Saturday, 7 June 2014

Don't pack the concrete mixer!

We don't need a concrete mixer in our resilience toolbox. 
Lately I have been working on a presentation about resiliency that I will be giving next week and as I have been working I have been getting hooked up on the topic of 'hardening up'.  In fact I could nearly do a whole presentation about that small aspect in itself! So instead I'll put some of my thoughts down here...

A common analogy used when talking about resilience is that it is like having a toolbox. I like this analogy. The more tools we have the better prepared we are to cope with the pitfalls of life. Like a builder, we need to have our toolbox packed before we go to the job, we need to know how to use our tools before we go to the job and we need to ensure that they are in good working order before we go to the job, replacing what is broken as we go along. To be as resilient as possible in difficult times we need to practice the behaviours that support our sense of well-being in our good times.

When considering the tools to carry we need to ensure we only pack those things that will support us in times of stress and, because of this, I strongly suggest we don't pack a concrete mixer... for one reason it's incredibly heavy to carry. For another reason, I see it as a tool that contributes to hardening up which seems to me to create more problems.

I am not sure what it is like in other countries but in New Zealand it feels like there is a strong culture of 'hardening up'. When we 'harden up' we suppress our vulnerability, our emotions get pushed down every time they feel uncomfortable. Sometimes we are taught to 'harden up' when we are young, when we cry or become distressed. This is meant to help us become strong and resilient, but I think it does the opposite in the long run. It also teaches the young person that exhibiting their emotions and working through them makes other people uncomfortable too.

What I think happens when we continually 'harden up' is that we learn how to not cope effectively with our uncomfortable emotions which can lead to developing negative coping strategies such as blaming others, drug or alcohol abuse, self harm, violence and unnecessary risk taking. We feel weak asking for help so don't, even though we may very well need it. "Hardening up" can also diminish the emotional range an individual feels. Instead of experiencing a full range of emotions, from what I have seen, the range can reduce to a spectrum of anger and happiness. When scared or worried or sad this is expressed as anger, otherwise these hardened up folk seem happy enough but genuine joy can become elusive. I also believe for some people this limits their ability to empathise with others and so affects their interpersonal relationships.

It is a tough way to live because all those other emotions are sitting there underneath broiling away and sometimes it takes just a little pitfall for them to bubble over, like a volcano where the pressure has become too much. The fall out can be devastating for the individual and the people around them. In some cases I believe that this contributes to mental health issues, domestic violence, violent crime, suicide, addiction, divorce... you get the picture.

We can be better than this though, and I think that a start is to stop 'hardening up' our kids. I am no expert but I figure we can help our kids develop their emotional intelligence in various ways, such as:
1. be a positive role model- let them see you working through your emotions in positive ways
2. help them learn the language of feelings/emotions- if we can name what we are feeling then we can start working on ways to work through the feeling... and the more broad our emotional vocabulary the more able we are to narrow the focus on how to resolve it appropriately if it is one of those uncomfortable feelings that we don't like
3. help them identify strategies that work for them- when they are losing it, and who doesn't from time to time, we can present our kids with options such as I can see you are feeling frustrated, would you like to go and do something else for a few minutes or do you want to sit here with me? As we present them with different options they will start to learn what works for them and we can support their use of positive appropriate strategies as they learn and grow
4. accept that our kids will sometimes feel crabby- most of us feel crabby from time to time so rather than telling them our kids shouldn't feel like that (who needs to feel guilty for feeling what you are really feeling eh?) perhaps we could help them identify the feeling and acknowledge it. (I know that this isn't always easy, like in the middle of the supermarket!)
5. talk about feelings- when we are watching a movie or reading a book with our children, talk to them about the characters feelings and what they might do etc. Just where relevant of course, don't destroy the joy of the moment by over-analysing things though!

These are just some small ideas about an issue that I think is really important. I know that some of them are easier to say than do and that there are days that with the best will in the world we just don't handle things the way we'd like... it's OK because we are human. If we make a mistake then we can apologise, that is what we would expect from our kids after all, and then we move forward from there. If we need help we can ask for it, for what it's worth I think that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.

There is a whole lot of reading material online if you are interested. Maggie Dent, Daniel Goleman and Brainwave Trust are all good places/people to look at for more information about resilience and emotional intelligence especially for our little people :)

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1 comment:

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