Resiliency Articles

Fine Tuning ” Positive Thinking” With A Plan

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

An important article by psychologist and author, Gabriele Oettingen appeared in the New York Times with a misleading title,“ The Problem with Positive Thinking.”

Actually what Dr. Oettingen offers is an important fine-tuning of positive thinking. What she suggests based on her research is not that positive thinking is problematic, but that positive thinking about a goal without a plan—be it about losing weight, passing the test, or finding a job- leaves you likely to fail. She suggests that positive thinking alone may “fool our minds into perceiving” that we have attained the goal.flying bird


Ebola: Coping with Fear and Uncertainty

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Something very different happens to us when we face an epidemic as opposed to a natural disaster.cemetery

When a natural disaster hits, there is anxiety, and traumatic loss but such events have a clear beginning and end. Natural disasters are devastating but there are few unknowns. With the collective loss, there is often collective care and support. In the aftermath of a hurricane that destroys and our neighbor’s home, we run to help him rebuild.

In the face of epidemics we lock our doors. Threatened by contagion, terrified by unknown risks, we move into fear-based survival mode. We isolate. We ruminate. We become saturated with media warnings and shaken by shards of frightening information and even conspiracy theories.


The Importance of Recognizing Your Resiliency: Strategies

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

person climbingI was recently in a shop with a friend when a young man in his late twenties came in to get his hair cut. Friendly and likeable he was amusing the hairdresser with some stories of his birthday. It was not until he struggled to get the money out of his wallet, that I realized his hand was quite deformed. I was so struck by this positive young man that I said to my friend, “ I love his resilience.” I was very surprised when my friend replied, “ I envy it.”

Given that she had managed a considerable amount of anxiety over the course of the year while working and dealing with family loss, I was struck that she seemed unaware of her own resiliency.

Do you recognize your own resiliency?


Surviving and Succeeding in Face of Uncertainty: Six Strategies

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

uncertaintyEvents like the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation, The Newtown CT School Shooting and the many traumatic events they echo, assault us with the uncertainties of life.

Leaving death and destruction in their path, such events undermine our necessary denial that life is predictable, that children can be safe and that we can be in control.

For a time, we are left wounded, shaken, vulnerable and afraid. Caught in the traumatic moment, we fill in the future unknowns with expectations of more of the same trauma so that next time we will be ready.

Eventually, despite the memory, the extreme loss, the bodily injuries and even the fear, we want our lives back, we want our children to play, and we want to smile…

We need to find a way to survive and at times even succeed with life’s uncertainties.

Here are six strategies that may begin to answer that need. Some you may already use. Some you may want to consider.

Validation of True Self

  • Often recognition of who we are and what we need in life out-trumps the fear of uncertainty. In her personal description of running the Boston Marathon, runner and blogger, Chrissy Horan describes that although finishing as the first bomb went off, she has struggled with grief and sadness for those killed and injured, with “what if” she had walked through the last water stops, with tears and with questions of safety. Notwithstanding the uncertainty, however, she like many throughout the country put her sneakers back on to run. As she says, “ It is just what I do.”
  • Not dissimilar are Long Islanders now six months after Hurricane Sandy, who report that faced with extreme weather patterns, altered and destroyed shore lines, partial renovations, houses raised and more hurricanes coming–they are afraid. Many have for the first time considered leaving. Most will wait and see. They report a “magnetic draw” to the water. As one man who feels that his family could not survive another Hurricane Sandy said, “We don’t have very long memories . . . We live on an island and this is …

When Injury Disrupts Exercise: Five Ways to Reduce Stress

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

sneakersThere is considerable evidence that exercise benefits our mental health. Research suggests that in addition to improving memory, lifting mood, moderating depression, and reducing attention fatigue, exercise is a significant stress reducer.

Whether you are a varsity player, a daily walker, a gym rat or an avid golfer, it is likely that the exercise you do helps you psychologically as well as physically. What happens when you get injured?

In most cases physical injury happens in the two minutes we never see coming.  It is physically and psychologically disruptive because it not only involves physical pain and concern about intervention and recovery; it reminds us of the unpredictability of life, and the reality of our vulnerability. For athletes, as well as those determined to exercise, it is a loss that insults our sense of self as well as our sense of mastery.

 “ I can’t be injured, we are in the semi-finals. I have to play!”

 “ I just got the motivation and the routine going and now I break my ankle?”

 “ What will I do if I can’t golf?”

  • If you have ever been taken off the court or out of your usual routine by injury, it is likely you have felt the constraints of a Catch 22.
  • At a time when you are feeling more pain and stress than usual, the one thing you can’t do is use your usual stress reducer–Exercise will make matters worse!

How Do You Proceed?

No matter what anyone says in the first hours, days or week of an injury, it won’t feel right.

“ So You Won’t Run Anymore- You will Do Something Else!” 

“ Don’t Worry—You will be back.”

It is difficult to suddenly adjust to the loss of something that has added value to your life and it is also difficult to suddenly believe you will be ok, when you don’t feel ok. But it does get better…

What seems impossible starts to become possible when you realize there are many ways to reduce stress if you are able to focus on healing, open options, risk possibilities, and draw upon your resiliencies.

Five Ways To Reduce Stress

Become …


Tattoos After Trauma-Do They Have Healing Potential?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Whether you have many tattoos or would never consider getting one, you may be surprised to learn that 40% of Americans between the ages 26-40 and 36% between ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo.

Once associated with marginalized, oppressed, victimized or transient groups in the population, tattoos are increasingly part of mainstream culture.

Americans spend $1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos.

While the reasons for tattoos are as varied as the people who choose to get them, certain trends have been identified. One is the choice of a tattoo in the aftermath of trauma.

  • Across generations and wars, those in the military have used tattoos as tributes to fallen comrades.
  • In the aftermath of 9/11, civilians and firefighters throughout the world choose tattoos as an indelible reminder of the  terrorist assault, the courage of First Responders and the loss of so many.
  • Sociologists, Glen Gentry and Derek Alderman estimate that there are thousands of Katrina and New Orleans-related tattoos reflecting both horrific images of crumbling buildings and gushing floodwater, as well as signs and symbols of a beloved city.
  • In the wake of the unprecedented destruction from Hurricane Sandy, tattoos and tattoo fundraisers have emerged. The message of one seems particularly meaningful- “ Hold Steadfast.”

Do These Tattoos Have Healing Potential?

A close consideration suggests that both the reasons and the choice of tattoos reflect many of the factors associated with recovery after trauma.

Healing From the Body Out

  • Whether a traumatic event involves a car accident, escape from freezing floodwaters or the loss of a child, it is registered in our body in terms of the survival reflexes of fight, flight and freeze.
  • Encoded under these conditions, our memory of the traumatic event is not registered as narrative, but as fragments of highly charged visual images, bodily feelings, tactile sensations or sensory reactivity to reminders of the event.
  • As such, trauma experts encourage us to work from the body out in the course of recovery and healing—to attend to the sensations, senses, and images that carry the imprint of trauma.

The tattoo’s use of the body to register a …


Reducing Disaster’s Impact: A Simple Guide to Psychological First Aid

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Nationally and internationally, the most endorsed response in the early aftermath of a disaster is Psychological First Aide.  Used by those responding to disasters, it is a set of guidelines that you can learn to use for yourself and others.

Just as knowing certain aspects of Medical First Aid can help you minimize injury and reduce future medical complications, knowing and using certain aspects of Psychological First Aid can help you reduce the emotional impact of a disaster and its consequences.

Here are Five Steps for Using Psychological First Aid

 I. Establish Physical Safety

  • Given the body-mind connection, it is necessary to secure physical and medical safety as a first step to psychological safety.
  • In securing what is needed to maintain physical safety (food, shelter, water, heat) it is often helpful to access options and then make a temporary or working plan that can be updated. This often mobilizes people to safety, as they know they are not making permanent decisions.  

 Families have moved in together in arrangements they never would have dreamed possible-as a way of keeping each other safe.

II. Establish Psychological Safety

  • Accept and normalize your feelings.Recognize that feelings of disbelief, fear, terror, helplessness, and anger are very common to the situation you have faced. For most people they may persist as difficulty sleeping, intrusive thoughts and memories, or a sense of numbing for a week or two and then dissipate.
  • In those cases where someone displays a sense of disorientation, unremitting panic or inability to cope, emergency medical care is warranted.
  • You have often heard the expression “ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” – Well, Not So Fast.
  • Consider that while people differ, for most of us, it takes a while to adapt to a crisis situation. Even as people are busy surviving and helping others survive, survivors are often feeling a mix of relief, pain and uncertainty. It makes sense.
  • Recognize that in disasters – SMALL THINGS ARE BIG in making us feel less helpless.
  • Look for those things you can control. Set up achievable goals- be it playing a game with the children; finding …

The Psychological Importance of “Our Stuff”

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Well beyond the necessities and somewhere between collecting and hoarding…we all have ‘stuff.’

Be it the toy truck, the pasta bowl, the piano, the silver earrings or the old books, we all have stuff because psychologically we need stuff.

Sartre holds that “to have” (along with “to do” and “to be”) is one of the three categories of human existence…

Wired for Stuff

Famous psychologist, Donald Winnicott, tells us that long before we could verbalize the need, we transitioned from merged oneness with mother to “transitional objects,” the favorite blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal, or a piece of cloth that was attributed a special value as a means of making the shift from mother to genuine object relationships.

That said, our relationship with objects, “our stuff” never stops. It unfolds throughout our life; reflecting who we are, where we are, whom we are connected with and what we need to be ourselves.

One of the reasons we find it easier to ask others rather than ourselves, “Do you really need this stuff?” is that the actual value of anything is primarily a function of our investment in it and/or our interaction with it. We give “stuff” value and meaning.


Does Hope Really Make a Difference? Scientific Findings

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Almost everyone has some experience with hope: We hope for the best. We hang on to hope. We despair when we lose hope.

It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.

Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.

Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.

“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible

“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle

“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus

“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson

Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?

There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.


The Denver Movie Shooting: A Dark Catastrophe

Friday, July 20th, 2012

movie tragedyThe definition of catastrophe is an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering. The early morning shooting and killing of 12 people and wounding of others as they eagerly began viewing the latest Batman movie; “The Dark Knight Rises,” tragically qualifies.

As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families or resonate with memories of having faced similar pain. In the face of traumatic loss we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events.

We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers, there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief.

Here are some suggestions worth knowing and owning when life has suddenly become so darkened.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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