May 16, 2011

Building Hopeful Resiliency – Trust Lessons

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, resiliency consists of the following: a tendency to rebound, an ability to return to a natural physical state, and the power of recovery. Hopeful resiliency involves a capacity for sustaining hope in times of stress and uncertainty. An individual who is resilient has the ability to bounce back from a crisis as well as a tendency to maintain emotional equilibrium in the midst of chaos.

There are many types of survival. Physical survival has been a preoccupation for most of human history. However, in this age of anxiety, you may be finding yourself far more focused on emotional survival. If you are older, have struggled with substance abuse, or have battled a mental illness, you may be most concerned with sustaining a sound mind. Perhaps you are especially worried about maintaining a particular lifestyle (social or economic survival). Understanding your particular needs is crucial.

Beyond individual needs and styles, there are significant coping differences that result from cultural factors. In the West, there is a greater focus on direct problem solving, or primary control processes. In the East, there is a preference for secondary control processes, which involve making subtle changes in behaviour to indirectly impact the outcome of events. For many individuals, spiritual beliefs play a major role in daily confrontations with stressful events.

One of the important parts of hopeful resilience is a survival –based trust. Individuals who believe others can and will help them are more likely to solicit and receive comfort and support. By survival-based trust, we mean a particular form of trust – a belief in the willingness and capacity of others to provide help during stressful times.

The first five or six years of life can be critical for the development of survival-based trust. Maybe you felt abandoned or betrayed as a child and now find it difficult to trust others. Can you really go back and shore up your resiliency?

If your resiliency is being hampered by trust issues, keep the following five Rs in mind:
  • Respect
  • Research
  • Risk
  • Receptiveness
  • Repetition
First, respect your individuality. Some people are genetically predisposed to be more outgoing and assertive than others. Extroverts may do better with a larger network of relationships that are moderate in emotional intensity. Introverts can make up for their typically smaller circle of friends by cultivating more intense bonds.

You will not look for something unless you believe in its existence. Those who have frequently been let down by others may cease to believe that there is still goodness in the world. If you have had disappointing relationships, do a little social experiment. Consider it your job to research and find examples of what writer Anne Herbert called “random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Watch a “feel-good” movie or read a heart warming tale from a compilation such as the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Another great collection of inspiring personalities can be found in Hope Dies Last by Studs Terkel. If you are religiously or spiritually inclined, consider doing some research on the lives of saints, prophets, or humanists.

Some risk might be necessary to lead a hopeful life. The philosopher Gabriel Marcel wrote that “openness allows hope to spread”. How do you achieve an effective degree of openness? Think of your task in terms of boundary making. The invisible yet palpable emotional barriers that exist between individuals are often referred to as boundaries. Your goals in this area should revolve around the concepts of symmetry and degree of relatedness. To ensure symmetry, match your level of disclosure and commitment to others’ capacities for sharing and intimacy. Meet them halfway, in other words. If you go less than halfway, the person who is more open might experience you as distant. However, if you go more than halfway, the person, who is more reticent, might view you as intrusive.

You must also consider the nature of your relationship with the other person. Are you trying to connect with a friend, a lover, a parent, or a child? Recall the advice of Confucious, who proposed guidelines for maintaining different kinds of relationships. Also consider the wisdom offered in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, when Andrei tells his friend Pierre, “You can’t everywhere and at all times say everything that is on your mind.”

It is important to repeat the research and risk steps. Don’t give up if you are disappointed at the outset. Keep on trying, and you will discover that there are kind and generous individuals in the world who are willing to listen and even provide direct assistance. There are sources of goodness in the world, and the more you look, the more you will find.

Regaining trust takes time. We speak of building and earning trust for a reason: It doesn’t happen overnight. You need patience and perseverance to build hope.

"Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby." – Ruth E. Renkel

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