, Ken Wilbur

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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