Different people respond in different ways to trauma. One of the reasons for this is that some people are more resilient to its adverse effects than others and even manage to grow and develop as a person in positive ways (a phenomenon known as posttraumatic growth) that would not have occurred had they not experienced the traumatic event/s.
However, resilience is not something that a person either has or does not have, rather, it is something that we can build and develop. According to the American Psychological Association there are TEN MAIN WAYS WE CAN INCREASE OUR RESILIENCE and these are as follows :
- Develop social connections: e.g. with supportive family members, friends, community support groups (in general, the more social/emotional support we have, the more psychologically resilient we are likely to be. Research has also found that working as a volunteer and helping others is another good strategy for resilience-building.
- If changes have occurred which are irreversible, accept that this is just part of what life involves and direct energy towards things that can be positively changed.
- Take decisive action: when one has suffered trauma: it is easy to fall into the trap of endlessly ruminating upon what has gone wrong and feel helpless; it is necessary to avoid this, and, instead, take decisive action to change things for the better (see my previously published article on childhood trauma and depression which includes information on LEARNED HELPLESSNESS AND BEHAVIORAL ACTIVATION).
- Try to keep an optimistic outlook – rather than negatively ruminate, attempt to visualize solutions / how you would like the future to turn out.
- Try to maintain perspective by seeing things in the context of the ‘bigger picture’ / taking a long-term view.
- Self-care: Treat yourself with compassion, do things you enjoy (or used to enjoy), exercise, eat well and generally look after your needs and feelings (especially by avoiding stress as far as possible.
- Consider if the trauma may, in some respects, help develop you as a person; there may be opportunities for posttraumatic growth – for example, some trauma survivors report improved relationships, increased inner strength and coping ability, spiritual growth, a greater sense of self-worth (knowing they can survive great difficulties, for example) and increased empathy for the suffering of others as a result of their adverse experiences.
- Focus upon maintaining a positive self-view, especially in relation to your problem-solving abilities.
- Try to set goals each day that help you to move forward, however small, so that at the end of the day you can know you have done at least one positive thing.
- Avoid ‘catastrophizing’ (seeing crises as insurmountable problems) – cognitive behavioural therapy can help with this, as well as with other so-called ‘thinking errors’).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).