You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Resilience’ category.

VisualizeCrisis management and emergency management are pretty thankless jobs. I worked both at various times. Crisis was determining whether someone needed hospitalization as a potential danger to self or others. Emergency management included planning and response for disasters for events such as hurricanes. No matter what you did, someone was going to be angry.

If you are cautious, what once might have been called conservative, you took precautions such as going into response mode if the predictions were that the probability was the hurricane would hit your area. Or if a person said all the things that required a hospitalization or conversely said all the things that required not hospitalizing, and you acted on them accordingly. So the hurricane veers a bit and isn’t much of an event and folks complain. Or it didn’t look like it was going to hit and you act that way, but it does and you are scorned. Or you hospitalize the individual and the person is a model of good behavior at the hospital, you are asked why the person was hospitalized, it is implied you were conned, and the person is let go at the hearing. And then who knows what happens. Or you don’t hospitalize and the person harms self or others at some point in the future, and again, there are questions.

We don’t like to admit that life is messy. You can’t predict with complete accuracy what will happen. You use the evidence you have. You try to make sure the evidence is reliable and valid. You go with probabilities. And you know you will be second guessed no matter what. You don’t let your ego and politics get involved. You try for cooperation, not division. Those qualities don’t bode well for the short or the long run.

We like stories that make sense. Our brains seek agency and patterns even when none may be present. During the Little Ice Age, not so terribly long ago, some European towns sent priests to exorcise glaciers that were threatening the villages. Even now people will often rationalize plagues or disasters as an act of God’s vengeance, and always for behaviors they personally dislike. Few remember the November 1, 1755 Lisbon, Portugal earthquake that wiped out churches and spared brothels. The city and the faithful were jarred.

Currently we need good data for our response to Covid-19. For various reasons, some countries are doing a much better job of that than others. Some countries and some parts of countries are doing what seems to be a better response than others. I hope we make decisions based on empirical data, on what our best critical thought and decision-making processes can give us, and that we err on the side of caution. Those skilled in public health are much better equipped to make decisions than those wedded to a political and/or religious dogma, whatever that dogma might be. It takes courage and integrity to do that. It is much easier to politicize it, to act on and manipulate people based on their emotions and fears and greed. So, I would ask us – what are our core beliefs? What are our values? How do our actions reflect those values? And I would also ask how rigid do we want to be in our response? We have our tribes and we have our labels that we cling to as defining us. We have those tribes and labels that we define, and often mis-define, as something inherently evil, even though the label, like all labels and words, are just constructs. When we become rigid, we become less adaptable. If an economic system is not able to adapt to meet the common welfare of we, the people, and instead enriches the wealth of those with the greatest in a reverse Robin Hood (and when addressed, the rich cry out as victims of class warfare), does that system really reflect who we are or who we want to be? The greater the disparity between the haves and the have nots, the greater the probability of an ignoble end to that culture. Meanwhile the states that protest taxes the most are the greatest beneficiaries of federal dollars, and are the loudest in decrying what they define as “socialism” when others are the beneficiaries.

I do wonder when we will come to the realization that rights are what are given by those with power to themselves and to those they deem worthy of also having rights. When our country began, rights were only given to white males with property (including other human beings as property) over 21, and white was more narrowly defined than it is today. Over many hard-fought years, others began to obtain rights. They struggle to maintain those rights in the face of voter suppression that takes on many forms. When will we realize that with rights come responsibilities, and without those responsibilities, rights become meaningless and eventually disappear? Emphasizing rights with no thought of responsibility is childish, really. I can do whatever I want regardless of the consequences. Adults who would not tolerate that behavior from their children parade armed in the street proclaiming “God given” rights for themselves with no responsibilities. I can understand the motivation and the fear and frustration. When we feel stressed and afraid, we go with what we know. Sometimes we, any of us, regress all the way to tantrums. Is that who we want to be? Remember these words, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Unfortunately, since 1980, we have been conditioned to see government as “them” and as the problem. It lost the “we, the people.” We have been accelerating on a downhill slope ever since. Sometimes I think that our country has been on the receiving end of a succession of mortal wounds that picked up speed in November of 1963 in Dallas, then Memphis and Los Angeles in 1968. Those with a sense of service, of noblesse oblige, of justice and equality for all were taken. In their place we got those who see government as a way to enrich themselves at the expense of we, the people. I’m not sure at this point if that will ever change. I wonder who will be around after the fall to second guess.

In the meantime, we live the best lives we can. I teach a class on classical Chinese philosophy along with taijiquan and qigong. The final paper consists of three questions. “What do I need to stop doing to function at a higher level? What do I need to start doing to function at a higher level? What do I need to continue doing to function at a higher level?” This comes from a book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch. In our discussions over the couple of years I have taught the course, what has become clear is that the question is not, “what do I want to be?’ but “who do I want to become?” Every moment is filled with possibilities. The core of all of it comes to be de or virtue. Are we treating ourselves and others, and all in the world around us, with kindness? What are the long-term possible consequences of our actions many generations into the future?

— written in April 2020

Russian-ship

Zhuangzi said that the sage can walk through fire and not get burned and through water and not get wet. There is a similar passage in Isaiah 43:2 – “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” How do we accomplish the ability to get through difficult times and be resilient? There are a couple of books that can help.

Coaching for Resilience: A Practical Guide to using Positive Psychology, by Adrienne Green and John Humphrey

The authors of Coaching for Resilience are the founding directors of Nice Work Consulting, Ltd. which specializes in workplace psychology and workplace wellbeing. Green, a psychotherapist, also authored Out Of The Blue: A Practical Guide To Overcoming And Preventing Depression. Both authors are based in the United Kingdom. Coaching for Resilience is an expanded and detailed guide based on workshops Green and Humphrey give on building resilience. Their goal is to help people manage stress so that they do not become overwhelmed and become physically and emotionally unwell. The authors see high stress and low resilience as a vicious circle, and this book helps one to get out of that vicious circle and does so with a series of thoughtful exercise based on what they call “the seven keys.”

The book is divided into two parts with each part having exercises and case studies that allow you to personalize and come up with your own way of learning to manage stress. There are also directives for reflection and specific ideas to pay attention to in each chapter to help you with the process of learning to manage and redefine how you cope with stress. Part one gives the background on what resilience and stress are, the neuroscience of the relationship of resilience and stress, the effects of stress, and why the strategies that we typically use to cope may not work so well. The neuroscience is explained in clear understandable language. Part one lays the groundwork for helping you to understand and define what is causing you problems with stress and resilience.

Part two covers their “seven keys” in detail. Key one is the need people have to be liked and/or to be in control. These needs are the underlying causes of stress. Those who need to be liked may use passivity as a communication style. Those with a need for control may use aggression as a style, while those with both needs may use passive aggression, which the authors see as the most problematic of the three styles.

Each key builds upon the prior key. For example, the second key is to live your values. They help you to determine your values, and then give you exercises to help you determine if you are actually living those values by using a continuum of whether an activity is important or not important and whether it is urgent or not urgent. The third key is that you have a right to determine your own life. Exercises, case studies and reflections teach you empathic assertiveness to help you take charge of yourself.

The subsequent keys are: change is the only constant, life is difficult and that is okay, attitude makes all the difference, and live in the present. In each section, you look at your life as you are living it and decide how you would like to change it to cope better. For example, people typically see change as either dangerous or as an opportunity. The authors use cognitive behavioral techniques to help you build self-confidence and change your self-talk to increase your coping skills. They also address challenging yourself in ways to improve your chances of functioning in a flow state by practicing mindfulness.

Despite the book’s relatively short length, it should not be thought of as a quick read. The authors include many exercises and opportunities for reflection and growth throughout the book in a structured step-by-step way. This is a workbook, and the fact that it is based on workshops the authors have given is a strength. You know as you work through the exercises that the authors have developed and refined these in their teaching. The authors also give examples from their own lives of times when it was a struggle to stay with the keys. What they teach here is realistic. It is an excellent book for getting to know yourself, how you manage stress, and how to improve your coping skills so that they become a way of life do that your life is one of resilience.

Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney

Since the publication of the first edition of this book in 2012, both authors have had to put their research on resilience into practice in their own lives. Dennis Charney lost his father, and Charney himself was shot with a shotgun last year while leaving a deli in New York City by a disgruntled former employee. After five days in intensive care, he faced an arduous rehabilitation. Both of Steven Southwick’s parents died, his sister had colon cancer, and his very athletic brother’s leg was amputated, and his recovery was difficult as well. In researching this book, the authors spoke with Special Forces instructors, veterans who had suffered in POW camps in Hanoi, people who survived the World Trade Center attack of 9-11, individuals who had been raped and almost killed, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, who had lost limbs to land mines, who had survived refugee camps in the Sudan, who overcame congenital birth defects, and more. They also did an extensive literature review on resilience – what it is, what are important factors in resilience, and how to be more resilient in your life.

Resilience is a complex topic. The authors came up with what they call “resilience factors” based on their interviews with resilient people but concede that the list is not comprehensive in what gives us the strength and ability to come back. The factors are the ones that were “most often the ones described as crucial and even life-saving.” The factors are realistic optimism, facing fear, a moral compass, religion and spirituality, social support, resilient role models, physical fitness, brain fitness, cognitive and emotional flexibility, and meaning and purpose in life.

Southwick and Charney look at a multitude of influences on resilience including neuroscience, epigenetics and genetics, physiology, and environment. They also put these into the context of the United States and our vulnerability in terms of resilience. Our overall lack of physical fitness, our disconnectedness with each other, and other factors are sometimes framed as a national security weakness. According to their research, about “75% of Americans age 17 – 24 are no longer eligible to join the military.” The most common reasons are poor physical fitness, not graduating high school and a criminal record. Our all-volunteer military comes from an ever-smaller cross-section of the US.

Each chapter has an extensive list of references, so you can do further research if you like. The research is impressive and comprehensive. The stories are what really stick with me. If you need role models for resilience, this book has an abundance of them. There are famous people like James Stockdale who was the ranking officer as a prisoner in Hanoi and Bob Woodruff of ABC news who suffered a traumatic brain injury covering the war in Iraq. There is Jerry White who lost a leg to a landmine in 1984 while hiking in Israel. His struggle to recover eventually led to his winning a Nobel Peace prize along with Ken Rutherford for their work with the Landmine Survivors Network. Just the stories of the strength and resilience of the people interviewed is worth the read. The people are amazing and inspirational. And the stories of how they were able to recover is insightful and thoughtful and always respectful of the struggle. The authors write with both critical thinking and open hearts.

I am happy to have this resource. Over the years I have worked with people who suffered repeated hospitalizations in psychiatric facilities, who were repeatedly incarcerated, and who suffered physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. I have worked with those who have struggled with severe physical injury and illness, and who were in combat in the armed forces. I have always been impressed by the resilience of not just those who were able to thrive, as the folks interviewed in this book, but also those who somehow got up each day and survived despite living in systems and environments stacked against them. I can share this valuable resource with them.

There are two appendices to the book. One is on posttraumatic stress disorder. In pondering the section, I came to realize that there is a high probability that two of the people I was very close to as a child most likely had some degree of PTSD, one from war and one from childhood trauma. This book is enlightening on many levels.

The other is on community resiliency. All too often we are complacent and don’t plan ahead or do what is needed to be prepared for the crises in our lives that sooner or later come to be. This book is an excellent resource to help us all become more resilient in our lives. The final story is of a small teenaged boy in a track race in the Special Olympics. The young boy’s attitude and his words will leave you with a smile and feeling moved and inspired. A young girl, also in the race, pointed out to him that, “You came in last.” “Tha, tha, that’s okay,” he stuttered as he faced the girl and looked her in the eye. “I came in.”

 

Share This Blog

Facebook Twitter More...

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Site Archive

RSS Psychology News Feeds

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.