Resourcing with People for Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth

This is the second in a five-week series exploring the five factors that support people in moving through and beyond coping with difficulties and even disasters to new wisdom, purpose and thriving. [See the first factor: Awareness and Acceptance of Reality here.]

This week focuses on the second of the five factors:  resourcing with people in times of distress, both as refuges from the pain and anguish we might be experiencing, but also as resources for recovering the courage and wise action we need to cope with the troubling, even the tragic.

A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

– Anonymous

There are three phases to this second step.

1) Connecting with people who can serve as a refuge, a safe haven, a resource of safety and protection when we’re distraught or have become unglued.  People who love us, care about us, believe in our resilience and recovery and growth. But people who don’t need anything from us; who don’t need us to be a certain way or move at a certain pace.  They are compassionate companions that can be with us, however we need to be.

2)  Connecting with people who can hear our story, without our having to defend or explain or justify anything.  Sharing what has happened, how we’ve been impacted by what has happened, how we feel wobbled by what has happened, how we are beginning to cope with what has happened, what is changing or happening for us as we are beginning to cope. 

It’s important that the focus gets to stay on your story and your recovery for now, not pre-empted by anyone who thinks they are being empathic by jumping in with their story, but losing the thread of you in the process.  Not your story being overshadowed by advice and fixing, even when people sincerely mean well.  This is the time for you to create your own narrative of how you make sense of your experience, and you can feel received, understood, and supported by other people’s listening. One important caution: the sage advice of Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong and Daring Greatly.  “Share your story with people who have earned the right to hear it.”

3) Sharing our story with a larger audience and experiencing that when people hear our story and our experience of coping, recovery and growth, we get to feel more competent in this journey toward post-traumatic growth.   We don’t have to explain but we get to explain and move into a sense of our own strengths and capacities.  Sharing in this way strengthens our sense of competence, mastery, efficacy. I am coping, I am growing and learning, I can change in real and significant ways. 

This resourcing with other people is an important transition from needing a refuge, a place to retreat and re-group…to feeling understood and support and accepted… to re-engaging in the world, becoming a contributing member to the large society again with whatever we have learned from our particular trauma and our particular journey of coping with it.

I know sometimes it’s a struggle to find the right people available at the right time to do all this resourcing with.  So I also offer this exercise of the Compassionate Friend, which I have offered in these posts before and which I teach everywhere I go.  Sharing the story with the inner compassionate friend can be of real service and benefit in times of struggle, well worth cultivating again and again. This version comes from the Mindful Self-Compassion protocol developed by Kristin Neff at University of Texas-Austin and Christopher Germer at Harvard, and now taught all over the world, including here in these posts.

EXERCISE: COMPASSIONATE FRIEND

Allow yourself to sit in a comfortable posture, coming into a sense of presence, being aware of being in your own body, in this moment, focusing your awareness on the gentle rhythm of your breathing, coming into a sense of relaxation and peacefulness, and then, when you’re ready, imagining that you are in your own safe place, a place that is comfortable for you, where you can feel safe and protected, at ease, content.  This may be a room in your own home, it may be a favorite bench in a park or on a hill overlooking the beach, it may be in a café with a friend.  You let yourself settle into the safety and comfort of being in your safe place.

Then, you let yourself know that you are going to receive a visitor, someone older, wiser, stronger, someone who knows you and honestly cares about you a great deal.  They want you to be happy, and they want to visit with you for a little while.

So you imagine this compassionate friend in quite some detail, what they look like, how they’re dressed, how they move, especially what it feels like to you to be in their presence, in their energy field.  Then you imagine how you meet and greet this person; do you stand up and shake hands, do you hug, do you bow?  Then you imagine you get to have a conversation with this compassionate friend, so imagine how you will do that, sitting across from each other, sitting side by side, going for a walk.

Then bring to mind something that is a little worrisome, upsetting, distressing to you in your life at the moment.  Not the biggest worry, but something where you can feel the sense of discomfort or unease in your body.

Then, you get to share with this compassionate friend this worry, this upset, this distress that’s current for you now. Imagine giving voice to this concern.

And then imagine your compassionate friend listening receptively, openly, understandingly. 

You imagine how you feel being listened to and understood and accepted by this compassionate friend. 

Then you imagine any words of acceptance or encouragement or support your compassionate friend might have to say.  If you could hear whatever you need to hear right now, what would those words be? 

And imagine listening, imagine what you feel as you hear these words from your compassionate friend. 

When the conversation is complete and it’s time for the compassionate friend to depart for now, you imagine how you say good-bye, knowing that you can visit with this compassionate friend again any time you wish to. 

And after your compassionate friend has departed and you are in your safe place again with yourself, you take a moment to pause, notice and reflect on your experience, any shifts in your experience of yourself or shift of the upset you were working with, knowing you have tapped into your own deep intuitive wisdom.