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The Resilience Workbook

The Resilience Workbook

The Resilience Workbook

INTRO

My Resilience Handbook: Powerful Practices to Bounce Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, even Disaster, will be published by New World Library in September 2018.

The Resilience Workbook: Essential Skills to Recover from Stress, Trauma, and Adversity by Glenn Schiraldi, PhD, was released by New Harbinger Publications in November 2017.

The two books are different: Dr. Schiraldi’s background is military – graduate of West Point and faculty for stress management for the Pentagon – and academic – outstanding teacher at the University of Maryland; mine is clinical – 25 years in the “trenches” of psychotherapy.  Dr. Schiraldi’s book has a more masculine, leadership, independence-oriented, cognitive top-down focus and mine will have a more feminine, relational, affiliative, intuitive, bottom-up focus.

Still, the Resilience Workbook is an excellent offering of a step-by-step approach to help you “bounce back from setbacks, stay calm under pressure, manage distressing emotions, build self-esteem and inner strength, thrive in any difficult situation” and I do recommend it.  Many of the exercises are right on and you will benefit if you practice them “little and often,” which is how the brain learns best.

May the resources offered here be useful to you and yours.

REFLECTIONS

I heartily agree with Dr. Schiraldi’s definition of resilience: “the ability to recover from difficult experiences – such as the death of a loved one, a job loss, trauma or a serious illness. It’s the strengthen of body, mind, and character that enables people to respond well to adversity.  In short, resilience is the cornerstone of good mental health and wellness.”

And the general orientation of the workbook: that internal strengths and coping mechanisms better predict who will triumph over adversity than the external circumstances themselves. Somewhat unusually in a self-help book of this nature, Dr. Schiraldi suggests the reader have themselves screened for trauma before beginning to use the workbook.  Dr. Schiraldi has worked extensively with military personnel and first responders, so he certainly knows the risks.

[He also suggests developing independence from family dysfunction, even to move at least 90 miles away to gain relief.  While being embedded in dysfunctional family dynamics can be as derailing of resilience as cutting off connection and lacking support, in The Resilience Handbook I will suggest tools of Relational Intelligence to help readers foster a healthy interdependence – healthy connection and healthy limits and boundaries.]

Dr. Schiraldi calls the pre-frontal cortex the CEO of the brain, as I call it the CEO of resilience. We also agree that tools to strengthen the capacities of resilience in the brain allow the reader to stay in what Dr. Schiraldi calls the resilience zone, what I call the range of resilience, and what trauma therapists call the window of tolerance.  We agree on the importance of tracking – conscious awareness of one’s experience, and beginning with body-based somatic tools to create a sense of safety and calm in the brain to support more cognitive exercises.

Dr. Schiraldi divides the workbook into three parts:  Resilience Basics, Spiraling Upward: Growing Happiness and Positivity, and Thriving: Peak Functioning and Adaptive Coping. He offers tools from many well-known, well-respected modalities: mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindful self-compassion, HeartMath, positive psychology, cognitive restructuring, EMDR.

He offers these tools to strengthen pre-occurrence preparedness as well as post-exposure recovery.  Among them:

* Sense of autonomy (having appropriate separation or independence from family dysfunction

* Calm under pressure (equanimity, the ability to regulate stress levels)

* Rational thought process

* Self-esteem

* Optimism

* Happiness and emotional intelligence

* Meaning and purpose

* Humor

* Altruism, love and compassion

* Character, integrity, and moral strength

* Curiosity

* Balance (engagement in a wide range of activities)

* Sociability and social competence – getting along, using bonding skills, being willing to seek out and commit to relationships, enjoying interdependence

* Adaptability – having persistence, confidence, and flexibility; accepting what can’t be controlled; using creative problem-solving skills and active coping strategies

* Intrinsic religious faith

* A long view of suffering

* Good health habits

Each topic of The Resilience Workbook is carefully chosen, the definitions are clear and the benefits of the tools validated by research. Dr. Schiraldi offers tools from many well-respected modalities; every tool is presently clearly with very specific guidelines. The book is comprehensive and will be genuinely useful. His care and concern for the reader’s welfare is evident throughout.

POETRY AND QUOTES TO INSPIRE

[all quotes from Glenn Schiraldi, The Resilience Workbook, unless otherwise noted]

You know how well the roof has been built only when the rains come.

  • African proverb

*****

Recent findings about the brain give us great hope for improving resilience. The brain is plastic.  This means that it changes structure and function in response to new experiences throughout an individual’s lifespan in ways that can improve resilience.  New neurons can grow in the hippocampus and other key areas, replacing old one or those damaged by stress.  Neurons can link together, forging new neural pathways as we learn adaptive coping skills. The more we practice these skills, the stronger and more efficient these neural connections become.  (Conversely, neural connections can deteriorate with discuss, and practicing poor coping skills reinforces maladaptive pathways.)

*****

Each time we bring a painful memory into complete awareness, the brain has a chance to change it. Thus, a survivor of a difficult divorce tells his or her story to a safe and respectful listener, and this enable the brain to incorporate feelings of safety and respect into the painful memory.  If that survivor reduces arousal while telling the story, then calmness and comfort might begin to replace agitation.

An even better strategy: acknowledge the pain and actively move toward it.  Rather than battling the pain (“I can’t stand this; I need a drink”), or avoiding it in passive resignation, we turn toward the pain with compassion and acceptance.  We allow ourselves to stay in contact with distressing emotions, thoughts, memories, and bodily sensations long enough to process them.  This helps to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and general distress.

+++++

Research has clearly shown that old emotional wounds don’t necessarily heal with time.  Often we focus on the smoke (the psychological, medical, or functional symptoms) without addressing the flame (the underlying emotional wounds).  Recognizing the relationship between childhood trauma and suffering in adulthood offers people a great opportunity to heal.

+++++

Happiness is more than fleeting emotions that result, say, from getting everything you wanted for your birthday.  Rather, happiness reflects a deeper, more enduring inner condition.  It is the ability to inwardly enjoy life even amidst outer turmoil.  It is the capacity to savor life’s beauty and to say, with Winslow Homer, “All is lovely outside my house and inside my house and myself.”

 

+++++

 

The broaden and build theory of leading positive psychology researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson explains how happiness helps us flourish.  Pleasant emotions expand our view of adversity, helping us see a broader range of coping options.  They also motivate us to act on new coping options.  Applying a broader range of coping options builds new neural pathways in the brain – and a larger coping repertoire for future adversity.  The mechanism may be related to brain biochemistry.  Pleasant emotions cause the brain to secrete neurotransmitters such as dopamine and opioids.  These chemicals foster one’s tendency to approach and solve problems rather than avoid the, and reinforce or reward coping efforts with more positive feelings.  An upward spiral is created whereby positive emotions lead to more effective coping, which increases satisfaction levels and the openness to tackle more challenges.

++++++

Around the world, self-esteem is the strongest predictor of happiness, even in countries where individualism is discouraged, such as Korea and Singapore. Self-esteem – being quietly glad to be yourself, feeling securely anchored during the storms of life, knowing that difficult times do not change your basic inner worth. – is linked to increased persistence and active problem solving in the face of setbacks.   In other words, feeling worthwhile motivates us to try our best and persevere under pressure. Having self-esteem protects people from developing depression in highly stressful times.

Self-esteem is a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. Difficult experiences, such as living with constant criticism, can change the way we view ourselves.  Lacking the secure anchor of self-esteem is painful.  Restoring a wholesome sense of identity and self-esteem, then, is an important part of the healing process. Realistic suggests that we are truthfully aware of our strengths and weakness. Appreciative implies that we have an overall positive regard or feeling about our self – a quiet gladness to be who we are, despite our imperfections.

Wholesome self-esteem partners with wholesome humility.  A person who feels humility recognizes that all people have worth, unique strengths, different viewpoints shaped by life experience and something valuable to contribute.  To be humble is to recognize that we can learn from everyone, and that there will always be people who are more advance than we are in certain areas.  Life self-esteem, humility is grounded in trust.  Humble people recognize and celebrate their strengths without arrogance or boasting, and the strengths of others while recognizing limitations.  Humility readies us to learn from and cooperate with others.

+++++

Living up to our moral capacity breeds happiness, helping us feel inwardly more peaceful and good about ourselves.  Recall that feelings such as peace and contentment are related to happiness, and that happiness is linked to resilience.  Happy people behave in ways that promote peace of conscience and minimize regrets.  They live with integrity, meaning that the way they live accords with their highest values.  Just as structural integrity means that something does not break or tear easily, so does more integrity help us withstand adversity.  Living with integrity lest us look back on our lives with satisfaction – and enjoy our memories again.

+++++

A United States Military Academy study surveyed twelve thousand Army officers who ranked twenty-three strengths of effective leaders. The strengths ranked at the bottom were related to technical and tactical expertise.  Among the top strengths were care and concern for others, which almost 90 percent of the officers viewed as necessary.

+++++

Good leadership is servant leadership.  Good leaders create a supportive climate in which people feel secure enough to flourish.  They build people up, helping them to be confident to do their best work without fear of failing.  The servant leader cares more about his or her people than personal advancement.  Curiously, such leadership inspires loyalty and excellence in those who are led.

+++++

Peak performers look deeply and with curiosity at the challenges before them, while tapping resources within and outside of themselves.  They prepare for challenges by filling their minds with information, seeking input from many others, learning needed skills, and gaining real-life experience.  They make intelligent plans and persist when the going gets tough.

Peak performers have efficient habits that help them focus, reduce distractions, preserve energy, and minimize time wasting.  These habits include working during their most productive times of the day and dressing simply or in the same way each day.  They get plenty of sleep, which pays off in more productivity the next day.  They use an efficient retrieval system, such as filing cabinets, to reduce time wasted in searching for what they need.  They turn off passive, mentally fatiguing entertainment, such as TV and computer games.  They create a workplace that is free of unwanted distractions, and they tend not to divide their focus by multitasking.

+++++

The more you practice resilience skills, the more developed the brain’s neural pathways related to resilience become, and the more you can access these skills under pressure. Conversely, with disuse, these pathways can fade.  That’s why it’s important to remember and practice your resilience skills.

STORIES TO LEARN FROM

A teacher was showing a group of children how to skip.  Four of the children just couldn’t get the hang of it, and three of them got very upset or gave up.  The fourth child, Jimmy, kept watching and trying without the slightest embarrassment or self-consciousness.  This was a conversation afterwards:

Teacher: Do you like to skip?

Jimmy:    Yes, but can’t do it very good.

T: Well, did you wish they’d stop skipping and do something you were better at?

J: No, because I want to learn how.

T: Do you feel bad because you can’t skip?

J: No.

T: Why not?

J: Because I’m better at other things.

T: Like what?

J: Mommy says I’m good at painting pictures.

T:  I see.

J: And I’m especially good at keeping my baby brother happy.

T: I see, Jimmy. Thank you for answering my questions.

J: That’s all right.  Don’t worry. Someday I’m going to be good at skipping, too.

+++++

A newspaper some years ago reported this story of altruism and gratitude:

The District of Columbia police auctioned off about 100 unclaimed bicycles Friday.  “One dollar,” said an 11-year old boy as the bidding opened on the first bike.  The bidding, however, went much higher. ”One dollar,” the boy repeated hopefully each time another bike came up.

The auctioneer, who had been auctioning stolen or lost bikes for 43 years, noticed that the boy’s hopes seemed to soar higher whenever a racer-type bicycle was put up.

Then there was just one racer left.  The bidding went to eight dollars.  “Sold to that boy over there for nine dollars!” said the auctioneer.  He took eight dollars form his own pocket and asked the boy for his dollar.  The youngster turned it over in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – took his bike, and started to leave.  But he went only a few feet.  Carefully parking his new possession, he went back, gratefully threw his arms around the auctioneer’s neck, and cried.

+++++

 

Dr. Ellen Kirshman describes an active stance toward troubling emotions, as well as a model for dealing with them: act during the crisis, then acknowledge and process distressing feelings.  She describes a water rescue training in a storm, during which a boat capsized. Afterward, one emotionally courageous firefighter said to has assembled comrades, “I don’t know about you guys, but I thought I was going t die out there today and I doubt I’m the only one who felt that way.” One by one crewmembers opened up, expressing their fears of never seeing their family again and of going out on the water again, anger at dying so young, and sadness for an incomplete life.

Acknowledging these feelings brought this team together. The next day everyone went out again on the water to train. Until they had talked, each person felt isolated.  Realizing that they were all in the same boat emotionally actually helped them move past their feelings and prepare for their training.  Conversely, many highly trained and capable emergency service providers are engaged at work in their physical tasks, but then disengage from their feelings when they come home, shutting own or burying their emotions.

 

EXERCISES

WRITING WHAT’S WRONG

Undisclosed wounds that are not processed and expressed verbally often intrude painfully into awareness and are expressed in bodily and psychological symptoms, including nightmares.  They also compete with attentional resources, interfering with daily functioning.  Slowing down to put painful memories into words helps the brain organize, neutralize, complete, and settle them. People who write about their troubling memories often report that they understand them better and are les troubled by them, finding it easier to move on. The process is like opening a bullet wound in order to help it drain ad heal.  People realize that they can express their feelings, even with tears, and then return to a stronger “normal.” People who confide in writing show better physical and psychological health.  They show less depression, anxiety, and stress and experience greater self-esteem, stronger immunity, and fewer illnesses.

Tips:

  1.  Find a neutral place to write where you won’t make unwanted associations.  Promise you will write for a minimum of fifteen minutes a day for at least three or four consecutive days.  Ideally, you should write about something you have not talked about with others in detail.  Write continuously, and don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
  2. Use a rich range of emotions, both negative and positive, as you write.  Naming emotions calms the amygdala.
  3. Try to understand why you feel as you do.  Add insights words: realize, know, understand, and causal words – reason, because – to your writing, which encourage reflective thinking.
  4. It is good to write about adversities that you can’t control.  This is especially true if you can accept having imperfect control.
  5. If you feel distressed after writing, ease up.  Approach the event gradually or write about something less triggering.  Use the strategies you have learned: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, hand on the heart can help you reduce your stress.
  6. On the fourth day, explore in your wring how you have benefited our could still benefit from the adversity. What good can come out of this experience?  What lessons have you learned?  What advice would you give an imaginary friend dealing with a similar adversity.  Were there bright spots in the darkness?  Did you somehow persevere and show certain strengths?  Did you or others demonstrate nobility of character?  Could the event signal a new beginning?

THE INNER DIALOGUE OF SELF-ESTEEM

1) Work with this list of positive statements to antidote negative self-talk:

  1. I accept myself because I realize that I am more than my current skill levels, shortcoming, or any other externals.
  2. I can criticize my own behavior without questioning my worth as a human being.
  3. I am generally capable of living well, and of applying the time, effort, patience, training, and assistance needed to do so.
  4. I enjoy new challenges and don’t get upset when things do go well right off the bat.
  5. I am aware of my strengths and respect them.
  6. I can laugh at some of the ridiculous things I do sometimes.
  7. I like myself without having to compare myself with others.
  8. I can make a difference in people’s lives by what I contribute.
  9. I think well of myself.  This is good.
  10. I notice and enjoy each sign of achievement or progress, no matter how insignificant it may seem to me or to others.

2) Sit in a quiet place.  Close your eyes if you wish.  Breathe deeply, calmly for a few breaths.  Relax your body as deeply and as completely as possible.  Prepare yourself for and expect, a pleasant experience.

3) Open your eyes long enough to read the first statement.  Then close your eyes and concentrate on that statement.  Repeat it to yourself three times slowly, allowing yourself to feel as though that statement are essentially accurate.  You might wish to imagine yourself in a situation actually thinking and believing the statement.  Use all your senses to experience the situation.

4) Don’t worry if a statement doesn’t seem to apply to you yet.  Just think of this as patient practice in creating a new mental habit.  Don’t allow negative or pessimistic thought to distract you or undermine your progress.  Accept whatever actually happens, without demanding perfection.  If a statement still does not feel right, bypass it, and return to it later.  Or modify it so that it does feel right, keeping it positive.

5)  Repeat step 3 for each statement.

6) Repeat this activity daily for at least three days.  [LG:  I suggest repeating the exercise every day for 30 days.  “Little and often.”]

  1. Each day, after doing this activity, notice how you feel. With practice, these thoughts may begin to feel more and more comfortable, like becoming trusted friends.

FINDING MEANING IN ADVERSITY

Identify a current problem, such as conflict, the end of a relationship, having too much to do, or a troubled family member, a move, major life changes, the illness or death of a love one, or your own illness.  Take time to ponder and reflect on these questions in writing:

  1. Which of your strengths does this situation require?
  2. What inner strengths have kept you from suffering more that you might have?
  3. what has kept you going?
  4. How might this situation prepare you for adversity in the future?
  5. What might you learn from this experience?
  6. How could this problem change your life in a positive way?
  7. How might you benefit from this situation in the long term?
  8. How might others benefit in the long term as a result of this situation or the things you’ve suffered.

POSITIVITY RESONANCE

Positivity resonance refers to fleeing moments of warm, mutual connection with others in which we feel safe and good.  PR might be a simple smile and nod as you walk by and silently wish someone a good day.  It might be stopping to talk with someone, giving full presence in which eyes and hearts meet (not texting, wandering thoughts, or looking around.)  Perhaps it is sharing playful amusement or kind interest with another.  The moments are unhurried.  Bodies are relaxed and turned toward each other, with soft eyes and open hearts.

  1. Consider the countless exchanges that you have each day with others.  Perhaps they occur with people that you pass by or offer only distracted attention.
  2. Identify five people, and consider how you might turn brief moments with them into moments of PR.  Then, carry out your plan, making one PR connection per day.  Notice how your actions impact you and the other people. Journal about your experiences if you wish.

CONVERSATION WITH A KIND MORAL AUTHORITY

[This exercise is very similar to the Compassionate Friend exercise in the Mindful Self-Compassion protocol.]
  1. Find a quiet place to relax, clear your mind, and focus your thoughts.  Think of an experience – something that you did or failed to do – that has deeply troubled you.
  2. Imagine yourself in the presence of a kind moral authority who cares deeply for you, is forgiving, and wants only what’s best for you.  This might be a kindly relative, best friend, spiritual guide, leader, coach, God, or other higher power.  The kind moral authority does not want you to suffer anymore but only desires your happiness.  Pause to sense in your body a growing sense of ease and safety in the presence of this kind moral authority.
  3. Share your experience with this kind moral authority.  Describe what you’ve done – how you’ve been harmed by the experience.  You might recount the self-loathing, shame, sadness, and aggression you’ve experienced and the other ways that your life has changed due to the hurt you caused.  Imagine the kind moral authority holding your pain with great compassion.
  4. Sense the kindness and compassion emanating from the kind moral authority.  Let your body feel this.  On each out-breath, release the pain to the kind moral authority.  On the in-breath, absorb the kindness and compassion and feel them filling your body.
  5. Listen.  What does the kind moral authority want to tell you?  Might the kind moral authority introduce the possibility of forgiveness, perhaps shifting even fair blame to the hope of reparation, compassion, and wholeness?  Perhaps you hear reassurance that you are worthwhile, loved, or have a purpose.
  6. You might conclude by imaging this loving figure embracing you or touching your shoulder with understanding and love.

 

RESOURCES

The Resilience Workbook:  Essential Skills to Recover from Stress, Trauma, and Adversity by Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD.  2017, New Harbinger Publications.

Very clear, fairly comprehensive, exercises very specific and useful.  Throughout, Dr. Schiraldi offers links to additional tools and resources on the book’s website:www.newharbinger.com/39409. The recommended resources and references are extensive and helpful.

Dr. Schiraldi has also written:

The Anger Management Sourcebook.  2002, McGraw-Hill.

10 Simple Solutions for Building Self-Esteem. 2007, New Harbinger.

The Self-Esteem Workbook.  2016, New Harbinger.

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: a Guide to Healing, Recovery and Growth. 2016, McGraw-Hill.

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