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Commentary: People possess ability to maintain under stress

Several years ago, I was gifted a very fun stress ball. It was filled with a glittery liquid and sea creatures, was soft and rubbery to the touch and difficult to put down. No matter how hard it was manipulated, pulled apart, pushed in, squished and stretched to the extreme, it always returned to its original shape. It was resilient to everyday stressors, and was fascinating to hold and look at. It was calming and people often gravitated toward it to focus on while talking. On one particular day, I was visiting with a friend when she noticed my stress ball and picked it up. As our conversation continued and she was telling me about some pretty extreme stress she was under at the time, a very strange thing happened; it popped. Not only did this little rubber aquarium burst, but it did so all over my friend. She was covered from head to toe in wet glitter and little plastic starfish. I guess she really was stressed out. We laughed. It was the only thing to do really (besides cry), when such a beautiful metaphor for life lands (quite literally) in one’s lap.

Just like a stress ball, people have the same ability to maintain resilience when under stress. When life pushes and pulls, tries to flatten out and squish beyond measure, we often have the tools to bounce back to our original shape. We see the same tendency in survivors of sexual violence. We have met many sexual assault victims over the years at Support Within Reach, and there are many things that stand out to us about how amazing these people are, and how much they have in common.

Despite having common feelings of self-blame, guilt, embarrassment and shame for being assaulted, survivors really do have the ability to rebound and take their original shape. Despite being afraid, unable to sleep or eat, having nightmares and second guessing their own decision making skills, survivors have somehow been able to make it back to the person they once were. Despite having all power and control taken from them, survivors can manage to heal. They can even find a way to restore themselves when the stressors are a little too much and they feel like they are beyond repair. 

One of the biggest keys to having a resilient spirit is being connected with people we can trust, share with, depend on and make us feel valued. Establishing positive connections is a huge protective factor for everyone and comes in many forms. Healthy connections can come from friends and family, church or social groups, community gatherings or events, counselors, doctors, advocates, law enforcement, teachers, advisors, knitting groups and soccer parents. Just about any place that people gather is the opportunity to build a safety net of hope.

Another key to bouncing back is to find meaning and purpose in life, and seek out new experiences. It’s also important to learn from the past and be brave enough to move forward without self-doubt and blame. We all have different coping skills, and we’ve "survived 100 percent of our worst days so far, and that’s pretty good" or so says the meme on Facebook. If we are able to look at ourselves and adjust the sail with the wind we will have an easier time moving forward.

Sleep is an extremely important part of self-care and resiliency. When my daughter was about 2 years old and having a temper tantrum of sorts, I would always say, "What happens when you’re tired?" and she would reply with tears, "Nothing goes my way!" It continues to be a very true statement. Bodies need sleep and fuel to run efficiently, and so we rest when needed.

Victims of sexual violence have an incredible resiliency. It is like a fight deep within their soul that drives them to not give up and come bouncing back with all their reclaimed power and control that was taken from them. Survivors are magnificent and when the wind-knocking pain and numbness subside, we have had the privilege of witnessing some pretty amazing healing. In the face of adversity, when all seems hopeless, and even the stress ball has had enough, we have seen hope. When there is hope in this world, there will always be healing. As long as sexual violence continues to exist, there will always be Support Within Reach.

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