Are you Naturally Resilient?
Resilience is a passion of mine. This strength based orientation is the cornerstone of my psychotherapy practice, so much so that I call my work, Resilience Informed Therapy. Resilience means adapting well in the face of adversity and is associated with a mindset that recognizes our capacity to grow through both positive and negative life events.
This week I came across an interesting piece of recent research about resilience from Arizona State University. They challenge the existing scientific claim that most people are naturally resilient after exposure to a traumatic event stating that this misunderstanding can lead to dangerous consequences. For example, individuals who do struggle after a traumatic event, who do not rebound quickly, might feel as though there is something wrong with them. Clinicians who assume clients “should” be more resilient might inadvertently blame the victim. Policy makers might fail to allocate funds for interventions post traumatic events.
I think of resilience as a process, not just an outcome. You wouldn’t brush and floss your teeth on Monday and think that sufficient for the rest of the week. Likewise, resilience is best served when we actively participate in supporting our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health each and every day. You can build your resilience by engaging in small actions such as a call to a friend, writing for 5 minutes in your journal, or taking a walk around the block in the evening. While each one of these steps might seem small, collectively they can help you to feel strong, relaxed, capable, and more connected to others in the world.This post pulls together a wide range of research on resilience into what I call the 6 Pillars of Resilience
“Resilience is not a trait that you either have or do not have; it is a set of strategies that can be learned and practiced and by anyone. There is a wide range of resilient behaviors, some of which will resonate with you and some will not. My invitation to you is to create your own personalized approach that helps to build your resilience each day.” Dr. Arielle Schwartz
6 Pillars of Resilience
Research on resilience shows us the behaviors and beliefs that are associated with greatest adaptation to loss. Based upon a wide review of this research I have brought together the 6 Pillars of Resilience:
- Growth Mindset: It is important to cultivate an understanding that life, whether positive or negative, provides ongoing opportunities for new learning. People who remain resilient in the face of loss tend to believe that growth and wisdom can be gained from difficult or challenging experiences.
- Emotional Intelligence: It is important to recognize that you will experience feelings of numbness, fear, exhaustion, anger, and sadness after a traumatic event. These feelings are normal and part of your innate resilience. The key is staying engaged with difficult feelings rather than avoiding them. It is common to want to avoid pain; perhaps, because you do not have sufficient resources to handle the feelings or because the process feels overwhelming. Avoidance requires managing feelings which often takes a lot of time and energy. You might have stopped going to places that remind you of your loved one or resist talking about your experience. Avoidance is exhausting but letting go of control can feel frightening. As a result of this dilemma it is common to feel powerless and stuck. It is important to know that there is a way through the process and that feeling your pain allows you to reclaim your life. Sometimes we get overwhelmed or stuck in post traumatic stress reactions. If this is you it is important to get professional support. I recommend EMDR Therapy as the best therapeutic approach that provides a well researched structure allowing you to move through the memories, emotions, and beliefs associated with traumatic events.
- Community Connections: The third pillar of resilience is connection. It is essential to connect to people. Sometimes these are friends who bring a meal over or the neighbor who offers a helping hand. It is important to actively seek and build your social circle. Research suggests that resilient people stay involved in community rather than isolate. We need to community to help heal the broken heart. We reveal our brokenness in order to become whole again. We need places to be weak so that we can feel strong again.
- Self-expression: Self-expression through writing, talking, and the arts helps us successfully work with vulnerable emotions giving us greater access to compassion, acceptance, joy, and resilience. If we cut-off our expression of painful emotions we also cut-off our ability to feel open-hearted. You might choose to share your story with others or write in a journal you keep for yourself. You might explore creative ways to express your process through painting, poetry, movement, or music. Don’t worry whether your creativity looks or sounds good for anyone else. It is your process and not the outcome that is important.
- Embodiment: Reason alone is seldom sufficient to address post traumatic stress. Embodiment practices invite mindful awareness of sensations, breath, and movement for the purpose of healing. Unfortunately, our culture tends towards stillness in the face of trauma. Our bodies need to process stressful events through breath and movement and when these are natural impulses are ignored the biological effects of stress persists long after events have passed. Within Somatic Psychology we uphold that the body provides tremendous feedback about the psychological impact of traumatic events giving clear feedback about when the event no longer holds power over you. Personally, my daily yoga practice also supports my body and mind to process through the events of the day and week.
- Choice and Control: The sixth pillar of resilience is to know that there are events in your life that remain within your control. Traumatic events typically occur completely outside of your control. You did not get a say in this. It is common to feel powerless. It is understandable if there are times when you feel like giving up. However, resilience comes with knowing that there are still things in your life that you do have control over… Viktor Frankl says, “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” You can choose to get out of bed, get dressed, brush your teeth, call a friend, get some exercise, or eat healthy food. Each of these small steps adds up; collectively they are an assertion of your willingness to continue to live. To stay engaged in your life is an act of courage when you know that loss can and will happen.
You can put the 6 Pillars of Resilience into action by identifying activities that you engage in during your daily or weekly routine that support you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. While each one of these steps might seem small, collectively the mindset and action steps associated with resilience can help you to feel strong, relaxed, capable, and more connected to others in the world. There is a wide range of resilient behaviors, some of which will resonate with you and some will not. My invitation to you is to create your own personalized approach that helps to build your resilience each day.
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About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.