The ride to resilience

Resilience doesn’t come in an animal-shaped gummy supplement.

The journey towards resilience is just as important as achieving resilience. The definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” All I take from that definition is ‘suck it up’ or ‘harden up’ but these familiar messages don’t allow space for one’s authentic feelings and response to the impact of significant events. This is especially important for our children who are being exposed to earthquake trauma and terror.

A child shouldn’t be expected to show they’re stoic in the face of trauma and natural disaster if that’s not their authentic feeling. Because, denied emotion is stored elsewhere in the body, and can then manifest in other ways, such as anxiety, headaches and tummy pains. Bessel van der Kolk offers brilliant insights into this concept – the imprint of trauma on the body – in The Body Keeps The Score (2014).

The emphasis needs to be on the experiencing, and the expression and validation of the various emotions one feels in childhood. Their only task is to make sense of and accept these emotions, as they experience them. Only then does resilience develop. We don’t achieve resilience without acknowledging the impact – this applies to children and adults. This often occurs in a safe, attuned relationship with a parent, caregiver or partner.

Researchers have noted that among the most important resiliency factors are emotion regulation skills. This ability to sufficiently regulate one’s emotions and arousal, allows access to the higher cortical regions of the brain that will initiate problem-solving skills and influence one’s behavioural response. Sensory Integration, a specialisation within occupational therapy (Ayres 1972, 2004), considers the sensory motor systems and strategies for sensory modulation that address arousal and emotional regulation. Emotional regulation also requires an available parent/caregiver/adult who encourages and validates a child’s experience of their emotion to a situation at the time, and offers safety. Sensory modulation strategies that allow for the emotional experience and management of overwhelm, include the act of hugging, rocking, soothing and nourishing your child – calming sensory stimuli. Other techniques include tucking in tight with blankets, using a heavy duvet, blowing bubbles, dim lighting, massage, bear hugs, warm baths, cosy pjs and trampoline jumping or gentle swinging. These interactions with your child allow sensory input to the brain that has an overarching, organising impact, effectively allowing your child to hear your words, to settle within themselves and dampen down their arousal system that is screaming ‘fight, flight or freeze’.

The brain grows with experience – repressing emotions so one can ‘keep calm and carry on’ doesn’t allow for this process. As a result, children don’t understand, validate or process their own emotions in response to situations. They develop injunctions or unspoken rules so they can “be strong”. These injunctions or messages shape and influence their sense of self and all interpersonal relationships.

Resilience may be the destination, but there is so much more involved on the journey.

chatroomtherapy.org.nz