Emotional resilience

What storms have you been in? What storm are you now in?

An unwelcome circumstance that arises from the horizon. The sudden turbulence of unpleasant change. Your boat rocks. Gently at first, but something feels wrong. The waves are lapping a little too hard.

And then the trial roars to life.

We don’t recognise how vulnerable we are until the storms of life hit us, usually out of nowhere. And when these trials continue for days, weeks or months, we find ourselves running dangerously close to utter shipwreck. Tears have been cried. Prayers have turned despondent. All the hope is spent, bled dry from our weary souls. We’ve tried everything.

It may feel like the only option left is to pull the plug and end it all. I don’t want to feel like this any longer. I don’t know what to feel anymore.

Whether we survive the flood depends on how well we’ve built our ship.

Emotions. Whether we feel them too much or don’t feel them at all, they play a big part in determining how we fare in the storm.

When the sun is out and the waters are calm, we don’t pay too much attention to them. Much like the ship we are on, our emotional resilience is only put to the test in the tossing of the waves, the beating of the wind.

Whether we survive the flood depends on how well we’ve built our ship.

So how do we build emotional resilience for the tough days? We sat down with trained counsellor Francis D’Almeida, who has helped many repair and rebuild their lives for almost 20 years, for his words of wisdom.

Here are his Top 3 tips:

THINK, TALK AND TACKLE: HOW TO DEAL WITH STORMS

1. Think about your thoughts

“Where a man goes his mind follows”: Francis repeated this throughout our conversation. As the source of our emotions, our thoughts are always a good starting point to keep our ship from capsizing. In emotionally turbulent seasons, we need to think about what we’re constantly thinking about. If we find that we have been dwelling on things that lead our minds down whirlpools of negative emotions, we have to learn to put a stop and make a detour.

“It’s either that or you develop amnesia,” he said, joking (we think). “Distract yourself. If you feel like you’re under attack, get above it.”

He encourages his clients to keep pocket-sized cards with such reminders written on them. These act as stop signs whenever we wander down familiar paths of peril, redirecting us back to safer ground. We have the responsibility of taking captive every thought – especially those that waylay our emotions – in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Imagine tackling your negative thoughts to the ground, tying them up and tossing them out. Or as Raef Soliman of Bridge Church Melbourne put it, “If it is robbing your joy, throw it overboard. If it is derailing your destiny and focus, throw it overboard!”

2. Talk about the pain

In all his years of counselling, Francis said that the people who see the most progress are the ones who have been willing to confront their pain and talk about it. Crippling, chronic pain is often compounded, rather than a one-off response to an external occurrence. The refusal to deal with a past hurt can cause it to fester into something larger over time.

“When you talk it out, you let it out,” said Francis. “You get it out of your heart – and that’s when the healing can start.”

Even if you aren’t seeing a counsellor, self-talk or journalling can also work, especially in an act of personal examination at the end of every day. Review the difficult moments of the day – what rocked your boat – and systematically ask yourself how these events made you feel and why. This prevents the formation of emotional “volcanoes”, when an internal hotspot that has been boiling over the years finally erupts.

“Saying what’s on your heart lets you hear for yourself what is going on inside. It might be more than you realise, or it could just help you process rationally,” he said.

It’s also a very good way to train emotional stability. “Even I do this every night,” Francis chuckled. “Counsellors can be very emotional people too!”

3. Tackle your root issues

The storms we encounter most fiercely in life are the ones within us, the ones that are fed by our root issues. All emotional turmoil comes from a root issue, said Francis. It could be past trauma, a deep-seated belief, a certain fear or insecurity. Many times, we get so caught up in the resulting emotions of our circumstances that we fail to dig deep and decipher why we even have such responses.

But building emotional resilience is not just controlling our emotions – it’s dealing with their real source.

Recall the story of Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41). He and the disciples were out at sea one evening, and a furious squall came up, sending the disciples into a frenzy. Jesus Himself was sleeping soundly at the bottom of the boat throughout this ordeal, only to be awakened by a bunch of panicking men who were convinced they were going to die.

He got up to rebuke the storm, which died down immediately, but it is His following words to them that pointed out the root issue: A lack of faith.

He may have calmed the storm around them, but it was the storm within them that revealed a deeper issue they would have to address for themselves. As Francis concluded: “How far we can ultimately go in any storm depends a lot on how willing we are to face it.”

WHO STEERS YOUR SHIP?

In this world we will have trouble, and our boats may careen dangerously during the challenging seasons that come our way like furious squalls. But in taking captive the thoughts that weigh us down, talking about the pain that threatens to capsize us and tackling the root issues stowing away on our ship, we can arise to meet the storm in courage, no longer steered by fear – but by faith.

“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

About the author

Joanne Kwok

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.