Do we need patience or resilience in coping with trauma and grief? The short answer is that it’s not an either/or: we need both qualities, as well as lots more besides to move forward from emotionally challenging times.
Being Mental Health Awareness Week, it is an apt time to consider the question.
I am posing the question in response to a thought-provoking article my sister-in-law recently shared with me: In Praise of Resilience. While the whole article is worth a read, this paragraph is my favourite:
Patience recognises suffering in the difficulties of one’s life and that of another. Nowadays, it might conjure up ideas of complacence but, with a long view of time – in which time is understood as abundant – patience becomes a way of bearing sorrows. Unlike resilience, which implies returning to an original shape, patience suggests change and allows the possibility of transformation as a means of overcoming difficulties. It is a simultaneous act of defiance and tenderness, a complex existence that gently breaks barriers. In patience, a person exists at the edge of becoming. With an abundance of time, people are allowed space to be undefined, neither bending nor broken, but instead, transfigured.
I like the concept of patience being an act of defiance, especially in a tumultuous, chaotic ‘go go go’ world.
I’ve written before about how our society doesn’t really understand the needs of grieving people, or those who are trying to recover from trauma. There seems to be a cultural notion that we must hurry to be back to ‘normal’, to move on. That fails to take in to account that grieving people and those who have experienced trauma would love to return to normal – and the knowledge of that fact can be another point of pain.
We are encouraged to build resilience – the article’s subheading describes resilience as the ‘fashionable prescription for trauma’. Resilience is certainly a buzzword, but I think the concept in terms of grief and trauma is misunderstood.
I wrote in Creating an Emotional Wellbeing and Resilence Plan that resilience isn’t about getting up again straight away, bouncing back good as new as if you are the Terminator.
To me, resilience is about finding ways to carry on, move forward – and that may sometimes involve crawling on your hands and knees.
And that requires a lot of patience.
During the past couple of years, since getting HELLP syndrome and Hugo’s death I have discovered I am a lot more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for.
During the past couple of years I have picked myself up again and again and again. For all that, I know I have been shaped by my trauma. I am not the same person as I was before, and while I would dearly love my life to be what I perceive to be ‘normal’ (that is, with a nearly two-year-old boy causing all sorts of havoc yet full of sloppy kisses and cuddles) I don’t want to be the same person I was before. There are many qualities of the post-trauma Leigh that I quite like: the determined, kick-ass confidence to name just three.
A quality I wish I had more of, though, is patience. I have learned the hard way that there is no hurrying grief and recovery from trauma.
Soon after Hugo died I set to work creating Hugo’s Legacy. It was my way of surviving, giving myself a sense of purpose after my world had fallen apart.
I was impatient with the world: I wanted to change the world in my son’s memory, and I wanted it to change now.
I was impatient with myself: not giving myself the time to sit, ponder, just be. There was a good reason for that, though: by not giving the traumatic memories room to breathe I was hoping they would suffocate and disappear.
That didn’t happen, of course: in trying to smother the traumatic memories I was unwittingly sabotaging my wellbeing. The result of that was an unpleasant implosion.
My mind and body forced me to take a break.
I had to learn how to be patient.
This section of the article is also resonant:
As an adjective, [patience] is the quality of a person who is able to overcome and demonstrate understanding towards others. As a noun, it is a person who is in need of understanding and, specifically, medical care.
I was – and still am – in need of understanding and medical care. I am receiving both. It is not just understanding from others I need, but understanding myself, too. Understanding that I need to be patient with myself, especially after a gruelling EMDR session like the one a couple of days ago.
That EMDR session wiped me out. I felt like I had been through the trauma all over again. In a way, I have to remind myself, I have, and that’s why I need to be understanding towards my needs. Treat myself as I would a friend: with care, compassion, and patience.
It is only today, two days later that I am beginning to feel human again. If being patient with myself is what I need to do to get through it, then that is what I shall do.
Patience is time, as the article suggests, to be undefined. To allow myself to have as much time as I need. To be led by my needs, not what I think I should be doing.
Patience, combined with my resilience (also known as stubborn bloody-mindedness – my obstinance is beginning to yield to the concept of self-care and self-compassion) will get me through this process of constant change, of transfiguration towards feeling better able to cope with the world again.
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