2020 has brought forward a wave of transitions, losses, and existential anxieties. Whether it was the COVID-19 pandemic, the continued pandemic of heightened oppressive systems, or the uncertainty of an election- this year has been a collective trauma. A trauma which has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities. As a therapist, there have been some common themes that have arisen amongst the clients I have worked with:
Increased feelings of anxieties and exacerbation of ongoing mental health concerns
Lack of motivation and ability to stay present-focused
Questioning of values
Deepening their understanding of their needs
Additionally, many clients with minoritized identities who came to therapy wanted to become more resilient and feel stronger when facing adversity. This is a great and achievable goal, but it’s helpful to understand how resiliency intersects with the identities we hold.
What is Resiliency?
When looking at a dictionary definition, resiliency is viewed as “the ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from an adversity…” In other words, it refers to your ability to bounce back.
From a psychological perspective, resiliency holds many facets. For example, we need a sense of support from others, a sense of community, and also perceived supportwithin relationships. In other words, it is not important IF there is support present, but if it allows people to feel secure in the availability and consistency of that support.
Additionally, resiliency includes how much control we feel over a situation, our sense of belonging to others or a system, and also how well we are able to respondinstead of reactto a situation.
All of these highlight that resiliency is not simply about personal characteristics, but also about our relationship to others and the supports we have present in our surrounding.
When I think about personal resiliency amongst folx with minoritized identities, I am struck by how much responsibility we put on the individual. How do marginalized communities thrive in the face of adversity when there are limitations in systemic supports, poor access to resources, and a focus on individualism?
What can we do to cope and work towards resiliency?
The goal is not to stop feeling the anxiety, because this is not a post-traumaticreaction. Remember that your anxieties are a valid reaction to ongoing systemic trauma. Instead, the goal is to understand how these realities impact us and learn how to limit feelings of being overwhelmed or shut down.
Here are some concepts and steps to consider:
1.) S.T.O.P – is a helpful acronym to help you slow down and learn to listen to your body. It stands for STOPand pause, TAKE A DEEP BREATH to help you focus on the present moment, OBSERVEwhat is happening within your body and mind, and finally PROCEEDand make a decision about your course of action based on what you just learned.
2.) Be mindful of your boundaries. One way to approach this is to think of what values are most important for you and let it guide your decisions.
3.) Pay attention to guilt. When you begin to own your voice, take up space, and push against systems that no longer serve you- you may begin to feel like the villain. Push through this. Look at this as growing pains as you take steps to challenge oppressive rules and environments. Also, guilt can arise as you begin to identify ways you may have been complicit in a system.
4.) When you engage in dialogue with others who are experiencing similar harms, remember your boundaries. It is important to differentiate what feelings are theirs and what is yours. Though your experiences and journey may help offer solace, remember that each person has their own journey. Remember your active listening and empathy skills. Here is a helpful video by Brene Brown highlighting the aspects of empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
5.) Reach out for help to those you trust! Remember resiliency is not built alone, it is important to find your people, a sense of belonging, and have trusting relationships.
6.) Expand your toolkit for self-care. Remember to pay attention to rituals and understanding of self-care within all your cultural contexts! The way we deal with pain is a cultural process and healing can take on many forms.