Step 9: Finding the Up Side of the Down Side—Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID-19

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Step 9: Healed our inner child by realizing the promises of self-parenting in our daily living.

The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children

If you are like me, you’re feeling pretty beat up. Blows are coming from so many directions, all at the same time now. From the fear of becoming ill with COVID-19 to the loss of someone you know, perhaps someone you love, to the simple, seemingly inconsequential loss of not being able to readily acknowledge someone you recognize. Yes, smiling hello does get lost behind a mask. 

The Blows

So many of us are not only losing our jobs, but also our anticipated enjoyment of summer fun—summer sports, that long-awaited family reunion, or a getaway vacation. We can no longer do so many things we took for granted: gathering for a concert, eating at a restaurant, or shaking the hand of someone we have just met. 

We have also lost a sense of safety as we watch the replaying of a man’s murder on network television. This event is so stunning that it is important to remember that until recently, one had to go to the dark web to view a murder of a human being. We are frightened by the pain and despair as people protest, others rage, and the opportunistic loot, closing small, family businesses and attacking iconic stores. For some of us, this also triggers memories of earlier childhood losses and pain where we felt powerless, confused, even angry, meaning that we are currently feeling this collective anguish on multiple levels.

An Opportunity for Post-Traumatic Growth

Searching for the positive in the negative may feel crazy. When I’ve posed the question to myself about what to do, I’ve heard myself asking, You want me to make this okay? In that moment I felt, as you may be feeling, young, vulnerable.  My vulnerable core, my inner child was beginning to feel overwhelmed. Then I’ve listened to myself answer, No I want you to find a way through this misery so that you don’t have to re-experience the pain you are in now. Ah, change. This is post-traumatic growth, the moment at which we see there is an alternative. 

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Knowing you can keep going to a different, better place within yourself if you keep moving and don’t allow yourself to stay stuck is key. Post-traumatic growth is the impetus to move beyond where we are; it is using the pain in our community, what we witness on TV,  what we experienced as children, as teens, as adults, to emerge into a space where we are better able to care for ourselves.

God has mercifully ordered that the human brain work slowly; 

first the blow, hours later the bruise

Walter de la Mare, The Return

The Bruise

The damage done by the trauma—the blow, the swelling, the discoloration, the pain—is an outward signal that something awful has occurred, that a wounding has occurred. The bruise makes it harder to pretend that everything is ok, that life can return to where it was. The bruise is not the end, but is, in many ways, the beginning of your process of change. Resiliency is making this a positive journey.

Developing Resiliency Skills in Response

Resiliency is doing the hard work necessary to develop the inner resources needed to navigate life’s complexities while minimizing the harm that comes with disappointment, with new traumas occurring as old ones are triggered. Resiliency is about knowing you have the skills to keep your inner child, safe.  Resiliency is about using these stresses to set yourself on a different, positive path.

Some researchers feel resiliency is biologically driven; that is, you’re either born with being resilient or you are not. I disagree. I have seen in my clinical work that resiliency is a series of learned skills which begin even before you learned to speak and were what we call pre-verbal. 

Looking back over your life, you can identify your emerging resiliency in your responses as a toddler. They helped you literally take care of yourself and leave stressful situations by crawling away, or by having tantrum to change what was happening around you. As a teenager, you may have argued with your parents, even been disrespectful, but that didn’t taint the truth of what you were saying by speaking truth to power. As an adult, you may have searched for and found purpose in your life. These actions on your part formed the basis of what we call self-parenting, your resiliency in action

The stimulus for learning these skills is often an event, perhaps even a trauma, that jolted you, causing you to grow beyond your current problem-solving mode. Post-traumatic growth is the spark that leads to the development of ongoing skills and resiliency. 

Taking Away Your Own Power

Owning that you have power to change your world can be overwhelming. Yes, it makes you responsible for yourself. At times this can feel like too much, which is why sometimes actively taking away you own power can look inviting. Some of the ways people do this is through

  • Self-harm: cutting or wounding oneself can provide a temporary sensation of inner peace, but the pain of the wound quickly compounds all the other stress you have been feeling and increases your anxiety. 
  • Alcohol and drug use have dramatically increased during this pandemic. This isn’t surprising since liquor stores have been deemed essential services in many states. But addiction and overdoses have increased too. Anesthetizing your pain doesn’t take it away; it merely postpones pain, meaning you’re going to need to face it later, but now with a hangover, or accompanied by withdrawal. 

Exploring Your Resilience 

We grow when we challenge ourselves. When I challenged my own compulsive self-reliance (Step 3), I found that what was true for me when I was a kid is no longer true. I realize that I have changed, and for the better in many ways. 

You can use this time of isolation and fear to reflect on your growth.  Did I just hear you say an expletive?  Yes, this isolation has been difficult, very, very difficult, but as with all challenges it presents an opportunity.  For many of us this opportunity has been not being able to distract ourselves from how vulnerable we feel, how much we feel we need and deserve protection.  We’ve all been hearing our inner child speak.  

To deal with COVID-19 and the massive changes worldwide, own that within you is a strong, resilient adult who has been dealing with a series of very stressful situations. Now is the time to make your strengths (Step 4)—your resilience—conscious so you can use them as you would any other tool—intentionally, appreciating what they are.

… the Promises of Self-Parenting is the Ability to Redefine Yourself

Post-traumatic growth is the catalyst to change. Resiliency is the change, it is knowing that the bruise is not the end but signals the beginning of your growth. You can begin your growth, your positive response to what has been done to you by considering that:

  • Resiliency is bouncing back, what you do with what’s been done to you. 
  • Resiliency is developing a growing belief in your capacity to care for yourself.
  • Resiliency is growing stronger in more vulnerable places, much like scar tissue which is a thicker protection over an area that has been punctured, resiliency can be your emotional covering for the part of you that has been injured, wounded, providing extra protection.

Exercise for Today

Give yourself real relief by owning your resilience. Crisis is an opportunity to get to know yourself in a deeper, more focused way so that you can care for yourself and self-parent.  

In your gratitude journal, note: 

  • What new resiliency skills have you have learned that helps you move on from the traumas you are experiencing. What new beliefs about yourself are emerging?
    • How you have learned not to live in F.E.A.R.: False Evidence Appearing Real.
    • If you are in a 12-step program, how has learning the following slogans helped you consciously develop your resilience? What resiliency skills are you learning from:
      • Keep It Simple
      • First Things First
      • Live One Day at a Time
    • How are you being kind, even sweet, to yourself today? Have you reached for a strawberry instead of a candy bar? Called a friend instead of turning on the TV? Taken five minutes to just stretch your body? In short, made yourself a priority.
    • Has your isolation made you understand how much you need intimacy and perhaps the courage it takes for you to connect to others? Think about the people you have brought into your life, and give yourself credit for this. Are they good people, who you’re now thinking you’d like to get closer to? 
    • Does your connection to your higher parent free you to nurture your faith as opposed to rushing through your day?

In doing this journaling, you will be noting the resiliency skills you are developing that are sustaining you during this time of turmoil. Use these to make an intention for where you want to spend more energy, where you want to grow, and note it. 

Make a note in your journal about how this process works for you, and feel free to share it on my new Facebook Group, Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID, which I invite you to join by clicking on the link. There you can post your struggles and solutions as we create community. I invite you to share the blogs and posts you find on the Facebook Group by tagging those you know and care about, whether they are in recovery or just loved by you. 

This is the ninth of a twelve-part series based on The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting. More tips will be available in my new ebook (to be published later this summer), and are available on my blog, The Powerful Woman.net, and in my books: Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting, The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children, and The Resilient Woman. Learn more Learn more about my work as a consulting psychologist and speaker at www.patriciaogorman.com.

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