Resilience in Tough Times

Resilience: How do we manage ourselves when our world is upside down?

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has predicated terms like “unprecedented”, “never before experienced”, extraordinary”, “unimaginable”, “unmatched” and “very challenging”, and there is certainly unanimous agreement that it is a changing landscape on a daily basis and it appears to be completely unpredictable with uncertainty about how long this virus will take to play out not only in terms of disruption to individual’s lives, but also how long it might take for businesses to recover.

What is Resilience?

Life doesn’t come with a manual or a booklet termed “Trouble-shooting” to show us how to handles life’s circumstances especially significant events like a death, serious illness, financial hardship or relationship breakdown. These events (big or small) impact people differently. There are a myriad of thoughts and feelings that surround such situations and overall, people seem to adapt reasonably well. That’s called resilience.

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress”.

Interestingly, these adverse kinds of events not only allow us the opportunity to bounce back, but to grow and develop. Such events don’t have to define you. Copig with such events and becoming more resilient can only help you through difficult circumstances, but also allow you to grow and improve.

Although it is not possible to control the health situation in our world or the economy for that matter, we can in fact, seek to control our own environment and build resilience in those domains of our life which we can command. How do we go about doing that? How do we build resilience? How do we become more bullet-proof as the world throws various curved balls at us?

In short, it’s like building a muscle. You have to feel the pain and the stress, but the muscle gets stronger as a result. You have to work at it though and it does take time.

Essentially there are four major areas of our life that we need to take charge of as a way of building our resources and our resilience. Let’s look at those four main building blocks for resilience.

1. Energy

Where do we get our energy from? You and I both know that if we don’t have energy for our day, then life is much more difficult than ordinarily it might be. For example, if you have a headache or cold, then typically, you don’t have the energy and enthusiasm for your day as you would when you are feeling healthy and well.

The research shows that we get energy from a number of sources and none of these are of a surprise to any of us. In fact, you simply need to read the press or listen to the media to get advice on any number of these areas. At times, the advice might be confusing, but there is little doubt that these are critical areas to be considered and if you are serious about resilience, you cannot afford to overlook them. In particular, they include the following:

(1) Diet and Healthy Eating
This comes as no surprise and clearly the evidence is strong that what we put in our mouth largely determines our overall health and well-being. The general rule of thumb is low carbohydrates and plenty of protein and keeping away from junk food.

Although alcohol sales have skyrocketed through this pandemic with people forced to stay home, it is important to watch your alcohol intake (and consumption of drugs). Try for an alcohol free day every second day or maybe for a few days in a row.

(2) Fitness
As the old saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. This is especially going to be critical during a period of partial or total lockdown where individuals will be restricted to their home setting. The basic formula is 30 minutes each day to be active and walking for instance is highly recommended.

How do you exercise though if you are confined to a limited space? Clearly there are ways that this can be done and needless to say, exercise is critical to helping us remain fit and healthy.

(3) Sleep
Again, this is not news, but the evidence is quite clear that if we want energy for our day, then we need to have adequate sleep and rest. I had an English teacher in secondary school who could exist on four hours of sleep a night, but those people are a rarity and most of us need at least 7 to 8 hours sleep.

As a general rule, there’s some solid evidence that suggests that turning off devices and screens an hour before bedtime is good practice.

How do you ensure therefore, that you get to bed in good time? What disciplines do you put in place to ensure that you get a good night’s rest?

(4) Relaxation
In this fast-paced world, it is critically important to have time out and have time away from work. In this period with the Coronavirus however, it may well be that many of us are being forced to look at how we use our relaxation now that the world has slowed and we are being forced to stay indoors and are not being consumed with the busyness of life with its many distractions.

(5) Mindfulness
Being still and reflecting is important downtime for each of us. Whether that is in the form of meditation, yoga, journaling or prayer or whether it just means that you stop and recall the things in life that you’re grateful for, this is an important activity which allows us to change gears and to endeavour to be present in the moment.

(6) Parent Training
Interestingly, the research shows that if we know how to be an effective parent (more or less), then this is a huge advantage in having energy for living. There is no doubt at all that being a parent can be fatiguing and exhausting in so many ways. Having some firm guidelines on how to be a parent and having some tools at your disposal helps to ease the constant demand of what parenting is all about.

Now that schools are closed and parents are being asked to engage in home schooling as well as the fact that parents are trying to work from home too, this going to bring about all sorts of issues and difficulties. Knowing how to be a good parent in so-called “normal” times is hard enough let alone in pandemic times.

As an aside, I wrote a book on this topic of parenting called “Growing Up Children: How to Get 5-12 Year Olds to Behave and Do As They’re Told” and followed it up with “Teenage Trouble Shooting: How to Stop Your Adolescent Driving You Crazy” (see Books at www.DrDarryl.com ).

2. Positive Mindset

As Dr Wayne Dyer once said, “As you think, so shall you be” or as Proverbs 4:23 states, “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life”.

It is a truism that everything begins with a thought and once you really understand what you think about is what actually expands, you need to start to be careful what you actually think about (…think about that for a moment!…).

In this day and age, when there is a good deal of negativity that surrounds us (not to mention the current COVID crisis), it is important to try to be positive rather than pessimistic; are you a cup half empty or cup half full person?

It was the Greek philosopher Epictetus, in the first century A.D. who said, “Man is disturbed not by events, but by the view he takes of them”. More recently, it was Dr Stephen Covey who put it in similar terms like, “It isn’t what happens to us that effects our behaviour, it’s the interpretation of what happens to us that effects our behaviour”.

A model for helping us with our thinking and allowing us to keep positive is what I call the ABCD of human behaviour. It goes like this.

In other words, once you know that you have started to feel badly (whether for example that might be feeling anxious or fearful, down or depressed, irritated or angry), you then know that in all likelihood, you have engaged in some faulty or irrational thinking. Rather than letting that thinking get out of hand or you continue to worry unnecessarily, you need to show the discipline of being able to turn your thoughts around so that you feel differently.

This does require a discipline because letting your thoughts run away with you and letting negative thoughts dominate you so that you become pessimistic or a “worry wart” does little to assist you and is not only destructive, but mentally draining. To stop this negative cycle, you have to replace those negative thoughts with more positive ones.

Because thoughts are hard to catch, it’s often best to write down your negatives and look at ways you might be able to turn them around or reverse them somehow. For example, instead of saying “I am stuck in my career”, you could perhaps write, “it is true that I am in a current job that I don’t enjoy, but I can look at ways to move out of this role perhaps by using a mentor or coach or perhaps by gaining some additional skills or qualifications, but no one is holding me in this job against my will, so I can do something about it to start to improve my situation.” Then when you focus on this more positive statement, rather than your initial automatic negative thoughts, you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and you feel more optimistic and more hopeful.

Of course, this might be easier said than done and if you want more information on how to do this then I can refer you to my book titled, “Stopping Your Self-sabotage: Steps to Increase your Self-confidence” (See https://howtostopselfsabotage.com )

3. Communication and Relationships

It was one of the founding forefathers of psychology in William James who once wrote, “The greatest need of every human being is the need for appreciation”.

Interestingly enough, research by Prof Martin Seligman and his associates revealed that companies that flourished and did well economically were those where positive communication was obvious. In fact, they devised something called the “Losada Ratio” where it was calculated that the companies that were doing well financially had a ratio of 3 to 1 of positive comments to negative comments particularly in relation to their business meetings and communications.

At a personal level though, a ratio of 3 to 1 within a marriage or permanent relationship is not sufficient to maintain such a relationship and instead, the ratio for a strong and loving marriage or a relationship is 5 to 1.

As Tony Robbins once said, “The quality of our life is determined by the quality of our relationships”.

Now it is true that not everyone is in a marriage or permanent relationship, however, it is critical for you to understand that who you surround yourself with and the kinds of persons they are, has a profound impact on your demeanour and your overall temperament.

It is true that certain people in life are what we might loosely call “energy vampires” and these are not the kinds of people who enhance your life or improve it in any way. Instead, you need to surround yourself with people who are positive and with whom you can be yourself and those with whom you can count on when the going gets tough.

4. Purpose

The final area in terms of how to build resilience is all about knowing and understanding your purpose in life and is what Prof Martin Seligman calls the “meaningful life”. His research shows that the largest contributor to human happiness is belonging to and serving something bigger than ourselves.

Connecting with something external and using our highest strengths to serve something beyond our individual lives gives us meaning and purpose and a sense of well-being.

For some people, this might be volunteering to work with the Red Cross or helping out in a soup kitchen or assisting in a charity for homelessness. For others, it might mean attending church and serving their God and caring for others within their community.

Finding purpose in your life is not an easy journey and it is not one which is generally discovered quickly and instead, takes a good deal of thought and possibly conversation to allow things to crystallise in an individual’s life.

In summary, in a world that is now being turned upside down and where we are moving in unchartered waters, this is the time when we need to ensure that we are resilient as best we can be. The four building blocks above give us hints about how we might manage this.

Indeed, since many of us now need to work from home and some of us on the planet are in the lockdown, then this certainly might be the exact time when we can stop and reflect because our world has stopped around us and forced us to do the same, and we can take stock of our lives and where we are heading and how we can build resilience to get there.

How to be Happy in Life: A Longitudinal Study over 75 Years

Longitudinal studies are rare, especially those that span 75 years. So, what does a longitudinal study across 75 years tell us about how to lead a good life and be successful in life? What secrets did such a study reveal about a satisfying life?

The popular press would have us believe that it is all about becoming rich, living in the best house and driving the best car. It is about affluence and wealth. It’s about luxury holidays and dining in 5 star restaurants and hotels. But is it really?

This study is reported by Dr Robert Waldinger who is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development (see his TED Talk). He is currently the fourth Director of this project across almost four score years. The study began in 1938 where two groups of boys were studied from the Boston area.

One group were Sophomores (ie., 10thgrade in secondary school) from Harvard College and the other group were boys from a poor and disadvantaged area in Boston who lived in tenement housing with no hot or cold running water. Two very distinct groups.

Since the beginning of the study, these males have been interviewed every two years along with a range of assessments including medical reports, blood samples, brain scans, interviews with parents, and questionnaires. Once they moved into adulthood, the assessments also included videoing their relationship with their wives, as well as interviews with their children.

The study began with 724 men. Sixty are still alive and in their 90s. The research found that while some developed addictions such as alcoholism or developed mental health issues such as schizophrenia, others climbed the social ladder to the top. One in fact, was a US President.

How did some manage to struggle in life while others seemed to be very successful? What were the crucial factors for a good life?

The results were clear.

Firstly, it was discovered that healthy connections are positive for us as individuals. In contrast, loneliness creates a toxic environment where people are less happy, health declines earlier in mid-life, brain functioning deteriorates earlier and these people also live shorter lives. Within the USA at least, 1 in 5 persons report being lonely. What does that do for the health of a nation?

Secondly, it is not just about having friends or being in a committed relationship, it is about the quality of those close relationships. Living in a connected warm relationship is both positive and is protective. On the other hand, living in the midst of conflict such as a poor marriage, is bad for our health and is actually worse than getting divorced.

Interestingly, at age 50 years, the greatest predictor of health and satisfaction was those who were engaged in a positive relationship. Those most healthy in their 80s, were those most satisfied in their relationship in their 50s.

Thirdly, the research found that good, positive relationships not only protect our bodies, but also protect our brains. In other words, having secure and attached relationships where you can count on another person in times of need, when the going got tough, the other was there to support and care meant that our brain functioning in our 80s was significantly healthier. Those individuals who were in poor relationships had earlier memory decline.

So, what’s the message?

In an age where we want a quick fix to a happy and satisfying life and where there is the myth that it’s all about wealth and riches, fame and fortune, nothing is further from the truth.

Instead, a satisfying and healthy life is about positive relationships with family, friends and community.There is no quick fix or silver bullet. Relationships take time, effort and are hard work. Good relationships though are the answer to a good life.

The obvious next question then, is how do we create positive relationships with our spouse, friends or community?

With a spouse, it is about communicating which means listening to each other and making time to do so. It is about fighting fair and being able to have “crucial” conversations. This all means the television goes off or the smartphone is put away. What it also means is finding things to do together and maybe changing it up somewhat and trying out new things together. This might look like trying a new restaurant or place to eat, going to the movies together, enrolling for a course together or exploring a new holiday destination.

With friends, it is the same principle. It is about taking the trouble to care and be supportive. With the community, it is about giving which might suggest volunteering or helping out at the local sports club or at church or being involved with a community activity or charity.

It is all about connection – and doing so in a positive way.

The good news though is that none of this is beyond any of us.

Gaslighting: The art of making you feel like you are losing it

Origins of the Term 

Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 Film

“Gaslighting” is a term that has nothing to do with how we used to light our street corners and our homes. Nothing of the sort. Instead, the term originates from the play by Patrick Hamilton in 1938 called “Gas Light” together with the film adaptations in 1940 and 1944 which demonstrated the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by her husband. In the story, the husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of the environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she pointed out those changes.

The Scenario

As Ruth Ostrow recently reported in an article titled “Sanity Stealers” in “The Australian” on Friday, 26th January, 2018 (page 14), her situation went like this. She said, …”a recent experience really distressed me. It involved someone who was in the wrong. When I caught her out, instead of apologising, she somehow convinced me that I was to blame. She relayed events differently to what I had remembered, to the point I questioned my own sanity – and she accused me of creating a drama because I was feeling so guilty about my own bad behaviour. Hugh? I was so confused and kept going over events in my mind until I became convinced that I had remembered exactly what happened, which included catching her red-handed in an act of betrayal. Why had I ever doubted the facts for one minute?” Ostrow goes on to say that she had fallen for a deflective technique called gaslighting.

What is Gaslighting?

So what is it exactly? It’s the manipulative behaviour or technique of one person to make the other question their own reality and their intuition and then doubt themselves so that they become more dependent on the “gaslighter”.

The ultimate goal is for you to second-guess the following:

  • your choices (“Maybe I was wrong after-all”; “Maybe it was my fault”; Maybe I am to blame”),
  • your perceptions or interpretations (“Maybe I didn’t see it properly or maybe I did miss something”; “Maybe my memory is just not as good as it used to be”), and
  • your sanity (“Maybe I’m just going nuts”; “Maybe I really am just losing it”)

Doubting yourself in this way only serves to make you more dependent on the abuser. It’s a technique used by abusers, narcissists, dictators, con-artists, bullies, and cult leaders who all seek to gain control over you.

Sound familiar? Ever doubted yourself with someone in particular? Of course, we all have doubts at times, but sometimes there is a specific person who always makes us feel like we need to second guess ourselves.

For example, in some abusive relationships, spouses may flatly deny that they have been violent or lie about what happened. In parent-child relationships, especially where there is drug abuse or mental health issues such as personality disorders, then the parent might use gaslighting to keep the child quiet about the abuse or addiction. Where a child is emotionally, sexually or physically abused, the adult might use gaslighting to ensure that the child does not say anything to outsiders. In cases where the parents have had a nasty separation or divorce, one parent can use gaslighting to portray the other parent as “hopeless”, “irresponsible”, “immature” and a “total idiot” to the child, in order to get the child to side with the one parent against the other. In the work situation, you could have a manager who micro-manages for control, who changes their minds and then denies it, who lies about what happened or what occurred or who tries to align people against you.

Typically too, the gaslighting happens gradually in a relationship. It’s kind of like you get lured in and then in a sinister and insidious way, the gaslighting begins. The gaslighter may even initially camouflage the digs, put-downs and innuendos in humour. But they are barbs none the less. At first you may see it all as somewhat harmless or you reason that perhaps they are just having an “off day” or even that you explain it away by saying that “they’re stressed just now” or even “that’s just the way they are”. Occasionally too, you might be tempted to excuse them by saying that you’ll change them or that somehow “they’ll come round”. None of this is true however – they are gaslighters! Ironically too, your attempts to let them off the hook only means that you are gaslighting yourself. Think about that for a moment…

What are the Signs of Gaslighting?

In Psychology Today, Dr Stephanie Sarkis among others, writes that gaslighters generally use the following techniques:

  1. They tell blatant lies.

You know it’s a lie, but they say it so convincingly that it is kind of unsettling. If they can tell lies like this, what can you really believe about them? This keeps you unsteady and throws you off ‘centre’ and starts to tip your world upside down which is their goal.

  1. They constantly criticize you or find fault.

Nothing is ever good enough. They constantly chip away at your self-esteem and get you to really doubt yourself. No matter what you do, you didn’t do it properly or no matter what choice you made it was wrong. All this negativity adds up over time and lays the groundwork for the gaslighter to play with your perception of reality. This also means that the things in which you were once confident, you also start to doubt. “Maybe I never was really good at that after-all.”

  1. They blame you for their behaviour.

Yes, it’s all your fault. Every disagreement or argument in the end boils down to it being your fault. You’re to blame. You’re the one who created this situation. You find yourself constantly apologising in order to keep the peace and trying to gain some sort of harmony. For example, you point out a poor behaviour or their negative emotions and suddenly, you’re the one who is “dramatizing” it all or “over-reacting” or just being “overly sensitive”. You can’t win, and so in the end, you shut down. This is designed to keep you mute, and for you to question your own grip on things.

  1. They deny they ever said or did something, even if you have proof.

At some level, you know that they did something or that you heard something, but they out and out deny it. Their denials are such that as a reasonable person yourself, you start to doubt your reality. Maybe there was another interpretation to what you saw or heard. The more that this occurs, the more you question your reality and you start to accept theirs.

  1. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.

They know for example, that your work is important to you or your children are very important to you and they know of course, that your identify is fundamental to who you are. For work, they might state that you only have the job because the company feels sorry for you or they couldn’t find anyone else to do the job. In regards to your children, you say that you should never have had them. They tell you that you are a worthy person, but it’s just that you have this long list of negative traits and poor behaviours. They undermine who you are as a person.

  1. Their actions do not match their words.

These gaslighters do not have integrity as people, so you’ll see that their words and their actions are not congruent. Ultimately, don’t believe the words. Words are cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

  1. They throw in positive praise to confuse you.

While gaslighters are intent on bringing you down and undermining you, on occasion they will say something positive about what you did. Again, because you are a reasonable person, you cut them some slack saying, “Maybe they aren’t so bad after all”. But they are. This see-saw effect of negativity mixed with the occasional positivity only serves to keep you off-kilter again and unbalanced.

  1. They know that confusion weakens people

When things are unstable and you can’t count on consistency, you start to question everything. It’s like walking around on egg-shells. This is exactly the goal of the gaslighter. The more unsteady that you become, the more that you rely on them to feel “stable”.

  1. They project onto others.

Whatever they are accusing you of doing such as abusing alcohol or cheating on the relationship is a ploy to deflect attention away from them. They project onto so you find yourself so busy defending yourself that you get distracted from the gaslighter’s behaviour. The truth be known that whatever they are projecting onto you is probably a very good indication that they are dong exactly that ie., drinking way too much or having an affair.

  1. They try to align people against you.

As you’re aware of by now, gaslighters are master manipulators of their environment and they will find people who will stand by them no matter what and they use these people against you. Remember that they are constant liars so they will say things like, “This person knows that you’re hopeless too” or “This person knows that you’re not correct”. Now, it may well be that these people didn’t say anything of the kind, but nevertheless, this throws you and you’re not sure who to believe. If you don’t know who to trust anymore, then this can lead you straight back to the gaslighter.

  1. They tell you that everyone else is a liar.

By asserting that everyone else is a liar including family, friends, workmates or even the media, it threatens your reality. What’s the truth really? Because you are reasonable and genuine, you’ve never known anyone with the audacity to say such things, so maybe they are right. Maybe they do have a sense of the real “truth” after-all? So maybe you need to turn to them for the “correct” information – which of course, is not correct at all.

  1. They tell you and others that you’re crazy.

Finally, Dr Sarkis writes that this is a master technique because if the gaslighter can discredit you to the point of your sanity, then no-one is going to believe you in relation to the gaslighter’s poor, inconsistent, and inappropriate behaviour.

What are the Personal Signs that you’ve been Gaslighted?

According to psychoanalyst and author Dr Robert Stern who wrote “The Gaslight Effect“, there are some tell-tale signs for the individual caught up with a gaslighter:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. You start to question if you are too sensitive.
  3. You often feel confused and have a hard time making simple decisions.
  4. You find yourself constantly apologising.
  5. You can’t understand why you’re so unhappy.
  6. You often make excuses for your partner’s behaviour.
  7. You feel like you can’t do anything right.
  8. You often feel like you aren’t good enough for others.
  9. You have the sense that you used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person.
  10. You withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain things.

What to do?

Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re in such a relationship, then you are in danger emotionally and psychologically and you need to realise that such a relationship could impact you for some extended time (months or a few years) even if you manage to get out of it because of the significant effects on your mental health.

Step 1 is to make a stand for yourself and realise that you are your own best friend and that you owe it to yourself (if not to your children and family if you have any) that your partner is dysfunctional and unhealthy and that this is a toxic relationship. Call it for what it is. Never wait for them to “come to their senses” – it just won’t happen. They will stay in denial and they will never ever admit that they are gaslighting. So, give up on any awareness or confessions on their part.

Step 2 is to get out as quickly as you can and as safely as you can. It might mean that you don’t give any hint of leaving, but you just go. You cannot save them or get them to therapy (remember that there’s nothing wrong with them!), but you can save yourself. You’re worth saving! Get some trusted friends and family to support you and help you to leave.

Step 3 is to get therapeutic help and support. You may well need it after the battering you’ve taken over months or years of this toxic relationship. Therapy helps you to see things in perspective once again and it helps to have an independent opinion that you did the right thing by leaving.

Step 4 is critical in that you never look back. Don’t even think about second chances for your partner. Instead, focus on recovering and re-discovering yourself and going forward in positive ways. There is a big world out there waiting for you and you owe it to yourself to realise your real potential.

 

[Dr Darryl Cross is a clinical and organisational psychologist as well as a credentialed executive and career coach along with being an accredited family business advisor. He is also an author, facilitator, international speaker and university lecturer. Dr Darryl assists people and leaders to find their strengths and reach their goals as well as grow their businesses, become more productive and create positive cultures. Further information on Dr Darryl can be seen at www.DrDarryl.com and www.LeadershipCoaching.com.au he can be contacted at [email protected]]

Letting Go of Worry

I’ve often had people come into my office and describe themselves as a “worry wart.” On questioning, they also admit that both or one of their parents were the same. As they say, the apple never falls far from the tree!

However, there are no born worriers. People might think they are, but they’re not. As I’ve said to many people, I’ve never seen a baby born a worrier. Worry is something you learn.

However, worry is unreasonable for a couple of reasons. […]

What Is The Worst Kind of Unfinished Business? Resentment!

Introduction

  • Its futile. Its destructive, and its blinding.  Of all the futile and destructive emotions to which human beings are prey, perhaps the most universal and the worst kind is resentment.  This universal emotion though does have its “rewards”.  It assures us of our own importance.  It also allows us to hang onto our image of ourselves as fundamentally “good” — whatever our actual behaviour.

[…]

Forgiveness – What Is It & How Do You Do It?

It’s not a topic often talked about.  From the psychologist’s office though, it is probably true to say that it’s the most necessary thing that client’s often need to do.  Forgive.  Forgive a friend who wronged them, forgive a boss who bullied them, forgive a parent who abused them, forgive an aunt who cheated them, forgive a sibling who upset them.

Why bother with forgiveness?  Is it really just a bit “old hat”, or maybe just a bit “too religious”? […]