How We Can Promote Resilience and Recovery for People Who Have Experienced Trauma from Sexual Violence?

Resilience looks at how people make it in spite of difficult circumstances/experiences. Theorists have defined resilience as self-acceptance, the ability to engage in positive relationships with others, and environmental mastery. Resilience means a positive outcome despite the experience of adversity, the ability to continue to be positive or effectively function in adverse circumstances and the recovery process after significant trauma, like sexual violence. Resilience turns victims into survivors and allows survivors to thrive. Resilient individuals can get distressed, but they are able to manage the negative behavioral outcomes in the face of risks without becoming debilitated.

Some researchers have looked at resilience as an individual’s capacity to thrive and fulfill potential despite or perhaps even because of the trauma they experience. The ability to find emotional support outside of the family, high self-regard, spiritual connection attached to a certain religion, coping strategies, refocusing and moving on, active healing and achieving closure, and helpful life circumstances. Resilient individuals are more inclined to see problems as opportunities for growth. In other words, resilient individuals seem not only to cope well with unusual strains and stressors but actually to experience such challenges as learning and development opportunities.

There are factors or characteristics that have been identified as ways to enhance resilience in people, these include; 

  • Ability to “bounce back” and “pull through from almost anything”
  • Have a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” attitude
  • Propensity to see problems as opportunities 
  • Capacity to “hang tough” when things are difficult 
  • Have deep-rooted faith in a system of meaning (religion, spirituality) 
  • Have a healthy social support network (family, friends, church, community etc.)
  • Has the wherewithal to competently handle most different kinds of situations
  • Able to recover from experiences of a traumatic nature

Resilience does not mean the absence of struggles. Survivors who have shown signs of being resilient have their fair share of struggles and psychological symptoms; however it is within these struggles that their resilient capacities are shown. Resilience theory encourages those working with trauma survivors to focus on strengths and what the survivor has done to survive rather than focus on negative symptoms. Survivors’ ability to overcome and live positively with their trauma can be viewed as the core to their resilience.

What can we all do to support people who have experienced trauma and promote resilience?

Increase your understanding of trauma and its impact. The first step in responding appropriately to trauma is to learn to recognize common reactions to traumatic experiences and to understand the purpose and function of these reactions.

Reach out and offer support to people who have experienced trauma. Whether you are formally involved in providing intervention or support services, or whether you are simply concerned about others in your community, it can be a powerful experience to reach out to people who have experienced trauma. Recommendations include listening without judgment, offering consistent emotional support, providing practical help, and providing company for anxietyprovoking events. It is typically more helpful to listen, and to provide a safe place for trauma survivors to talk about their experiences, rather than trying to problem solve for them or offering advice. It is important to validate their feelings and reactions, and to offer concern and support.

Learn what trauma-specific services may be available in your community and make referrals. Trauma-specific mental health services may be offered in a variety of settings, such as outpatient mental health clinics, homes, hospitals, schools, and other settings. Since these services are specifically designed for individuals who have experienced trauma, it may be helpful to connect people to programs.

Promote positive parent-child relationships. Families are an important focus for prevention efforts, intervention, and support. Some of the most powerful protective factors include strong attachment between parents and children, caregiver knowledge of parenting and child development, parental resilience, social connections, and concrete support for parents.

Promote positive youth development. Adolescence is a critical period of development, and provides a variety of opportunities to help individuals recover from traumatic events that they have already experienced, and to promote resilience to help them face potential future events.

Be a voice and an advocate for people who have experienced trauma. Positive changes are often made due to the efforts of “champions” who inspire and persuade others to offer more effective services or to improve public policies. Identify opportunities to be an advocate for people who have experienced trauma. Share information and resources about trauma-informed care. Encourage others to consider incorporating aspects of trauma-informed care into their services or supports.

Practice positive self-care. Finally, don’t forget to pay attention to your own self-care. It can be hard to provide support to people who have experienced trauma. Hearing their stories and reactions may be stressful, and you may find yourself feeling helpless or angry. If you have your own history of traumatic experiences, it can be worse.

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