by Beth Medina
It is a basic human drive and need to be connected to others. Our species’ survival has been successful in part because we have strong communities that provide all manner of safety, security and belonging. In our SHIFT (Supporting Heroes in Mental Health Foundational Training) program we talk a lot about the importance of social support as a function of resiliency. The presence and use of social support is perhaps the most important characteristic of a resilient person.
Resilience is an individual’s ability to bounce back from challenging and even traumatic situations. The resiliency of a person isn’t set in stone, i.e. either you have it or you don’t; it’s a skill set that can be cultivated and grown. Challenging situations can actually help us become more resilient and trauma, when worked through and integrated, can lead to post traumatic growth. In other words, trauma recovery can make us stronger. So, if we begin with an understanding that resiliency is an important skill set that can be cultivated and that connection and use of social support is the single most determinative characteristic of a resilient person, what are some ways to encourage connection with those who love and support us?
First, it is important to recognize that the work of ICAC and affiliated agencies doesn’t lend itself to sharing the details of day-to-day workload with our family and friends. Over the last 10 years of providing mental health and wellness training as an ICAC Training and Technical Assistance provider, it is clear that there is a strong desire to protect our loved ones from any exposure to the horrific material and cases that are common in this job. With that in mind, we encourage a discussion with family members and other support systems. It isn’t necessary to elaborate the details of cases, but certainly a chat about how difficult cases and things that you see can have an effect on your mood and outlook. Developing open communication around how your family and friends can support you best on days when the work is tough can go a long way in helping the people you love feel that they can be there for you. There is strength in sharing vulnerability with those who love you, it helps to strengthen the bonds between you.
Secondly, set aside time to be immersed in your family and friends in order to strengthen your relationships and thus strengthen resiliency. Games nights, family dinners, vacations and shared hobbies are just a few ways you can keep your relationships strong.
Thirdly, and especially as it relates to our families, developing and nurturing a shared vision. In our SHIFT presentation we talk about creating a family mission statement as part of a Family Wellness Plan. We have resources available on our website (www.shiftwellness.org) and through our webinars that speak directly on how to cultivate a vision and plan for how our families and support circles will be together. Setting intentional plans and a vision for how we will be in our families and community sets a strong priority for our mental wellbeing. Simple things like defining the language we will use when talking with one another (“Please”, “Thank you”, “I understand you are feeling…”) can be expressly shared on the Plan and put in a place that can be accessed by all the family to encourage healthy and supportive interactions. Another way to express your vision may be through community service and volunteering. Giving back to other is a powerful way to build connection both in your family and within your community.
Certainly, there are many more ways you can build strong connections with your family, friends and communities. We would love to hear from you about your stories of connection and how you have successfully navigated the murky waters of sharing what you do daily at work with the people who love and support you most. Please share your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much for all you do to make our communities safer and know we are here to support you in any way we can!