By Rachelle Varon, LCSW-C
There’s nothing like snuggling in bed on a dreary day watching a depressing movie to get you thinking about the cosmic questions of life. A movie I saw several years ago has stayed with me (though the name of the film has not). Right out of today’s headlines, it showed the impact on the lives of secretaries, managers, directors and corporate vice-presidents who were laid off from a huge manufacturing conglomerate affected by the recession. I watched as the characters went through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In true Hollywood fashion of happy endings, one of the executives cashes in his stock options (which, not so ironically, had skyrocketed because of the layoff), starts a new business, and hires back many of the workers.
What resonated with me was the ability of these characters to deal with the financial adversity and the ripple effects on their lives and their capacity to get through it and start over — resilience and renewal.
As a social worker at JCS, each day I listen to others’ stories and help them discover and get in touch with their own resilience. Like many of us, they are dealing with challenges in relationships, finances, physical health, mental health, or employment. The goal is to help people develop coping skills, the skills each of us needs to keep going in the face of whatever adversity we experience at some time in our lives.
Talking about resilience as a set of skills implies that it can be learned. There are different kinds of coping skills, yet not all of them are healthy (for instance, substance abuse and self-destructive behaviors) or useful for us to thrive. The ones we need to master are the positive skills, those that help us move forward and get unstuck. Here are a couple of examples of ways to develop resilience.
- “Seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty” is the skill of giving a problem or situation a different perspective, of substituting a thought that something is “not enough, is never enough” with “there’s something there and that’s good.” By changing your perspective and the way you think about a situation, you may feel differently and be able to motivate yourself to make some changes.
- Do something. Take a walk, set the alarm clock and get out of bed, confront a fear, voice an opinion, change your routine, talk to a friend. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Try anything different from what “stuck” looks like.
- It takes time to make changes in our lives. Acknowledge your progress and give yourself credit. One accomplishment builds on another.
I dislike laundry lists. Ten easy steps to happiness. Infomercials. The steps aren’t easy if you are weighted down. It takes effort and practice, even the small steps. And what will work for one person may not work for another. But it’s all about trying—something.
Doing something when you don’t really want to, or feel like you can’t, is monumental, like climbing a mountain. Think of The Little Engine That Could. Sometimes we need to get in touch with the child within in order to restore that sense of hope. To remember that life holds possibilities. That what we have to look forward to may not appear the same as what we dreamed. It may be vastly different, but different isn’t better or worse, it’s just different. That understanding is a big part of resilience.
Years ago I came across a poster in a shop. It said: “People like kites are made to be lifted up.” The poster went up on the wall along with my orange kite with the blue boat in the middle. I liked the visual. It struck a chord with something inside me — the human spirit to survive and thrive as we journey on. Whatever the trials we face, what will keep us going forward is our resilience, our hope and faith in life’s possibilities and renewals.
By Rachelle Varon, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.