Friday, February 21, 2014

We Rise Again ...

That as sure as the sunrise,
as sure as the sea,
as sure as the wind in the trees, 
we rise again in the faces of our children.
We rise again in the voices of our song.
We rise again in the waves out on the ocean
and then, we rise again ...

Hi everyone!

I walked by the lake this morning and my eyes were drawn, again and again, to the hillocks of winter-blanched grass lying low along the shore. I thought about resilience and how nature continually graces us with images of recovery from harsh conditions. The pale grasses by the water, now beaten down by weeks of wind, rain and frost, will soon rise to their full height again, taking on the greening of spring. This picture of nature's resilience is an echo of our own. We, too, can rise again following difficult times.

Our earliest strategies for resilience or "rising again" are learned by the time we are 12-18 months old. We begin to sense what is safe or unsafe even in utero. Through ongoing interactions with the world around us, our brains begin to learn and encode strategies that work to keep us safe and secure. When these strategies work well, we are able to come back from hard times reasonably quickly and efficiently.When they don't we have a hard time recuperating.

According to the stress-diathesis model of health and wellness, three factors determine our capacity for resilience - the intensity of the challenges we face, our personal vulnerabilities and our compensating strengths.

While life is full of happy, even breathtakingly beautiful moments, it also holds difficulties and challenges. These challenges can be the hiccoughs of traffic jams and lost car keys or the earthquakes of separation, illness, injury, betrayal, natural disaster and death. The intensity of these experiences creates a greater or lesser sense of threat and calls for a greater or lesser degree of adaptability.

When we encounter more than one challenge at a time, the demand upon our coping resources increases and our resilience may decrease. If we find ourselves working full time, caring for a chronically ill loved one during a health crisis and suddenly developing a painful abscess in a wisdom tooth, the demand on our capacity to cope is greater and the threat to our resilience, stronger. The more intense, numerous and prolonged our challenges, the more our resilience may be affected.

Our personal vulnerabilities also have an impact on our resilience. Human beings are naturally resilient but our genetic predispositions and early learning can reduce our capacity to bounce back. Each of us has chinks in our emotional armour, tender spots caused by the wounds of our earliest life experiences and by our later losses and traumas. Whether we experience the anxious or avoidant attachment of perinatal trauma, early separations, neglect or abuse, or the scars and reactivity of parental loss, accidents, immigration trauma, medical trauma, war or natural disaster, our developing nervous systems are affected by our experience and, without attention, these effects can reduce our natural resiliency.

Fortunately, our early learning not only leads to vulnerability, but also to strengths. When we interact with soothing, supportive others, we begin to develop inner resources and capabilities - trust, mindfulness, empathy, self-soothing, self understanding, self-compassion, security, confidence, interpersonal skills, comfort in our bodies, reservoirs of positive memories and emotions, courage, and flexibility, to name but a few. These strengths help to compensate for our vulnerabilities and enable us to deal with life more adaptively. If we didn't have the chance to develop them early in life, we can learn them today through the magic of neuroplasticity (the ability of our brains to rewire for maximum resilience.)

Why not take a few minutes with a hot drink and your journal and think back over the history of your own resilience. What are the hard times you've overcome? When did your vulnerabilities reduce your resilience and when did your strengths carry you through? What, exactly, are your personal vulnerabilities and strengths? Can you think of a time when you were particularly resilient, a time when your capacity to "rise again" was especially strong? What made it so?

No comments: