Everyone faces adversity at some point in their lives. Sometimes it feels like a bump in the road and sometimes it feels like we are forced to climb Mount Everest without a map or the proper hiking boots. What’s so remarkable is how often we manage to successfully navigate even the most difficult challenges. What’s equally remarkable is how infrequently we stop to analyze how we actually succeeded. This is especially true with clients who tend to minimize and downplay their accomplishments or attribute their successes to luck, chance, or some other external variable. Sometimes, the first step in this process is to help clients consider the possibility that their successes are the byproduct of their internally-based strengths and abilities.
But how can we assist our clients in recognizing the qualities they possess that translate into resiliency? It helps to be clear about some of the common characteristics research associates with resilient and hopeful personalities. Resilient people live by the serenity prayer- letting go of what they can’t control and focusing on what they can control. When something tragic happens they can move away from the universal response of “Why me?” and begin to explore, “What can I do about it?” They have a relationship resource that grounds them in feelings of being loved and cherished. This can be someone from their past or present, alive or deceased. It can even include a relationship with a pet. They believe they have something meaningful to contribute to their personal relationships and communities. Surprisingly, they are quite willing to access support and lean on others when they need to, rather than believing they have to handle the challenges of life alone.
Resilient people have mindsets that are positive and empowering. They are able to eventually find meaning in inherently traumatic life experiences, actually viewing difficult events as opportunities for personal growth and positive change. They can internally validate their feelings. They don’t ruminate or beat themselves up about past mistakes, recognizing that getting mired in regret is a waste of energy. Mistakes get reframed as learning experiences.
It’s important to assess for these characteristics and cognitions in our clients. Whenever they spontaneously show up during therapy, point them out and put a frame around them to increase the likelihood that clients will become more self-aware. Mindsets don’t have to be rigid and fixed. They are malleable and can be explored and reframed within the safety of a trusting and non-judgmental therapeutic relationship. When we take the time to focus on this in treatment we are helping to strengthen the foundation of resiliency in our clients’ lives.
How do you help your clients recognize the qualities they possess to navigate through challenges and re-claim their lives?