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Coping in a Traumatized Society: Developing Emotional Resilience

It's no secret that hate speech and hate crimes have been on the rise across the US and increasingly portrayed in the "entertainment" media over the past several years. Feeling vulnerable to either hate speech or violence is now a daily experience for many. Concern for personal safety is triggering depression, confusion, and realistic alarm among adults and children alike.

If you are feeling hopeless, helpless, or scared in these turbulent times, you are not alone.

There are many perspectives about the causes and the remedies for the acting-out behavior that viciously targets others simply because they are perceived to be somehow different, and therefore less deserving of common courtesy. Hate speech is an especially dangerous form of bullying, and it is on the rise. This victimizing behavior has been occurring with increasing animosity and intimidation in school yards, public transport, college classrooms, workplaces, shopping malls, social and sporting events, and even churches. Hate crimes take that bullying to the extremes of violence.

As a result, a climate of anxiety is permeating cities, suburbs, and even the more rural areas of our country. Our sense of resilience -- in the face of persistent anticipation of being threatened or witnessing violence up-close and personal -- can be, for some of us, difficult to sustain.

So let's briefly address what emotional resilience is, and how to create and keep it working for us, especially when we might need it most.

What is Emotional Resilience?

Emotional resilience is the ability to navigate stress and crisis well. It's being able to deal with difficult times and people without long term damage that can lead to depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and post traumatic stress.

It's having an optimistic attitude that this too shall pass, that not everyone is hurtful, and that you always have choices and blessings in your life.

Emotional resilience goes a long way towards creating inner peace and inner strength. It grows from not allowing the cruelty of others to destroy your self-confidence, and the trust and interdependence you enjoy in your valued relationships.

Some Ways to Regain Emotional Resilience

Getting bullied or victimized by violent crime or domestic terrorism can be a powerful challenge to emotional resilience. It's like a gut punch to one's emotional defenses. The main thing to remember -- whether you are anticipating or have already experienced a dangerous incident -- is that resilience can be cultivated. You always have the chance to get yours back.

1. Reaffirm who you can trust by discussing your fears with friends, parents, co-workers, and community leaders. Identifying in advance who you or your child can turn to for unconditional support if and when needed is a powerful step in [re-]building resilience.

2. Create a personal response team of peers and professionals to call on when you feel overwhelmed or panicked in anticipation of -- or in the aftermath of -- a traumatizing experience. Then use it as freely as needed to process emotions.

3. Process fears in the context of recognizing how to create safety. Limit yourself to productive processing, rather than incessant ruminating. Producing processing includes realistic appraisals of where safety lies, and exploring what you can do differently if something similar happens again. Ruminating dwells on the unfairness of being victimized.

4. Keep a normal routine as much as possible. Normalcy in your daily life helps to counter fear and anxiety running away with you, and helps your kids to feel safer as well.

5. Seek out role models to inspire and emulate. Realizing that many people have experienced bullying and violence, and have thrived in their survival, turning tragedy into triumph, can be reassuring. Keep telling yourself that no matter what, you too are already a survivor and a blessing to others.

6. Get professional help if you are having trouble sleeping, relaxing, and feeling any emotion at all, if you are having panic or nightmares, and if you are withdrawing from your support system and avoiding what used to be necessary to your daily life. A professional counselor will help you regain your resilience.

Privilege and Vicarious Trauma

Even if you have the privilege of not being perceived as "other" by those who are inclined to bully and to act violently, silence and inaction when you see someone else being threatened not only adds to their danger, but diminishes your own sense of emotional resilience as well. If you are particularly attuned to the suffering of others, it is possible to be experiencing much of the same anticipatory anxiety that others do, even if you are part of a privileged, and supposedly protected, class.

There is such a thing as vicarious trauma. For those who are especially sensitive to hearing about others' tragedies, or who feel threats made to others as if they are made to you, it is possible to experience a similar sense of personal danger even if that seems logically unlikely. In fact, the cognitive dissonance between what you feel and what is probably real in terms of your own safety, can itself be overwhelming, disorienting and guilt-producing.

Working on strengthening your own emotional resilience is a good idea. Call me if you or someone you know could use some professional help with this concern.

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