Are You Mentally Tough?

How quickly can you bounce back from difficult situations? 

Do you feel like you thrive from day to day or is it challenging to just survive each day? 

Resiliency is a popular term in today’s world of positive psychology. The goal is to discover what works and how to use that quality, skill, or mental strategy to feel more effective and capable. 

> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “The Road to Resilience” here.

Unfortunately, when we experience trauma, we develop protective programs, layered deep in our nervous system, that want to avoid situations that might put us in danger or extreme stress/threat. We want to emphasize that this is a protective program and not a negative one, but that it can continue to play out in our lives and relationships, that is no longer needed in our lives. Being aware we have these program helps us address them which opens a door to learning how to adapt. 

This process of being aware, addressing difficult issues, and learning to adapt is just one way we can increase our mental toughness. 

Mental toughness is about courage, not perfection. 

Facing difficulties, after going through traumatic experiences takes courage. Fighting against our own inner protective programs is hard. Taking risks to trust again is tough. Learning to believe in a hope-filled future seems impossible. This isn’t perfection. It is about the process requiring a change of heart. In faith-based terms, we call this transformation. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

This verse describes that mental toughness or resilience is an inside job. It doesn’t come from outer performance. It comes from an inner transformation of beliefs about ourselves and the world. It can’t be sustained by an external force. True, lasting toughness comes from a conversation of our will. 

> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “Faith-Based Trauma Therapy” here.

Kelly McGonical, in her book, The Upside of Stress, doesn’t view stressful events as good or bad. She claims that true resiliency comes from finding the good in the stressful situation and learning new ways to deal with challenges. It isn’t that you have to go through trials in order to learn how to deal with them. We all go through tough times. It is how you react to what you can’t control that helps us be mentally tough. 

Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor stated: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of his human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s way (1959).”

Our ability to choose – what we call our will – is the key to bouncing back and moving forward. It is where we find our true freedom. In my own Christian walk, I have found that it is the “truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Trauma not only overwhelms the nervous system, programs protective emotional programs deep within us, it also redefines our identity. 

> Learn more about how trauma affects a child’s brain and development here.

John O’Donohue, contemporary priest, poet, and philosopher, encourages us with the words: “Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility. Your life becomes the shape of the days you inhabit.”

Another step to mental toughness is to express daily gratitudes. A lot of scientific studies have been done on gratitude and it has become an foundational tool for shifting our negative attitude in psychology and spirituality. 

> Invite Ron Huxley to speak to your organization or at your next event on Trauma and Trauma-formed Care here.

Try using the Center for Healing Minds exercise called the 5-3-1 Gratitude Practice:

5… Meditate 5 minutes a day focusing on the breath or taking a break from your to-do list to de-stress and calm the mind. You can use various online videos and apps to help with this process. 

3… Write done 3 good things that happened today. Research suggests a positive relationship between gratitude and higher levels of resilience. 

1… Do 1 act of kindness per day. Hold the door open for the person coming into a store behind you, pay someone a compliment, be generous in your tipping.  

Gratitude blesses others and transforms the inner life of the giver. 

Mental toughness is the ability to bounce back, move forward, and shifts negative perspectives. It is how we resist, manage, and overcome difficult moments in our lives. We need it to feel renewed hope following trials and traumas that have impacted our inner self. 

> Take free online courses on Trauma-Informed Care, Parenting, and Anxiety at http://FamilyHealer.tv

Do you wish you were more resilient?

Take a moment to think about a happy moment in your life. It could have been a moment that occurred recently or a long time ago.

Perhaps it was when you or a family member graduated or when you got a promotion to the job of your dreams or when you asked someone out on a date and they said “yes” or when a new child is born.

What feelings did you have when this moment occurred? What is it joy, excitement, or surprise? How positive did you feel about yourself and your future? Probably great, right?

Now think about a tough situation that happened to you? What feelings did you experience then and how well did you feel about yourself and your future? Obviously, not as great as the positive experiences.

We all have good times and bad times in our lives but some people seem to be able to “bounce back” from tough times better than others. Some people can still feel optimistic about their future despite bad times.

We would call these people “resilient.” It is a desired quality to survive all the ups and downs in life. Those who have it, have an advantage at home, work, and life. If you don’t have a lot, then you feel all the pain of living in a much more dramatic way. Do you want more resiliency?

How do you get it? Is it purely genetics? Can you learn skills to improve it? Is it all chance, a luck of the draw?

Resilience is an interactive process between the characteristics of the person and the environment in which they live. Genetics does make a difference but they are not the only factor. They can make us more sensitive to negative experiences, like child maltreatment, parental neglect, the witness of violence, poverty, job loss, illness, etc. Our particular temperaments make us more or less vulnerable to the stress and trauma. Our bodily chemistry manages the expression of stress responses which affects our viewpoints about our circumstances and self-image. 

This is just one variable in the science of resilience. The other, equally important factor, is the quality of our relationships. Stress can be managed when we have loving, caring, healthy people in our lives to help us through it. Research demonstrates that even if there is only one person who can support us we are more likely to cope with difficult events.

For example, if a child turns to the loving neighbor whenever dad is drunk and angry or mom and dad fight or mom too depressed to make dinner, then that child will have a greater capacity to “bounce back.” We call this type of person, a “cookie person” who offers warm, fresh cookies to eat when times are hard. Did you or do you have a “cookie person” that you can turn to when overwhelmed?

Unfortunately, not everyone has a “cookie person” in their lives. When a natural helper is not available people have to search our professional helpers, like therapists, teachers, and school counselors to help them. These professionals can offer a listening ear as well as teach skills to manage anger, improve parenting, manage finances, and navigate through community resources. This type of support balances out the negative situations to create more positive outcomes.

The most powerful truth, when it comes to building resilience, is that we are social beings that need other people. We thrive in healthy relationships. If we didn’t get this in childhood, we can still develop it in later life. Attachment researchers call this later development “earned security.”

A Zen saying that illustrates resiliency that comes from warm, social interactions is…

“If there is light in the soul, there is beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, then there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world!”

Can one person make a difference in the world? Yes. Are you that one person to one other person? Who can you turn to in your natural environment or who can you contact to help you professionally and create more resiliency in your life?

Get more resiliency tools in the Trauma Toolbox at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com

Need a speaker or consultant to help your organization become trauma-informed? Contact Ron Huxley today at rehuxley@gmail.com