Ex-Pat Living: Am I Resilient Enough? Resources You Can Use

Navy Yard, NY Times graphic 9-16-2013

Navy Yard, Washington DC

This is a very heavy time to be writing. So many emotions swirling around.

I feel sort of disembodied, bewildered. I don’t expect this from “home”.

We just posted a look back at how we survive in a war zone, focusing on Syria and areas abroad. At that moment, nowhere on the horizon did I see that we would be dealing with immense loss yet again, so close to home here in the US.

Navy Yard, Courtesy NY Times September 16, 2013

People are weary- of war, of guns and shootings; weary of being weary from hearts too heavy with grief. We pray for relief. We search for ways to go on, to help others go on.

People say that Americans are a resilient people, but so are millions of other people going through wars and civil unrest.

That makes me wonder. Where does resilience come from, and how do we get it? Can I share it with others when I find it?

Are some people naturally resilient? Are some more able to cope than others? Is resilience a learned skill or a natural tendency, like being an optimist?

I found this set of definitions for resilience, and noticed two interesting words.

Definition of Resilience

Resilience is equated with elasticity, and toughness- two words that seem contradictory in most cases. Toughness, to me, connotes an unyielding quality while elasticity makes me think of just the opposite.

But, as I look at these definitions more closely, I think maybe I see what they mean. Elasticity is the quality of not broken easily, capable of being stretched beyond expectations, and being able to snap back. Toughness here is used in the meaning of defiance- unyielding in the context of not giving in to pressure, as opposed to immovable and hard.

Taken together, the picture I get is one of moving with the forces of nature, but not giving in to the forces that would break me.

Maybe that’s what this week is all about. Moving with the forces of nature, but not giving in.

I had the opportunity to work on a contract at the Navy Yard recently but ended up a few miles away instead. It shook me to  think how this could happen in a place I walked and easily could have been again this week.  My knees got weak and my heart raced when friends tweeted the news.  I admit I’m  having to take my own advice and remember how to survive a war zone! Who knew…

More than that though- more than the preparedness and communication plans; more than having a Go Bag (which I still do, good habits stay with us); more than having emergency provisions at home- more than these physical preparations for emergencies, I need to figure out how to practice resilience. I need to understand how to be stretched beyond expectations and snap back; I need to be unyielding to the pressures- defiant in the face of horror.

Why?

For me, it’s because of those who can’t… not today, not tomorrow, maybe like my friend’s wife at the hotel across from the World Trade Center on 9/11, maybe not for a long time.

I need to be there like the stake that holds the young trees upright, until they can stand up again. Someone needs that support and I need to be able to provide it when I find that one. There’s going be a lot of need here in the coming days, just as there has been following every other recent tragedy- Hurricane Sandy, Virginia Tech, or the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

I get the idea of being resilient, and I understand the motivation- helping others is always a powerful incentive to rise above what you think you can do on your own. But in order to understand how, to answer my questions about resilience, and where it comes from, I did some research.

How do people deal with difficult events that change their lives? 

(Information excerpts shared courtesy of the American Psychological Association website at  http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx#)

According to the American Psychological Association, “The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events: these are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions.”

What enables them to do so?

“It involves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps.”

The APA website is rich with information designed to help anyone “taking their own road to resilience”. The information  describes resilience and factors that affect how people deal with difficulty. Much of the information focuses on developing and using a personal strategy for enhancing resilience.”

  • Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Factors in Resilience
A combination of factors contributes to resilience.

  • Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.
  • Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.

Several additional factors are associated with resilience, including:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.

Some variation may reflect cultural differences.

  • A person’s culture might have an impact on how he or she communicates feelings and deals with adversity — for example, whether and how a person connects with significant others, including extended family members and community resources.
  • With growing cultural diversity, the public has greater access to a number of different approaches to building resilience.

10 Ways to Build Resilience

Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”

Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.

Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

Keep the statement above in mind, and let me throw something very provocative in here.   In just a minute, I want to share an NPR Radio interview with you. Something a caller said on this interview struck me and made me pause.

 “The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.”   Now, ask yourself, What if a friend’s response was to buy her own gun? How would you feel, how would that affect you? Is that you?

Author/journalist/blogger Caitlin Kelly (Broadsideblog.wordpress.com) wrote a book in 2004 entitled, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”.  She was interviewed on NPR and had some very interesting comments. Here’s the link to the NPR interview- it’s a very interesting 15 minutes. Caitlin Kelly, Author of Blown Away: American Women and Guns.  The first caller after Caitlin finishes the Q&A portion (at about the halfway mark) says that as a result of violence she purchased a gun, not for self-defense, but to help her regain her confidence after an assault.

Reviews note that Caitlin “offers the first national, neutral, nuanced examination of the intersection of American women and firearms: recreational, political, economic, professional, cultural, social and criminal. Critics praise it for its diversity, fairness and in-depth examination of a complex, divisive issue.”

I thought it was important to include this book in a discussion of resilience, since many women today have become afraid, unsure in their surroundings and may be wondering what options they have.  I think this information can -and should- provoke discussions in light of recent events about the place of guns (or not) in our lives. This is not a pro or con propaganda piece- I only offer this link here as a resource.

Caitlin’s interviews include “compelling stories of real women telling their searing stories — women who have experienced gun violence, whether they have shot or been shot, or have lost their loved ones to firearms-related homicide or suicide. Daily newspaper headlines remind us that violence against women is relentless and knows no bounds.”

“This footnoted, indexed book covers a wide range of issues in-depth, from the history of women and guns to how women help formulate gun policy, and cites 35 other seminal works on women and violence, past and present.”  (Caitlin also speaks to women’s groups, libraries, book clubs and other interested groups as well.)

Whichever way you think about this last issue, we’ve gathered some very solid resources for women to begin thinking about how to survive the near daily barrage of violence in the news and our surroundings, whether you are in the US, Middle East, Europe or elsewhere in the world. I trust that these tips on building resilience, and the questions we raised here, will give you something to think about and use for your own positive support.

I hope someone is there to be your stake when you need support, and that you find the ability to offer support for someone else in their time of need as well!

And above all, please let me know if this is helpful- or if you have other questions!  I’m interested to see where this goes!

Thanks for being here today!

One thought on “Ex-Pat Living: Am I Resilient Enough? Resources You Can Use

  1. Pingback: Pssst… Do You Know The Secret To Happiness? | Life Lessons

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