The Art of Resilience

The reason I started this blog was to share my interest in therapeutic writing. As many of you know, this focus has changed slightly but today I want to return to a topic that remains important to me: therapeutic writing and resilience. I will begin, however,  with what creates the impetus, the need, to develop resilience: trauma and suffering.

Suffering happens. Trauma causes lasting, ongoing distress. Bearing witness to trauma and suffering helps us recognise, acknowledge and relieve the pain. Being resilient is understanding trauma, knowing that it results in alienation as well as dissociation from the traumatic event itself. Resilience is being aware of how trauma disconnects us from our self and our perceptions. Trauma flays friendships, undoes families and leaves us at the mercy of others; to advocate resilience is to acknowledge the struggle to comprehend or change the situation, to acknowledge that trauma makes us feel like ‘a nobody’.

Well-meaning suggestions about how to respond to trauma, and claims that our trauma is less traumatic than another’s, serve only to undermine our survival, suggest our story is not worth sharing or we haven’t ‘suffered enough’. Comments like this rob us of the ability to decide, for ourselves, the personal quality and potency of our suffering; they turn us away from resilience and back to the trauma.

Does defining trauma as

unspeakable [and thus] resistant to representation

silence us, leave us powerless to deal with or learn from the trauma? When trauma is endlessly reproduced and recycled by the media, either for entertainment or as ‘news’, are we being conditioned to accept trauma and suffering as ‘normal’? When groups of people are traumatised, do we know those groups, know individual members of the group, only by their trauma, only by their suffering?

Who benefits from labelling individuals and entire cultures, as ‘traumatised’? Who gains by robbing individuals and entire cultures of their agency, their ability to heal from trauma?

If we study and understand the impact of trauma, shouldn’t we also study and understand how to heal from trauma?

There are some who believe in

the transformative potential of trauma itself […] the possibilities of psychic regrowth

that is a possible outcome of trauma.

Art makes healing from trauma possible. Art is an act of survival. Art builds resilience.

Why art? Because nothing else is strong enough to contain the destruction of the self.

Art doesn’t theorise suffering, it engages with it. Trauma can not

properly be grasped in a purely cognitive manner … its … chaotic and meaningless character

must be encountered through writing, painting, music, drama and movement.

   What of the risk? What if by ‘re-creating’ the trauma we are ‘re-traumatised’? Memory, as it is newly understood, is a process of

selection, emphasis and amplification.

Is it possible that by drawing on our memories of trauma, actively choosing how to represent our trauma, what to represent, what to amplify and what to ignore, we can regain agency? Can remodelling our trauma provide us with the means to craft our recovery and learn to take control of our lives?

Therapeutic writing builds resilience. It helps us discover our meaning of the trauma, and reject meanings imposed by others. Therapeutic writing, like any writing, is an exacting art. It needs the support of a counsellor, who is also a reasonably skilled writer, to witness and guide the process of safely remembering and reconstructing the traumatic event. It needs someone who knows that resilience is flexibility, plasticity and strength. It needs someone who understands that the story of trauma inherently contains a story of survival and the story of suffering is a story of resilience.


The views expressed here are not not meant to serve as medical advice or replace consultation with your physician or mental health professional. The information contained in this blog should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem. If you have experienced trauma you should consult with your medical practitioner or a qualified mental health care provider about your personal questions or concerns.

References

Emily Ashman, ‘Psychic Resilience in the Fragile Images of A Petal: A Post-Jungian Perspective on Retraumatisation’, in Trauma Narratives and Herstory, ed. by Sonya Andermahr and Silvier Pellicer-Ortin (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), pp. 171-187.

Sonya Andermahr and Silvier Pellicer-Ortin, ‘Trauma Narratives and Herstory’ in Trauma Narratives and Herstory, ed. by Sonya Andermahr and Silvier Pellicer-Ortin (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), pp. 1-12, p. 7.

Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery from Domestic Abuse and Political Terror (London: Pandora, 2010), p. 52.

Stephen K. Levine, Poiesis: The Language and the Speech of the Soul (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 1997), p. 120.

Stephen K. Levine, Trauma, Tragedy, Therapy: The Arts and Human Suffering (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009), pp. 38-41

Gillian Whitlock and Kate Douglas, ‘Trauma Texts: Reading Trauma in the Twenty-First Century’ in Trauma Texts ed. by Gillian Whitlock and Kate Douglas (Oxon: Routledge, 2009), pp. 1–8, (p. 1).

Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

8 thoughts on “The Art of Resilience

  1. Art makes healing from trauma possible. Art is an act of survival. Art builds resilience. Why art? Because nothing else is strong enough to contain the destruction of the self. Art doesn’t theorise suffering, it engages with it. Trauma can not properly be grasped in a purely cognitive manner … its … chaotic and meaningless character must be encountered through writing, painting, music, drama and movement.

    I totally get that. In fact, I’ve noticed as I’ve written and rewritten about my relationship with my mom over the years I’ve “remodeled” that trauma (she had a horrible temper and was never satisfied with anyone or anything) by moving through the details to understanding her personality and why she was the way she was, till I can now say, if I could choose one person I loved who has passed to spend a day with, it would be my mother. I wouldn’t have believed that 15 years ago.

    (It also reminded me of how when I’m feeling down I have a tendency to rearrange furniture! Remodeling my environment? Giggle)

    Interesting post!

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    1. Thanks Calensariel. I found writing my memoir to be incredibly powerful. It helped me to appreciate my mother’s perspective because I dug deeply (as far as I could) into her needs and motivations. For me, forgiveness was so much easier when I’d learned about her suffering (which has, in turn, lead me to explore my inability to do so earlier, but that’s another story). She did the best she could under such traumatic circumstances. I’d like to spend one more hour with my clever, feisty, powerful mother so I could tell her I know why she was always so angry And thank her for what she did for me. I do so very much understand what you’re saying. Thanks again for your insight. Best, Janet .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Julia Cameron, whose teaching on writing I love, has a new book out, “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.” I bought it. One of the things she guides you through for 12 weeks is writing your memoir. I’m finding it hard to get up the energy to do that. LOL

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      2. I’ve not heard of Cameron’s new book but I might not buy it because I’m well and truly over memoir writing! It was well worth doing, I would never discourage anyone from doing it, but I spent five years looking deeply at my life and itt was exhausting. I think I’m still recovering. (Maybe there should be a warning attached to the genre?? LOL). Thanks for the comment and enjoy your weekend.

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      3. I get that. I had been working my way through Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Excavating the Real You” for nearly 20 years — went through it twice. I’m done digging in my cave now. What I found out is that you can never FIND the real you. You just aren’t the same person from one day to the next. That may be wrong, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to. (rolls eyes…)

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      4. Funny you should say that. I’ve been reading a bit about Buddhism and that’s exactly what Buddhists believe. It’s far more complicated and intricate than that of course, but it makes, to me, a lot of sense; we are all a work in progress.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Janet,
    So much to think about here. As someone experiencing personal trauma in a ongoing way, I have learned how important it is for me to find those moments of internal joy when paradoxically I am no longer a Self but am experiencing a loss of boundaries. It may be when dancing, walking, reading, laughing with others. It may be when writing, kissing, or hearing a bird sing. It may be when totally concentrating on a game of bridge or gazing into the eyes of someone. If art is defined as everything we don’t HAVE to do, then there are many opportunities for art in our everyday life..
    Thanks for a beautiful post.

    Carol

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    1. Thanks Carol. I agree with all you say, although I wonder if some of the things you describe are less a form of healing and more of a distraction? There is nothing wrong with that, believe me, I know the value of sitting with a good friend and having a coffee and a long chat and as you know I’m not a counsellor, but was trying to focus on the therapeutic value of writing. I hope to help change society’s response to trauma, to change our situation, and maybe even the self. Maybe I didn’t express myself well. Sorry. What I hoped to do was to stop what appears to be society’s acceptance of suffering instead of building (societal and personal) resilience to help overcome it. Maybe I’ll write a companion blog one day that shows not tells! Meanwhile, thanks for your comment. Cheers, Janet

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