By Alexis Williams LCSW
As a licensed clinical social worker, I provide treatment services to people experiencing difficult life situations. Some reasons for seeking psychotherapy services include dealing with effects from childhood physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence or coping with cancer, chronic pain, or other serious health conditions. One may be struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety, experiencing the painful loss of a loved one through death or divorce, or struggling as a caregiver to an aging parent showing signs of dementia. Despite such issues, I have witnessed client resilience.
Resilience can be defined as the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands (American Psychological Association).
“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
-Maya Angelou, author, poet
What are some tools that enable resilience? In my practice, I have seen the following:
- Having a positive therapeutic or corrective emotional experience where one has a safe space to feel heard, to release emotions, to not feel judged, to have one’s feelings validated and accepted.
Negative messages can become so engrained that an automatic response is to feel bad, unloved, or undeserving of happiness. Learning to interrupt the cycle of negativity, and to widen the lens of one’s view of oneself and others, can be a key component of change. Part of the journey of healing is to feel empowered instead of powerless as one learns to manage pain, trauma or tragedy.
- Having a spiritual connection whether through active involvement in a church or one’s private expressions of faith and belief in God or higher power.
Through inquiries about a person’s spiritual life, I repeatedly find that faith provides sustaining power. Along with this, quiet time to practice stillness through prayer or meditation practices, deep breathing or connecting with nature can be recharging.
- Having supportive relationships, social interaction and enjoyable activities.
Emotional struggles are compounded by isolation and disconnect from others.
- Utilizing mindfulness to embrace the present moment instead of the what-ifs of the past or worries about the future.
- Making self-care a priority by improving eating habits, obtaining better quality sleep, exercise including yoga, taking time for stillness and learning to set limits and boundaries.
- Finding creative outlets through writing, drawing, painting, music, or dance.
Progress in working through difficult experiences and emotions does not happen in a straight line—there are forward and backward shifts. Therefore, patience, and showing oneself grace is key.
Alexis Williams is a Springfield Dominican Associate, member of the JUST Words editorial board and a licensed clinical social worker.