06 November 2017
How do you respond to challenges and difficult events in your life? Do you respond differently to work challenges than to personal ones? A change in health status, changes to your job, the loss of a loved one… these, and other potentially traumatic events can result in strong emotions. However, over time, you are likely to adapt to stressful environments and life-changing events. What helps this adaptation process? The answer; your level of ‘resilience’. Some people may think of themselves as tough, or ‘hardy’, or having ‘inner strength’ or a non-defeatist spirit, whereas others may think more in terms of a lack of rigidity, a sense of flexibility or elasticity, or simply being robust or quick to recover.
‘Resilience’ relates to your way of ‘bouncing back’ when faced with adversity and stress (whether family, financial, health, relationships, or workplace to name a few) or other challenging circumstances, situations or events. It does not mean that you won’t experience those situations nor strong emotions, but rather the thoughts and actions you take in response to them. These are usually learned responses and resilience can certainly be developed and enhanced.
So, what helps us be more resilient? Some of our personal attributes, such as communication and problem-solving skills (and the ability to carry out planned solutions) and our capacity to cope with strong emotions, feelings and urges are helpful, as is a positive self-view, self-confidence in our abilities and a strong ‘sense of self’. Some studies also show that our support systems (both family and social / work), where good, help strengthen our resilience. We feel more capable of coping when in supportive, encouraging, reassuring and caring environments. For the hypnotherapist, colleagues and your supervisor or supervision group can also offer valuable support.
Hypnotherapy, particularly ego strengthening, as well as various behavioural and cognitive approaches can be immensely helpful in developing resilience, whether it is for ourselves, or for our clients. There isn’t a single ‘magic script’ that does this, as for each individual, developing resilience is a personal experience. We each react to stressors differently. What would be a great approach to build my resilience, may have no impact at all on yours, as you might already be sufficiently developed in that particular area. Also within the overall domain of ‘individual differences’ are cultural influences, both for an individual’s origin, and the cultural influences of their present circumstances. Childhood can also influence an individual’s resilience. Prof Gunnestad suggests that intellect, physical robustness and emotional stability are foundations for resilience and that these are influenced by a child’s culture and their experiences (see ‘The Handbook for Working With Children and Youth’ for a brief introduction to these concepts). This can particularly influence how an individual interacts with family and social / community support.
10 resilience building tips
Here are ten tips on building resilience, both in yourself and your clients:
Tip 1: Take a solution-focused decisive and active approach to problems
Rather than regarding disturbing events as insoluble, unbeatable problems, focusing on what you cannot do, instead consider what you can do. At times in our lives we are all likely to encounter the occasional crisis. Whilst you may not be able to stop them from happening (although prevention is desirable where possible), you are able to decide how to you will view and respond to these situations. You may only be able to change one part of the situation, yet any positive change can help you feel more in control and better able to deal with difficult situations. Rather than ignoring or avoiding thinking about problems, which can take a lot of mental energy, making decisions and acting upon those decisions can significantly reduce stress and give you a sense of control and empowerment, even if it a decision to not make a decision for 24 hours! With clients, you can discuss solution-focused thinking, especially looking for exceptions, and also work with them to reduce procrastination and enhance their confidence in their decision-making process. For some, this will also involve work on assertiveness.
Tip 2: Consider the overall significance of the event and keep positive
Although something might be acutely unpleasant at the time, do keep a sense of perspective of the ‘big picture’ to avoid regarding a situation as more significant than it really is. Sometimes the dramatic occasions are just that, ‘more dramatic’, yet they can actually have less overall significance, so keep your response proportional. By focusing on what you do want, rather than what you don’t want, you direct your energies and resources more effectively. Directing your thoughts, with action or purpose to what worries you, can simply increase their significance in your life, without benefit. Whereas, focusing on what you DO want, can be a more helpful use of your resources. It can be useful to discuss with clients how to take a rational assessment of a situation and this may include some Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) on any inflexible beliefs, together with more behavioural work supporting the development of positive behaviours and actions.
Tip 3: Have a direction (goals) and have a flexible approach to those goals
Goals can be inspirational, aspirational and motivating, where they are realistic. It can be helpful to have a range of short, medium and long-term or ‘life’ goals. It can be even more effective if goals are aligned with your ‘core values’ (principles and beliefs that matter the most to you). Where goals, even tiny interim ones, are achieved, they can enhance your self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence; giving you a greater sense of fulfilling your purpose. Indeed, it can be good to have a purpose and life goals. However, at times, your circumstances may change and aspects of those goals might no longer be achievable. You might want to have a Lamborghini by the time you were 40, yet left full-time work to become self-employed at 35 and have invested in your new business instead. Rather than focusing on what is no longer possible at a particular date, adapt to changing circumstances and keep aspirations and goals flexible. With clients, it can be helpful to work out goals and use future pacing techniques to ‘ecology check’ the goals, and to find a ‘goal achievement route’, together with using REBT approaches to address any inflexible thinking and potentially employ aspects of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), particularly in relation to determining core values.
Tip 4: Being proactive and exploring resources
There are so many different sources for help, that you may not immediately consider, yet can offer great help in developing and enhancing your resilience. Some people find online resources a great source of information (although do assess the credibility of the source!), for others, books and workbooks can be helpful (and there are an immense range of self-help books available). If you find interaction more helpful, then internet based forums or actual in-person support and community groups can offer ideas, suggestions and shared experiences that may help you through a difficult time in your life. Where you are seeking something more focused, yet interpersonal, some brief strategic therapy with a mental health professional can be very supportive. Do be aware that you may feel more at ease with some therapists than others, depending on their approach and interaction style. A good working rapport can help, whereas a sense of being judged, patronised, overly-directed or unheard can impair rapport and diminish any positive benefits of therapy. From a hypnotherapy perspective, ego strengthening and assertiveness can help a client develop the confidence to engage with other resources. On a deeper level, it may be appropriate to explore any barriers to their resilience, perhaps with subconscious work such as IMR therapy or am analytical approach such as parts therapy.
Tip 5: Personal flexibility and asking for help
Having a flexible attitude regarding how you will address challenging situations can give you more choices. It can be tempting to consider yourself as self-reliant and self-contained. Indeed, it can be a growth or development benefit to work through a challenge by yourself. Yet, sometimes, you will get through that challenge with more growth and development by asking for and accepting the help of others. Furthermore, it can be a growth and development opportunity for them to help you. However, this really doesn’t mean asking others for help so you can avoid doing the work or letting them do the work for you because it would be less effort. Again, the hypnotherapist may find ego strengthening and assertiveness helpful here, together with REBT to address any rigid thinking and demands, generating more flexible beliefs and preferences.
Tip 6: Accept and use the learnings from your past experiences
There will be times in your past where you have encountered stress, challenges or obstacles and found your way through, past or around them. You can take time to explore what situations may have been most challenging, stimulating, perplexing even and how you respond to those experiences, and what you learned about yourself as a result of that. Are there any new skills, thoughts, behaviours or actions that might help you address a similar situation in the future? You may also consider who and what are your sources of support when you are distressed and whether this is an area that can be developed. A hypnotherapist might naturally think of past learning and consider regression. Indeed, regression to revisit resources can be a positive experience for the client and set them up for positive perspectives about regression in the future. A popular technique for this is ‘anchoring’, which can further empower the client as they can build and develop their anchor over time. More advanced regression techniques can also be employed by the experienced hypnotherapist to revisit times of challenge and gain new perspectives and insight and to resolve earlier disturbance. EMDR can be particularly useful here, not just to process earlier blocks, but also to develop more positive perceptions.
Tip 7: Nourish, nurture and listen with unconditional positive regard
From time to time, consider your life balance. Where are you going? What do you need? What are you feeling? Take time away from work and responsibilities for yourself. Eat healthily and with respect your body. Remember, the more demands placed upon you mentally or physically, the better that good nutrition will support you. Exercise in ways that are right for you; it can be a great way of dealing with tension and stress and enhances your mood as well as maintaining a good level of physical fitness. There is a mind-body connection, so also find effective ways for you to let go of mental stress and tension. For some this can be meditation or spiritual practice, for others, self-hypnosis to strength and enhance mental resources.
Be considerate towards your mind and body to have the physical and psychological strength to respond to difficult or challenging events. By accepting yourself, having trust in your actions, thoughts, behaviours, insights and abilities, you can develop confidence in your ability to respond appropriately to challenging situations and events. Hypnotherapists may work on developing healthy behaviours and habits, together with stress management and ego strengthening, particularly towards lifestyle management and self-acceptance.
Tip 8: Strengthen support structures
Being part of support structures, whether with family, social friends, or colleagues, can offer opportunities to benefit from the advantages of good relationships, being able to both give and receive support. This may simply be having a friendly ear, or more physical or practical support at a time when it is most needed. Where there are limited natural support systems (such as no family, no work or limited social friends) then joining groups and associations can be helpful. For some, joining a faith group or a local church can also provide a support system. Whilst the receiving of support can be beneficial to help an individual through a tough time, the opportunity to give support can significantly enhance an individuals’ self-esteem and self-confidence, thus strengthening their beliefs in their ability to cope.
Tip 9: Allow yourself to develop
Life changes around you. By allowing yourself to develop, to go with change, even at times when it is hard, a struggle, or deeply unpleasant, you can gain personal growth as you move through that time, whether than is an increased appreciation for the positives in your life, and enhanced sense of self-esteem, or a recognition of the extent of your inner strength. By taking a positive approach to life’s challenges, and moving through challenging situations, you can develop your ability to ‘bounce back’ quicker for subsequent challenges. The hypnotherapist can help clients develop in so many ways, it would take more room than this blog to discuss even a fraction of them. So, consider the basics first. What does the client want and need? What are their goals? What does resilience mean to them? What positive behaviours, thoughts, actions and resources will help them achieve their goals and enhance their resilience? This will help you help them.
Tip 10: The ‘expedition’ metaphor
Resilience can be explained to a client using the metaphor of an expedition or voyage… At the start you may have a clear idea of where you want to go and set off with a lot of enthusiasm. As you carry on, the route may have obstacles, even be really difficult to traverse at times, yet each time, you find a way to move forward. In fact, each new obstacle can be a little easier to deal with as you already have the confidence and resources from past events to help you address each new challenge, with confidence and trust in your instincts and insight. It may even be that at times, you decide to alter your route, even your final destination for your expedition. At times, you may be accompanied by others on this excursion, helping each other travel along the route more easily, at other times, you trek alone, having a sense of self-assurance and self-reliance to accompany you through any challenges, tests or trials. Aware that to get the destination will take determination and perseverance, yet also knowing, that it is all about how you travelled… and it may take some time, but if you are committed to the process, you will get there eventually…
We hope this blog has been helpful, and if you have any questions relating to this blog or the subject of resilience and hypnotherapy, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks