How do individuals, couples, and families navigate life after experiencing loss or adversity? This question has perhaps never been more relevant than in our current time, as we collectively navigate many complex and traumatic losses wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loss is a powerful experience that shakes the foundation of life and our understanding of it. How a couple or family deals with stress and loss is crucial, and therapists can help families strengthen key processes to increase support, spark efforts to deal with challenges, and gain resilience. In gaining resilience, couples and families strengthen their connections to each other and strengthen their ability to deal with future challenges. However, resilience in response to loss and other major disruptions does not mean “just bouncing back,” quickly recovering, and moving on unscathed. Healing and resilience are created gradually over time, through suffering and setbacks; it involves struggling well and integrating painful loss experiences into our life’s journey.
Here are 9 Key Processes of Resilience, created by Clinical Psychologist and researcher Froma Walsh
1. Making Meaning of Adversity
Meaning making and recovery involve a struggle to understand what has been lost, how to build new lives, and how to prevent future tragedy. It involves efforts over time, not simply a final stage in resolving grief, an “aha” moment when everything makes sense. Meaning-making processes should be a shared challenge and involve shared attempts to make sense of the loss, put it in perspective to make it more bearable, and, over time, integrate it into personal and family life.
2. Positive Outlook: Hope
Positive outlook is not the same thing as optimism or happiness; it is much deeper and more profound. Recognizing individual and family strengths during difficulties can offset feelings of helplessness, failure, and despair since it reinforces shared pride and confidence. Hope is most essential in times of overwhelm and despair, fueling energy and efforts to cope and rebuild lives. Hope is held onto in the midst of uncertainty.
3. Transcendence & Spirituality
In times of loss and deep suffering, spiritual matters often come to the forefront. Transcendent values and practices help people to endure and rise above losses and disruptions by encouraging meaning, connection, and purpose. These practices offer opportunities to reaffirm identity and values of caring and compassion for others. These spiritual connections do not have to be tied to any organized religion. Spiritual nourishment, transformation, and growth can be found in nature, the expressive arts, and service or social action to benefit others.
In the aftermath of loss or crisis events, families can’t simply return to “normal” life as they knew it. Families often need help in navigating new terrain and in undergoing structural reorganization. Families must construct a new sense of normality as they recalibrate relationships and reorganize patterns of interaction to fit new conditions.
5. Connectedness & Mutual Support
A crisis can splinter family unity if members are unable to turn to one another. Resilience is strengthened by mutual support, collaboration, and commitment to weather troubled times together. However, family members also need to respect each other’s individual differences, separateness, and boundaries. People may have quite varied reactions to the same event or may need more or less time to process the experience.
6. Kin, Social & Economic Resources
Kin and social networks are crucial lifelines in times of trouble, offering practical and emotional support. Involvement in community groups and faith congregations also strengthens resilience. Just as individuals need supportive relationships to thrive, family resilience must be supported by social and institutional policies and practices that foster their ability to thrive, such as flexible work schedules for parents and quality, affordable healthcare, and child- and elder-care services.
7. Clear Messages
Clarifying and sharing important information about crisis situations and future expectations, such as a medical prognosis, facilitates meaning-making, authentic relating, and informed decision-making, whereas ambiguity or secrecy can block understanding and closeness. Shared understanding of the reality and circumstances of a painful loss fosters healing whereas denial and cover-up can impede recovery and lead to estrangement.
8. Open Emotional Expression
Open communication, supported by a climate of mutual trust, empathy, and tolerance for differences, enables members to share a wide range of feelings that can be triggered by crisis events and chronic stress. Family members may be out of sync over time: one may continue to be quite upset as others feel ready to move on. For relational resilience, couples and families are encouraged to share their feelings and comfort one another. Additionally, finding pleasure and moments of humor amid pain can offer respite and lift spirits.
9. Collaborative Problem-solving / Pro-action
Collaborative problem-solving and conflict management are essential for family resilience. Creative brainstorming and resourcefulness open new possibilities for overcoming adversity and for healing and growth out of tragedy. Families become more resourceful when they can shift from a crisis-reactive mode to a proactive stance, striving toward a better future.
More than just surviving loss or managing stressful conditions, resilience can transform lives and relationships. In struggling through loss and hardship, in active coping efforts, and in reaching out to others, people use resources that they may not have drawn on otherwise and gain new perspective on life. In developing resilience, we construct a new sense of normalcy as we recalibrate our lives to face any challenges that lie ahead.