Saturday, April 10, 2010

Resilience and post-traumatic growth

 Rutherford, NJ in spring by Lani

I came across an article by MJ Ryan on resilience which seems very timely, since a little more resilience can never hurt us. Ryan says that that the research of psychology professors Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun shows that not only do we have the ability to grow through the challenges of our life (which they call post-traumatic growth) but that "the benefits of doing so include improved relationships, new possibilities for our lives, a greater appreciation for life, a greater sense of personal strength, and spiritual development." That's really good news!

So how do we cultivate resilience? Ryan narrows her resilience factors down to 5 factors.
1. a commitment to finding meaning in what’s happening to you
2. a belief in your capacity to create a positive future
3. the willingness to grow
4. the choice to laugh
5. practicing gratitude

How can you put these into practice right now? Ryan says that if you are going through a change that you are struggling with, she always asks: "What could possibly be right about this?" If we think about challenges in this way, it is easier to find meaning and to grow from our experiences. She calls this “creative construing,” or the ability to assign a meaning to what we’re going through.

Ryan also suggests telling yourself a story that includes not just the past and the present but a possible future: "I know I am having challenges now, but in the future things will be easier." This will give us hope and something positive to work toward (things that I have found on my list of resilience strategies).

Ryan also says find as many ways and places to laugh as much as possible. Cultivate friends who laugh a lot!

Finally, to cultivate her strategy of gratitude, Ryan asks herself the question: "what in my life or myself can I be truly grateful for right now?" She's an author of books on gratitude, and she's been very impressed by gratitude's power to focus us on what is right, good, and whole in our lives. This is of course about what we honestly appreciate, not what we think we should feel gratitude for.

Ryan also tells a story of a 17-year-old named Lauren, who had lived in 12 different foster homes since she was 8. When she moved from place to place, her possessions fit in one plastic trash bag. She was about to “age out” of the California foster system, with no place to live, no money, no job. But she was happy nonetheless. When she was 10, she lived with Mommy Jean. Mommy Jean gave Lauren a rock and told her to carry it always in her pocket. Each time she felt it, she was to think of something she was grateful for. Every day since then, Lauren has been touching that rock and finding things to be grateful for.

Ryan says that if she could, she would hand us all a little pebble right now. Not only to help us practice gratitude but to remind us that, like Lauren, we can survive the challenges that life sends our way.

I don't know about you, but for me, this little article is a wonderful reminder, and I'll just go find a pebble for my pocket!

A painting in the Gerity home, in Rutherford, NJ


Anonymous said...

For many it's not that they don't want to or haven't tried, they just can't.

Lani Gerity said...

Dear Anonymous,
Some people believe they can't and that turns out to be the same thing but beliefs are just beliefs. We become very attached to our stories about what we should do or what we can't do and we are often imprisoned by these stories.

Here's to looking for the doorways to greater freedom!