How Gay Men Can Face Any Problem: Developing Resilience – Part 2: Techniques
In Part 1 of this article, I shared some of the traits of resilient people that have been described by Susan Dunn, in her “Top 10 Attributes of Resilient People”, among others. Resilience is the ability to adapt and grow from adversity, trauma, and other stress. These traits would be important for everyone, but they become especially important for the LGBT community in general, and in my specialty of working with gay men in particular, as a therapist who was worked with gay men and gay male couples in therapy and life/career coaching for 25 years now.
The LGBT community has been especially concerned of late due to President Trump’s appointment of many members of his cabinet who have a virulently anti-gay record in terms of their public statements, voting records, or donations. Collectively, we are worried about what this new administration may bring in terms of setbacks in legal rights and policies, but people face setbacks, barriers, and losses on an individual level as well. See Part 1 of this two-part article for a description of the traits of resilient people, but now, in Part 2, I’d like to share what the American Psychological Association suggests are 10 ways to develop skills in resilience, that you can use whenever you face a challenge in your life:
- Connect – Reaching out and having conversations with friends, family members, gay community organizations, spiritual organizations, and professionals (doctors, lawyers, chiropractors, financial planners, and, yes, therapists) can help you learn to help yourself in ways that you couldn’t think of by yourself because the other people are coming from a different set of knowledge, skills, and perspectives. When you reach out for help, you are making a bridge between a need in yourself, and a resource that lies outside of yourself. Of course, you have to know where to look. This where doing Google searches, Amazon searches, asking your physician, or asking friends (including on Facebook) can help. If you put the word out that you need something, most people are happy to respond to recommend someone/something that they think can help. But you have to get over any “shyness” or any “pride” about asking for help. Asking for help is a sign of self-sufficiency, responsibility, and maturity, not weakness.
- Challenge Your Thinking – Try very hard not to give in to hopelessness or seeing the problem as insurmountable. Focus on what you can do to set yourself up for success in the future, and try to see opportunities for positive learning, growth, and change from the current situation. Author Louise Hay gives the tip, when faced with a challenge, to say to yourself, “How can I take a positive approach to this?” That is activating, motivating, and encouraging, and helps gird you against feeling hopeless, helpless, or despairing.
- Accept Change – Life can change sometimes in ways that we did not expect or want (Trump’s election, for example!). Career changes often can be this way, where life leads you to another area or field than you originally intended, and that’s OK. You don’t have to live the same life as an adult or at middle age that you planned for yourself as an adolescent. We evolve and grow throughout our lifetimes, and incorporating change – even when it’s unexpected – can be very rewarding and is not always something to resist. Darwin’s theories showed that it is our ability to adapt and be flexible that helps our survival as species. My grandfather used to say, “Roll with the punches.”
- Move Toward Goals – Make a plan, and then work toward your various goals a little bit every day. I work with clients often on the goals that they set for themselves, and they make progress over time by checking in on these goals at every weekly session, so that they avoid stagnation and consistently make progress. This is how change happens; it’s not overnight, but things can change for the better over time. Financial health, getting organized, developing new professional skills, learning to date successfully, healing from past trauma, weight loss, fitness, working toward a major project – are all things that are rewarding, but they take time, careful planning, support, and consistent work, to achieve in the long haul.
- Take Decisive Action – I think one of my biggest roles with clients is to help “push” them a little bit so that they challenge their own inertia and fear. Thinking and stewing and ruminating about something doesn’t help a situation much. You have to take actions to see any real, meaningful change with any situation. Sometimes you have to just “try something” (as FDR said about the Great Depression), even if you’re not sure yet that the action is perfect.
- Look for Opportunities – During the Recession, I worked with many guys who felt awful about losing their jobs, but sometimes they went on to change careers, open their own businesses, go back to school, or relocate, in a way that brought them a refreshing re-invention of life. Sometimes the loss of a relationship can mean a “personal renaissance” of focus on yourself to grow into something you never thought possible. Ask yourself, with any challenge, “Is there an opportunity here (to learn, grow, make new connections, etc.) that I’m overlooking?”
- Cultivate Self-Esteem – Since gay men are figuratively (or literally!) beaten down through much of their lives through hearing anti-gay rhetoric in the news, at school, at work, or at home, or online, it’s no wonder that I work often with guys on cultivating their self-esteem. The techniques of Cognitive Therapy help the most with this, which is learning how to change your thinking about yourself that leads to a whole different understanding and experience of yourself. There are ways that gay men can build confidence, which is in my previous article, here.
- Keep Perspective – When you’re faced with a problem, try hard to keep a cool head and keep the situation in perspective. Problems that “feel big” today might not even be remembered in a few months.
- Maintain Hope – This is perhaps one of President Obama’s most frequent mantras. If you keep a hopeful outlook, it makes you feel better in the short term and contributes to the resolution (or at least acceptance) of your problem. Keep your “eye on the prize”, meaning holding a vision for what you want as an outcome to the problem, and what you want your life to “look like”. Practice what we call “thought stopping” in Cognitive Therapy if your thoughts tend to race away and you get overwhelmed with negative “what if?” statements. I always say, every time you say a negative “what if”, you have to balance it with a positive “what if” statement, because in both cases, you’re trying to predict the future of things that haven’t happened yet. My article on that is here.
- Build Self-Care Tools – Try to identify, over time, what helps you historically to get back on your feet. Is it talking to friends? Is it having “alone time” to rest? Is it binge-watching favorite TV shows or movies? Is it working out? Is it listening to inspiring music? Is it journaling? Is it doing an art therapy project? Is it spending time in nature? Is it reading up on a problem by searching online (I like that one)? Planning and then doing fun activities goes a long way in lifting your mood, and giving you the energy to address your problem head-on.
Building the traits of resilience, and then implementing them, is a process – not a short-term event. If it’s hard for you to keep the focus on these, consider having some therapy or coaching to help. Having someone to support you, but also to really challenge you for growth, can help you keep your focus and make all the difference. Contact me (310-339-5778, or Ken@GayTherapyLA.com) for more information on how I can help you have the life you want.