by Kendall Coffman, Marriage and Family Therapist
Finding Resilience During Covid-19
In the year 2020, we as a community have been exposed to increasingly difficult cultural and global crises. What we can do to be resilient in a year when our ability to connect with others has been one of the major casualties? Join me as we consider the ideas of researcher, writer, and professor Brené Brown to explore what it means to find resilience during this crazy time.
In her first book, Brown (2010) defines connection as “…the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship” (19). Our ability to connect with others, whether that be friends, family, co-workers, or even strangers, has been drastically altered due to the global impacts of Covid-19. There have been increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation as a result of this isolation. Many of us are desperate for connection and community (CDC, 2020).
The question I have heard from many of my clients has been, “What makes some people more resilient to trauma or conflict than others?” Based on the research of Brown (2017), resilient individuals consistently practice three specific acts that aid in their response to struggle – the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution.
The first step to developing resilience is “The Reckoning.” Brown writes (2017), “…men and women who rise strong are willing and able to reckon with their emotions. First, they recognize that they’re feeling something – a button has been pushed, they’re hooked, something is triggered, their emotions are off-kilter. Second, they get curious about what’s happening and how what they’re feeling is connected to their thoughts and behaviors” (40). Our ability to recognize that something is occurring within us is paramount to producing resilience and creating change, as is a response to that recognition that’s characterized by curiosity.
As we consider the impacts of Covid-19 and the increased levels of social isolation we are all facing, I would suggest that we all first begin asking ourselves discovery questions about what we are experiencing. For example, “What is the core emotion that I am experiencing (sadness, anger, fearful, lonely, tired, boredom)?”
The second step of the resilience process is called “The Rumble.” Brown (2017) explains that this is the process of getting honest about the stories that we have made up about our own struggles, and then taking an active role in revisiting, challenging, and reality-checking the narratives. This is truly the dirty work of the process. It requires us to come face to face with the stories that tend to keep us silent and locked in a shame spiral. These stories may have to do with our abilities to parent, our jobs, our relationships, our bodies, our friendships, or even our own lovability.
When it comes to Covid-19, we must collectively do some major narrative exploring and reality-checking. Most, if not all, of us are experiencing a pandemic for the first time. No one has the answer for how to best navigate seemingly routine activities like work and school in this context. Rumbling with the idea that we are not incompetent, we are not overemotional, and we aren’t supposed to have it all together, is paramount in finding our own sense of self amid global chaos.
When we rumble with our stories and own the truth of our existence, we have the power then to write a new and brave ending to the story (Brown, 2017). The key element of The Revolution step is this rewriting process. People who take the time to explore, fact-check, and rewrite the story they were making up about themselves have much better outcomes and are able to rise stronger in their intimate relationships, parental roles, family lives, and professional spaces (Brown, 2017). By changing the narratives that have been guiding us, we gain the power to change at a deep level. This kind of change is the fruit of resilience – it’s a grounded, thoughtful change rather than a reflex or pure reaction.
Time for Work
The revolution of our collective Covid-19 story is still in the process of being written. We are all writing and rewriting the story that will define this part of our lives forever. This unprecedented time challenges us to look beyond the scope of what we used to consider “normal,” and demands that we exist in a whole new landscape. At times we may plead for normalcy or the life we used to know. However, I do not think that life will ever come back; truthfully, I am not sure if we want it to. Poet, humanitarian, and social justice activist Sonya Renee Taylor said it best: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, My friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Is there a clear answer, an easy resolution? No. However, we have the power inside of us to rewrite the story that is keeping us feeling lost in the darkness of 2020. We have the opportunity to start over – and from a place of resilience. We have the opportunity to turn towards each other and connect in new ways. We have the power to finish the story.
Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb (2019) once wrote of her own experience of therapy, “It’s one thing to talk about leaving behind a restrictive mindset. It’s another to stop being so restrictive. The transfer of words into action, the freedom of it, made me want to carry that action outside the therapy room and into my life” (407). It’s time we look inward and find the stories we are telling ourselves that are unfit to be a part of our sacred lives. I will meet you out there boldly, bravely in the arena of life. Happy rumbling and rise strong; you are worth a happy ending.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2017). Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin Random House LLC.
CDC. (2020, August 14). “Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic – United States, June 24-30, 2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(32), 1049-1057.
Gottlieb, L. (2019). Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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