Resourcing, Reframing, and Rebuilding
The fires in northern California have burned out now; the winter rains have started. Thousands of people are beginning to rebuild their homes, their businesses, their lives. As everyone tries to rebuild when a natural disaster upheavals life as we knew it. As anyone tries to rebuild from a more personal crisis like a health emergency or financial catastrophe.
Destruction and rebuilding are so much a part of the human experience. We’re not likely to avoid that in our lifetime. Below are five factors researchers have found that contribute to how well people do that rebuilding. They don’t happen all at once; they take time. They make a big difference.
1. Awareness and acceptance of reality
This happened. Never should have. Not fair. The consequences are devastating and recovery could take years. We wake up to “bad things happen to good people.” That we cannot do enough or be good enough to protect ourselves nor our loved one from the possibility, even the likelihood, of tragedy and trouble.
Researchers have found that it can be particularly difficult for Americans to not only have their lives blown apart by the truly awful, but to have their world view of how the world is supposed to work blown apart – if you work hard enough and follow the rules and take care to take care, you should be able to avoid or prevent bad things happening to you or your loved ones, and that’s not what’s true.
Mindfulness and self-compassion practices, offered many times in these posts, help us hold whatever tragedy we are dealing with in a larger, longer-term perspective.
Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. – William James, founder of American psychology
2. Resourcing with People
1) Reaching out to people as refuge; resources of safety and protection. People who love us, care about us, believe in our resilience and recovery and growth. But who don’t need anything from us, don’t need us to be a certain way or move at a certain pace. They allow us and support us in being with whatever we need to be aware of, be with, and accept. We share our story; telling other people what has happened, how we are coping, feeling received, understood, supported in their listening. We don’t have to explain or defend anything.
2) Reaching out to people as resource: remembering with people previous moments when we have found courage in dark times, any previous moments of coping with something scary, difficult, potentially overwhelming. We share our moments of previous courage, faith, determination, no matter how small, no matter how different from what is happening now. Hearing the en-courage-ment from others that all the strengths and resources we need are already within us.
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, doing what we need to do, step-by-step, to recover and rebuild.
3. Resourcing with the positive.
It may seem completely counter-intuitive at first to try to find positive moments in the midst of a catastrophe, and we certainly don’t do that to avoid being with and having compassion for our fear, our grief, the agony of the experience.
But finding moments of respite, in a warm cup of coffee, in the smile of a friend, in playing with a puppy, a sunny blue sky, the sound of a bird, a card from a friend, a walk in a park give us space to breathe and re-group so we can fight the good fight again. These temporary respites from unbearable uncertainty, fear, grief are essential to shift the functioning of the brain out of contraction, reactivity and rumination, into possibilities and a larger perspective. Finding a space to breathe and re-group in the midst of a very difficult effort.
4. Finding the silver lining
Never to be pie in the sky or Pollyana, never to minimize or push away the real misery and confusion or impact of the crisis event. We are aware, we accept, we are resourcing. But to find any positive meaning in the catastrophe at all – reconnecting with people we had lost touch with or become estranged from, experiencing the powerful healing of people showing up to help, learning valuable lessons about ourselves and the world we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. To pro-actively look for the gift in the mistake, to turn a regrettable moment into a teachable moment. This begins to re-frame the meaning of the entire event as not one catastrophic black hole but as human experience that we can learn from and recover from.
5. Coherent narrative
Step 4 is a springboard for the much larger step 5 of Coherent Narrative. Over time reflecting and journaling about the entire event, the meaning of the entire event. When we can rewrite the story of what has happened, we re-write the story of ourselves. We let go of stories that are not helpful, skillful, resourceful, that keep us caught in feelings or the beliefs about the event that would block our resilience and our rebuilding.
This reflection places the entire event in a timeline of an entire lifetime. What happened, happened. But we see clearly, there was a “before,” there will also be an “after.” That is the preparation for the rebuilding.
Researchers have found that the brain processes experience very differently when writing about it than talking or thinking about it. The writing helps move our awareness into more of an observer role. We can reflect on our experiences without being so caught up in them.
Use these prompts for a written reflection:
This is what happened; these were the consequences.
Using practices of mindfulness and self-compassion to come to observer awareness and acceptance that allows us to relate to the event somewhat objectively rather than staying caught in any trauma response.
These are the resources, practices, tools and coping strategies I have used so far.
Honest awareness and acceptance, so no shame-blame. Also recovering strengths and resources we already have.
These are the resources, etc. I will use going forward.
Because there is always the potential for new growth and new learning and we want to pro-actively take advantage of those possibilities.
These are the lessons I am learning, the growth I am experiencing, the positive meanings I am finding.
This step takes time, and it IS the threshold of turning any trauma into post-traumatic growth, to move resilience beyond coping into new thriving and flourishing.
6. These are my options for going forward
All of the seeing clearly and choosing wisely above creates the inner platform for all of the outer rebuilding we need to do. Whatever that rebuilding might look like in concrete, practical terms – rebuilding an old home, moving with relatives into a new home, moving to a new city and starting completely over – this is the bouncing forward into new opportunities, new possibilities, new meaning and purpose, new sense of direction that helps us move into our new life.