Setting resolutions can be a healthy thing when done right. We all want to resolve at some point—or set our intentions—on loftier goals. Do more, be more. Something along those lines. Whether it’s make a bold career move or learn a new hobby like how to DIY those fizzy bath bombs (it’s a thing), resolutions can be that nudge we need to step out of our comfort zone.
But if you’re a survivor of trauma, including having survived domestic violence, doing more may be the last thing you feel up to, and that’s okay. Trauma is exhausting—can’t we just resolve to take more naps?
Absolutely. Write that down.
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And while you’re at it, why not focus on an extra resolution this year—making 2020 the year you became mentally stronger, the perfect jumping off point for all those other, zealous goals.
What Is Mental Toughness?
Psychotherapist Amy Morin told Forbes that mental strength is about “finding the courage to live according to your values and being bold enough to create your own definition of success.” Keywords here are “your own,”—not an abuser’s definition, but yours. Mental toughness can be the difference between feeling like you’ll never be enough and knowing you’ve always been more than enough.
We talked to Denise Styer, certified women’s leadership coach out of Chicago, for three ways to build mental strength this year.
1. Overcoming Your Fears
“Everyone has fears. Some of them are totally justified and others are ‘what if’s’ without any real backing as to why we are experiencing the fear, except maybe that it is something new and unknown to us,” says Styer. She says we should try to remember that “fear” really stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.”
How to work on it: Styer says conquering our fears starts with a simple self-assessment. When you start feeling afraid, be it when you’re taking a solo vacation for the first time or trying out a yoga class, ask yourself:
- “Am I really in harm’s way?”
- “What could go wrong?”
- “What could go right?”
- “What really is preventing me from doing so?”
Most likely, unless you’re considering swimming with sharks, you’ll probably find your fears aren’t based in any real threat. Focus on the good that could come out of your decision instead and you’ll take the power away from fear.
2. Squashing Negative Self-Talk
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Abusers are notorious for pushing negative beliefs onto partners. It’s how an abuser will tear you down in order to make sure you don’t believe you deserve better.
“We internalize those thoughts and oftentimes take them on as our own. ‘If only I was a fill-in-the-blank—taller, thinner, quieter, smarter, kept the house cleaner, better with money, etc.—then this person wouldn’t say such mean things about me,’” explains Styer. “What we don’t recognize is that it isn’t our problem. A person who says those horrible, demeaning, negative abusive comments about us is talking about themselves—those are their own fears and projections.”
How to work on it: Styer says recognizing your negative self-talk is the first step. “When you forget to do something, or make a mistake, what do you tell yourself? Probably not something nice.”
She says to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write the negative thought you have. On the other, reframe the thought into something positive like, “It’s OK you forgot the milk at the store. You have a lot going on. You can get it tomorrow.”
The other exercise you can do: write down 50 positive attributes about yourself. Read it daily. Occasionally read the list out loud in front of a mirror.
“It will be really uncomfortable at first and many report feeling like a fraud. That is okay, it’s new. You’re working on rewiring your brain,” says Styer.
3. Setting Boundaries
It’s likely that you’ve set boundaries in the past that haven’t been respected. But Styer says it’s important to continue setting them now that you’ve [hopefully] escaped abuse. Some people can be afraid to set boundaries because, in the past, drawing a line could have meant abuse or violence. So, start small, says Styer.
“Set a boundary about something that you are not emotionally invested in. An example might be, the store clerk wants you to use the self-checkout line instead of waiting in the cashier’s line. A simple 'no thank you' or 'I’m good' can be enough. Most likely this is a person you do not know so it won’t feel so personal. Then slowly work your way up.”
Think of boundaries like locks on a door—they exist to protect you from those who could do you harm and, most importantly, you deserve to be safe.
“Keep in mind that those around you will not be used to you setting boundaries and may be surprised at first,” says Styer. “They may even keep pushing you to break your boundary. Just stay calm and firm and repeat your boundary. Boundaries are a form of self-care.”
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