So far, we haven’t given much attention to the third and final factor we identified in our research on the determinants of resilience. That factor has two components:
- Attending to your feelings about distressing experiences to understand them, and
- Expressing them in a way that makes you feel better, without alienating others.
This factor comes to mind because, in the last few posts, we have been discussing the importance of support from others. Social support is not the same as our third factor, but the two influences are clearly interconnected.
One of the best ways to understand how you feel about something that is distressing is to talk about it to trusted people and especially to express how it has made you feel.
Understanding your feelings about distress and talking them through with someone you trust has a healing influence. Often people get great relief just from fully recognizing what they feel; a feeling of vague discomfort or pain can be transformed when you suddenly see that you feel “betrayed”, “humiliated”, or “afraid”.
This effect of self-expression first got attention when social psychologist James Pennebaker published work indicating that stress-related symptoms are minimized in people who get to talk about the experiences in a safe setting. His work focused on sexual abuse.
People who reported that they had been sexually abused had exceptionally high levels of health-related symptoms. Further investigation showed that this increase in symptoms depended on whether they had been able to talk out the experiences and their feelings about them.
Unfortunately, many young people who report abuse hit a brick wall of denial, so cannot really examine and discuss what happened and how they feel about it.
However, Pennebaker found that, even if you do not have a supportive, empathic person to listen, simply writing about your experience and the resulting feelings diminishes your stress reactions
We need both internal and external support. Besides developing our core resilience we have to give high priority to developing and maintaining relationships. So it is wise to train yourself to become internally stronger, but also to form supportive relationships with others.
In our training sessions, we always suggest that people ask themselves who might be able to help them stick to their plan to improve their resilience. Personal resilience training and social support can bolster each other.
Most of what we do on this blog is talk about how to develop the personal resilience skills. But how do you develop social supports? One way to do this is to be attentive to others, and to be generous with them if they need help. If you help others when they need help, they are likely to reciprocate, and come to your aid when you are in need.
For more details on how to build a supportive network, check out these books by Keith Ferrazzi: “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time” and “Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success–and Won’t Let You Fail”.