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What Is Resiliency?

A 12 Step Plan to Increase your Own Resilience When Life becomes Overwhelming

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Resilience is referred to often in emotional wellness circles but typically without adequately describing the importance of having or attaining this quality. Any challenging life circumstance that creates a flood of emotion and a perceived loss of control can challenge our ability to cope. Resilience is the human ability to rebuild or come back from difficult situations.

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We all cope in some way to extraordinary life events. The positive psychology movement has long focused on the skills people use to navigate major life events. Sometimes negative events such as loss and sometimes positive events such as marriage or a promotion can challenge our ability to cope.

What’s the point of this movement? Why is this important?

The answer lies in the extraordinary number of people who cope in self-destructive ways, ruining relationships and sabotaging anything good in their lives.

Resilience theory states that we all have the ability to cultivate these positive characteristics and traits. Building resilience is a skill set involving thoughts, behaviors and actions which can be learned. It is an important component of PTSD Recovery, as well as, recovering from depression and anxiety. With these skills in place you not only manage the distress caused by PTSD or other major life events, but also inoculate yourself from the adverse effects of negative life events in the future.

Resilient People Display the Ability to:

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  • set and move toward realistic goals
  • ​have an ability to look long term
  • accept change as part of life
  • ​engage in active decision making
  • ​engage in self-discovery
  • ​communicate and problem solve
  • actively learn new things
  • ​have an optimistic outlook
  • ​have a realistic perspective of themselves and the world around them
  • ​accept and manage the presence of strong feelings
  • be flexible
  • ​have a positive view of self
  • ​actively engage in self-care
  • build connections with others

As you begin your journey down this road to resilience, focus on your own strengths. Remember what has worked well for you in the past. Who did you reach out to? What activities did you incorporate to reduce stress and anxiety? How have you overcome obstacles in the past? What gave you hope and purpose? Use the list below to develop and execute your own personal plan. The Road Map to Resilience is a task list to increase resiliency. Take your time focusing on each step. It will be helpful as you move through this process to create a journal to keep track of your emotions, thoughts and the actions you take.

Road Map to Resilience – A 12 Step Plan

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  1. Develop Caring and supportive relationships that are filled with love, trust, encouragement and reassurance.
  2. Manage your feelings You will feel strong emotions. Give yourself space to feel them. You can regulate emotions by focusing on positive emotions, such as, hope, courage, and happiness and decreasing the focus on negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and resentment. To decrease these uncomfortable emotions, it’s important to remember to give yourself permission to feel these feelings, get support when needed and then shift your focus. Denying feelings only intensifies your reaction. Feel and release is a good rule of thumb here.
  3. Build on your strengths Remember to celebrate small achievements.
  4. Have positive expectations and expect things to turn out for the best. Visualize what you want rather than focusing on a negative outlook. Reframe negatives to positives, look for the silver lining in situations, others and yourself. Difficult life events happen. What lessons can you learn from adversity? How can you help others in a similar circumstance?
  5. Practice positive self-talk rather than engaging in self-sabotaging thoughts.
  6. Engage in activities which increase self-confidence including hobbies, personal development and work projects. Do what you love, what you’re good at and take action daily.
  7. ​Increase positive physical behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits. Develop regular routines.
  8. Create meaning and purpose
  9. Set SMART goals to increase and enhance your sense of self-control, mastery and competence, break tasks down to achievable parts, prepare and plan for setbacks, commit to hard work. Identify one thing you can accomplish today in the direction of your goal.
  10. Be flexible Create a list of alternative thoughts, feelings and actions by looking at things from different or opposing perspectives. You may need to shift your goals or direction in your life as a result of events that arise in life. Focus on the road in front of you, and adapt.
  11. Create a social support system Seek and accept help, access community resources, volunteer in your community, work toward positive communication and problem solving with those around you, actively engage in a social network, share your feelings with someone you trust.
  12. Forgive others and yourself

Following this road map, you will be able to identify not only your own personal map but also what your roadblocks are. This process involves deep emotional work and may require the assistance of a professional counselor. Life is a journey! Embrace your strengths!

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Can PTSD Be Cured?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC
PTSD Cure

Chronic PTSD results from prolonged exposure to traumatic events and an inability to manage the symptoms of PTSD. PTSD does not get better with time alone and medication has shown limited positive impact on resolving trauma.

  • A traumatic event is unchangeable.
  • The event can be large or small.
  • ​It can be one incident or many incidents.
  • ​It can happen at any point in your life.
  • It can happen to you or a loved one.
  • ​Trauma forms an imprint on the brain.
  • You can’t change the trauma but you can change the impact of trauma in your life.

So what does all this mean to you? Is there hope for a “normal” life and healthy relationships? The answer is a resounding YES.

Living with PTSD involves managing a number of symptoms including, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, irrational thought processes, hyper-reactivity, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance of any triggers such as persons, places, or things. Further information is available in the article PTSD Criteria.

Although the trauma has happened in the past, the disruptive physical, emotional and cognitive consequences are happening in the present. You may find yourself experiencing a fear of your own feelings due to an inability to regulate emotions. This side effect of trauma leads to either shutting your feelings down and becoming numb in the face of strong emotions or becoming hyper-aroused and physically overwhelmed by them. The expression of complex PTSD symptoms becomes automatic and can include intense emotional reactions, numbness, and distorted belief systems. The goal in trauma treatment is to regain a balance between your rational brain (the pre-frontal cortex) and your emotional brain (the amygdala).

Why Does Trauma Cause so Much Disruption in Our Lives?

Can ptsd be Cured?

When you cross your threshold for emotional tolerance, the frontal cortex “shuts down” and the amygdala “takes over”. The frontal cortex acts as your brains CEO. It is in charge of managing your thinking, memory, concentration, planning, execution, all those functions we identify as “human”. Trauma hijacks your frontal cortex by over-activating your emotional center, the amygdala. When this happens you have difficulty with memory, verbal communication, problem solving, concentration, attention, reasoning, planning, goal achievement, amongst many other functions. This affects our lives tremendously at work, in relationships and in our personal development. It can have a global effect on our ability to stay present and function in our lives.

All this said, we have a number of very effective strategies to manage and resolve the symptoms of PTSD. The tasks for recovery are aimed at reducing the over-activity of the emotional, fight or flight center of the brain and allowing the thinking center or CEO to come back online.

To manage your PTSD symptoms, you must learn to employ coping skills such as mindfulness, emotional regulation, stress management, grounding skills, self-care, social scaffolding, and body awareness.  This will result in being able to remain calm, focused and grounded consistently, engage in the present, and establish strong connections with people in your life.

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation activities such as mindfulness techniques help you come back to the present when your brain shuts down. These coping skills increase your ability to self-soothe and regulate emotions. Mindfulness exercises focus on the here and now in the present moment, encouraging awareness and acceptance of the present reality. It serves to deactivate the amygdala, the “fight of flight” center of the brain by increasing our ability to regulate emotions. Mentally rehearsing self- soothing activities allows our brains to form new neural pathways allowing the prefrontal cortex to “come back online”. Practicing mindfulness calms the sympathetic nervous system and decreases the activity of the amygdala. Remember, the prefrontal cortex acts as our CEO and is in charge of problem solving, planning, attention, emotional regulation, and reasoning. Rehearsing positive coping techniques regularly, increases your ability to experience feelings without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down. This ensures that you can be in charge of your body and mind again.

PTSD and Relationships

PTSD Cured?

Unresolved trauma impedes your ability to fully open yourself emotionally to another. Intimate relationships are intense emotional experiences. They are supposed to be! Loving another person increases your vulnerability. It can be hard for a person experiencing symptoms of PTSD to regulate the intense emotional responses they have to another. Emotional regulation is greatly affected by PTSD. It is important to involve significant others as allies to your healing. Family members and friends can be great co-facilitators to healing. They can support your courage, provide physical and emotional safety, practice coping skills with you, and encourage you to focus on self-care during this process.

Trauma Counseling

Body centered treatments such as EMDR, yoga therapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy, are widely used by mental health professionals in the treatment of trauma. Other strategies such as mindfulness training, stress inoculation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and narrative therapies have also shown significant positive results in managing the symptoms of PTSD. Enter your email and receive access to a workshop, “Change your Story, Change Your Life”, which will walk you through an important strategy to overcome your trauma and reestablish a sense of purpose. Also refer to the article, “What is Resilience?” and learn more about resilience factors that we can build to improve our responses to stressful life events.

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Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Setting good personal boundaries is critical to creating healthy relationships, increasing self- esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Boundaries protect your personal self by setting a clear line between what is me and what is not me. A lack of boundaries opens the door for others to determine your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Defining boundaries is a process of determining what behavior you will accept from others and what you will not. Boundaries include physical boundaries, as well as, emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, even looking through your personal files or your phone. Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include, taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs. Strong boundaries protect your self- esteem and your identity as an individual with the right to make your own choices.

Emotional Boundaries

Boundaries are your own invisible force field and you are in charge of protecting it. As important as this may sound, most of us have a difficult time setting healthy boundaries consistently. At times it is difficult to identify when our boundaries are being crossed. We may even fear the consequences to our relationships if we set them. To identify when your boundaries are being crossed, stay tuned into your feelings. Red flags include, discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, guilt and fear. These feelings stem from feeling taken advantage of or not feeling appreciated. Think about the people who you feel this way around. Do the following statements ring true: I can’t make my own decisions, I can’t ask for what I need, I can’t say no, I feel criticized, I feel responsible for their feelings, I seem to take on their moods, and I am often nervous, anxious or resentful around them. Unhealthy boundaries are often characterized by a weak sense of your own identity and your own feelings of disempowerment in decision making in your own life. This leads you down the road to relying on your partner for happiness and decision making responsibilities thereby losing important parts of your own identity. An inability to set boundaries also stems from fear; fear of abandonment or losing the relationship, fear of being judged or fear of hurting others feelings.  

Our lessons about boundaries begin early in our lives, first in our families and then in our peer groups. These early boundaries are internalized as our way of asserting our own needs and wants, as well as, in taking responsibility for others needs and wants. How comfortable we are standing up for ourselves, verbalizing our feelings and expressing our needs starts very early in our development.   Steps to build better boundaries begin with knowing and understanding what your own limits are. Who I am, what I am responsible for and what I am not responsible for. I am responsible for my happiness, my behavior, my choices, my feelings. I am not responsible for others happiness, other’s behaviors, other’s choices, and other’s feelings.

Emotional Boundaries and Boundary Traps

Emotional boundaries fall into the categories of time, emotions, energy and values. Be aware of boundary traps in relationships. The following scenarios may seem familiar. Start by recognizing which boundary traps you commonly fall in.

  1. I am nobody if I’m not in a relationship. My identity comes from my partner and I will do anything to make this person happy.
  2. This is better than the last relationship I was in.
  3. I spend all my time involved in my partner’s goals and activities. There just isn’t enough time left to do what I want to do.
  4. My partner would be lost without me.
  5. If I just give it more time, the relationship will get better.
  6. Most of the time the relationship is great…Ok well occasionally it is and that’s enough for me.

Setting Emotional Boundaries

Make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are OK just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others, taking responsibility for the outcomes of others choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on others approval.

Make a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Write them down. Visualize yourself setting them and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them. Remember, this is a process. Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and experience success before taking on more challenging boundaries.

Boundaries to start with:

  1. Say no – to tasks you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do.
  2. Say yes – to help.
  3. Say thank you with no apology, regret or shame.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Delegate tasks.
  6. Protect your time – don’t overcommit.
  7. Ask for space – we all need our own time.
  8. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable with how someone is treating you or your needs are being infringed upon.
  9. Honor what is important to you by choosing to put yourself first.
  10. Drop the guilt and responsibility for others.
  11. Share personal information gradually and in a mutual way (give and take).

If you are shifting the dynamic in the relationship you may feel resistance from the other person. This is normal and OK. Simply stick to your guns and continue to communicate your needs. Use the ”broken record technique” and repeat the same statement as many times as you need. Healthy relationships are a balance of give and take. In a healthy relationship you feel calm, safe, supported, respected, taken care of, and unconditionally accepted. You are forgiven without past offenses being brought up repeatedly, seeming acts of revenge or passive aggressive behaviors from the other person. You are free to be who you are and encouraged to be your best self. Good boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect and strength. We teach people how to treat us. Set high standards for those you surround yourself with. Expect to be treated in the same loving way you treat them. You will soon find yourself surrounded by those who respect you, care about your needs and your feelings and treat you with kindness.

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