Finding Hope in 2020: A Formula for Building Resilience, Hope, & Empowerment in a Challenging World
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
I don't know about you, but this year has been quite a test in my ability to withstand the feeling of doom in our world. A lot has been unveiled about our country through the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the political divisiveness, racial injustice, economic inequality, and holes in our systems (education, justice, healthcare), just to name a few. Not only that, we are experiencing death and grief on an extreme level - its hard to turn on the news or look at social media without seeing a new announcement of a beloved public figure passing or knowing someone who has passed due to the pandemic. We are having to rearrange and let go of the lives we once knew and face an extraordinary amount of uncertainty. Even typing all of this out, the heaviness in my chest is impossible to ignore. So how can we find hope with all of this overwhelm, grief, and fear present in our daily lives?
The short answer: balancing our perspectives. The formula?:
Feel + Validate + Find the Opportunity = Hope, Resilience, & Empowerment
My suggestion to coping with the doom and gloom in the world is to allow our emotional experience to exist and then find balance by taking stock of the positive opportunities that this time is offering us. In the therapy world, I work off the knowledge that it is impossible to avoid challenges - they are a necessary part of the human experience. Suffering mostly comes from our resistance to these challenges - wanting the quick fix or attempting to ignore how hard things really are. Its natural to want to avoid struggle - our brains are hardwired to do it, through our evolution as a species and through the conditioning we receive in society. We have been taught that if we can create an external world of ease, we will experience an internal world of ease. However, we are slowly beginning to realize that those external things we think will bring us ease - money, vacations, medications for physical and mental health issues, etc. - actually don't bring us ease, but just buy us time before our next bout of discomfort and discontent.
"The trouble with this is, we don't have much control over these external forces, and we can be extremely limited in our ability to change external factors, especially if we are not financially or socially privileged. Therefore, we tend to feel even more out of control when "bad" things happen because we have barriers to fixing our external world."
So what's the secret? I believe our work now as a individuals, parents, and a society is to focus on re-patterning ourselves to develop an internal locus of control. Locus of control is a psychological concept that refers to how strongly people believe they have control over the situations and experiences that affect their lives. When you have an external locus of control, you believe that those things outside yourself - other people, your environment, things, your government, the world, fate - control how you feel. So when you feel a challenging emotion - sad, scared, or angry - you believe it is the cause of something external, so you seek to change that external culprit in order to not feel that challenging emotion. The trouble with this is, we don't have much control over these external forces, and we can be extremely limited in our ability to change external factors, especially if we are not financially or socially privileged. Therefore, we tend to feel even more out of control when "bad" things happen because we have barriers to fixing our external world. This then leads to increased feelings of helplessness and disempowerment, in turn increasing the original challenging experience.
"How we participate in and react to the situations and experiences that affect our life is where our power lies."
When you have an internal locus of control, you look inward on how you can respond to the situations and experiences that affect your life. You believe that you have power over your own life and what happens to you. When you feel anxious, scared, sad, disappointed, angry, hopeless, or overwhelmed - your first thought is "In what way am I creating this experience for myself, and how can I shift how I look at or react to this experience to help me overcome this challenge?" This - we have plenty of control over. In fact, this is the thing you have the most control over in life. How we participate in and react to the situations and experiences that affect our life is where our power lies. And...its free! It's actually quite relieving to know I don't need anything extra to get the life I want. The hard part is that most of us are not taught this way of being - so the challenge is in unlearning and de-patterning our brains away from an external locus of control and towards an internal locus of control.
"Your child will now grow up knowing that no matter what happens in their lives, they can get through it."
In the playroom, this is exactly what I am helping my kiddos to learn. That yes - it is sad and disappointing that my toy broke, and I can cope with things that are sad and disappointing. I don't need to worry about buying a new one or blaming the person who broke it - I will just acknowledge that I feel sad about what happened and tell myself that I will still be ok. This teaches kiddo resilience. True resilience - which is defined as "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties" - that is dependent solely on themselves, not their environment. Your child will now grow up knowing that no matter what happens in their lives, they can get through it. They won't need to rely on others, their financial situation, their job, or their government to take care of their problems for them. They will feel capable over overcoming any challenge. And due to that resilience, they will feel confident to take more risks, do the "impossible" thing, reach their dreams, and fulfill their goals.
So how does this tie into fostering hope in 2020? Something I have told families since the beginning of this pandemic is that when the world feels out of our control (which it is) - focus on the things you can control. And all we really can control is how we are responding to all that is happening. There's a formula for this - to get a little left-brained for a minute - since after all we are trying to create new neural pathways which is no simple feat. Here is the formula to focusing on your internal locus of control:
Feel + Validate + Find the Opportunity = Hope, Resilience, & Empowerment
Feel your emotional experience, validate your experience, find the opportunity in the challenging experience, and you will rediscover hope, build resilience, & feel empowered in your life.
ex: "I notice I feel overwhelmed and scared by the election coming up" + "Of course I feel this way, my values and beliefs are not being reflected by the current president and that may be extended for four more years" + "It's ok that I feel scared. I can feel scared and still be ok. My fear about this has also helped me realize my values, so how can I create a life aligned with those values even if the president is not?"
Bam-a-lam! It's hard not to get political because this is a real example for me that I have been working with recently. To focus on changing what happens with this election (VOTE!) is overwhelming for just one person. I will choose instead to focus most of my energy on how I am deciding to live my life and build a world around me that reflects my values of personal & emotional accountability, connection, empathy, awareness, and fairness.
"Starting at ground zero, our first order of business is connecting to our emotional experience. Become aware of how you are feeling throughout the day without prescribing any judgment or reason for it."
Enacting this formula, of course, is easier said than done. I realize as a therapist, I have spent a lot of time weaving this philosophy and formula into my way of being - it's been my job to do so. Starting at ground zero, our first order of business is connecting to our emotional experience. Become aware of how you are feeling throughout the day without prescribing any judgment or reason for it. Perhaps you woke up feeling uneasy - is it anxiety? Is your heart and/or mind racing? Does it feel hard to relax? Notice all the nuances of your emotional experience. You can do this at any moment throughout the day. This is already working to create neural pathways in your brain that help you become aware of your emotional experience quickly and naturally. Once we are able to do that, we begin to grow our tolerance to feeling our emotions. We begin feeling more comfortable in challenging emotions because they are less unknown and unfamiliar now that we have spent more time with them. Then, once we realize how much time we can spend with them and yet we still make it through our day - our brain begins to learn that we can do hard things. We can feel sad, mad, or scared, and still be ok.
"When we decide to do this work, we inherently then affect those around us and begin creating the world we wish to see. It all starts with you."
Finally, we can then open up to seeing the opportunity within the challenge. What did this feeling have to teach me? What am I needing? How can I take care of myself when I feel this way? How have I grown from overcoming this challenge? Now, we are conceptualizing and realizing our resilience. All of a sudden, our brain is starting to see our whole life experience through this lens:
"Challenging emotion - this feels hard and I will be ok - how is this serving me -
I am resilient!"
As humans, we are wired for growth and evolution. It's when we resist this growth and change that creates most of our suffering. Balancing perspectives and building our internal locus of control is how we can find hope and build resilience in an overwhelmingly challenging world. When we decide to do this work, we inherently then affect those around us and begin creating the world we wish to see. It all starts with you.
Wishing you all well.
*I am currently accepting new clients - play therapy, parenting, and individual sessions.
Schedule a free consultation:
Jamie Quail, MA
Child & Family Therapist
Wise Nest Counseling, LLC & The Bridge Center for Play Therapy