Written by Kevin Flood
In today’s world stress is ever present and even if you are not a 24/7 news junkie, the stress comes at you constantly. The bigger our interest in the world the more opportunities there are for being exposed to stress in politics, oppression, war, money woes, hunger, layoffs, and many other sources. In addition to all the public stressors we all have our own personal, secret stressors that we probably don’t share with many others.
If we turn off all the electronic communications we own we can subdue the stressors for a period though it can be hard to do. The personal stress we experience as a survivor of sexual abuse can’t be turned off and while it may be subdued if we are in a long-term recovery program, it never goes away.
As abused children we likely developed adaptive behaviors to cope with the demands of our abuse and to protect ourselves. As we grew into adults we adapted our child behaviors into adult behaviors such as isolation, defensiveness, self-reliance, workaholic behavior, acting out, poor self care and many others. Many of these adaptive behaviors may have served us well as children and teenagers but do not serve us well as adults coping with the world. Most adults have not suffered sexual abuse and are not automatically sympathetic to our pain or understand our behaviors.
Triggering is when a situation or a person says, or does something reminiscent of our abuse and we are re-exposed to the pain of the early experiences. Smells, tastes, tone of voice, outdoor settings, colors, songs and remembrances are some examples of sources of triggering. It should be remembered that triggering can be a conscious or unconscious reaction to earlier abuse.
These adaptive behaviors from childhood probably don’t serve us well in adulthood and may bring on shame and other feelings which can shut us down. In these moments that turn us back to the past, resilience can be a powerful tool that may keep you from absorbing the trigger as a big negative. Resilience can be in your toolkit and allow you to keep a positive perspective despite an adverse experience. It isn’t about trying to avoid the stress, it is about learning to thrive within the stress. Resilience can keep a triggering event from taking you back to your abuse period or minimizing the triggering upset.
HOW RESILIENCE CAN BE LEARNED
Resilience is a skill that can be learned. As a kid, abuse can overwhelm our resilience and put us into a world of fear. Some of us can hang onto our childhood resilience but most of us have to learn to bring it to the surface.
Here are five popular tools to support and develop resilience:
Self-awareness: Having a conscious awareness of your own personality and able to understand your weaknesses and strengths. It is about understanding how others see you.
Positive Relationships: Are you able to establish and maintain formal and informal relations with others at work and at home? This effort sets the basis for good communications with others, enhanced self-respect, establishing peer relationships and other positive outcomes.
Mindfulness: This can bring you out of isolation. It is about being fully present for yourself, being alert to what is going on around you, and staying in the moment.
Self-Care: We are best able to care for ourselves if we practice good health habits.
Purpose: A sense of purpose allows you to establish a belief in something bigger than yourself. It helps you gain a perspective that broadens what might be a narrow view of the world you live in. It may help with setting goals for yourself and your family. It is a powerful agent for change.
Having a life purpose can become the central motivating point of your life. By whatever name you call it, purpose can be the “driver” of shaping life decisions. Things like setting goals, finding the right vocation and setting boundaries to life, finances and other critical life decisions.
Establishing and maintaining these skills takes practice. You may have a strong sense of independence, isolation or self-reliance or other symptoms that keep you from engaging the bigger world around you. Ask yourself how well these behaviors/symptoms serve you in the adult world you want to live in.
In the process of striving to learn resilience, you can gain a lot of knowledge about yourself because it encourages the learning of the 5 supporting skills you need to learn along the way.
Each of the supporting skills provide a unique and individual skill that can be applied to many different areas of your life. Taken together they offer a formidable package of new knowledge, perceptions, opportunities and understandings of the world we each live in.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THE RECOVERY GOAL: PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION
Resilience isn’t a single skill. It is a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive. Jean Chatzky
You can reach Kevin at email@example.com
If you have a story to share, a quote or song that helps you on your journey, feel free to leave it in the comments section or email me at mike@ menhealing.org. The next post will feature an interview with James Tobin, author of “When We Were Wolves,” a novel whose main character is an adult male survivor.
Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.