Shufen is a student of mine, who graduated several years ago. She became an ordained pastor in 2019 and all went smoothly until last year. One day she suddenly called me, asking for mental counseling. After a brief greeting, she said eagerly: “Ms. Feng, I’m very painful. For months, I’ve been haunted by the thought of self-abandon. I find myself in low spirits and I am even too anxious to sleep or eat. You know we as clergy can’t change our work at will. But the feeling of grievance is killing me.”
Photo by Eugene Golovesov
She seemed to be stuck in a tricky work-related dilemma. So I said, “Rev. Shufen, thank you for your trust. Since you would like to share with me your problem, let us try to figure out a way to solve it.”
“Ms. Feng, I know you are trustworthy. All my friends and classmates encourage me to come to you for counseling. But it’s a rather long story... I’ve never seen someone like that. We are co-workers for years, but this person treats me with ingratitude. The senior pastor even rebuked me publicly because of him/her. I felt ashamed and couldn’t help crying on spot.” She was blunt about her painful experience.
I tried to comfort her: “You must suffer a lot due to that grievance. Like a bolt from the blue, unexpected public criticism could be unbearable. No wonder you shed tears in public. I guess that’s your first time being in that situation.”
“That’s right. I’ve never experienced public criticism before. The senior pastor criticized me for doing things without patience, only seeking efficiency but ignoring the feelings of others. He said that fellow workers should work with one heart rather than excluding anyone, and one can’t keep the church work to itself. Though these allegations are not true, no one listened to me. I just can’t bear it any more.” She then cried again.
After she eased her mind, I said: “Well, I can relate to that, about the feelings of being wrongly accused. Even though it has passed, the grievance still remains. Every time you think about it, it may still strike you with sadness.”
“Indeed. I don’t know why I am so vulnerable. Grievances and unpleasant things are common in life. Why do I always feel grief when it is on my mind? My husband said that I was unforgivable. Inside me there is no resentment; instead, I really want to start over again. The Scripture said, “The old has gone, the new is here!” I know it theoretically, but I can’t put into practice. What happened to me? Today I get the courage up to come to you for counseling; otherwise, I’m afraid that the depression will continue. I could be mentally ill or do something silly.”
I replied with a smile: “You are very insightful to do such a thorough self-analysis. It is inevitable to encounter some unreasonable things. You know yourself not having any resentful thoughts towards anyone, nor to hatch any plan to revenge, or not even to clarify for yourself. You are fully aware of those biblical teachings. You just feel powerless to change your mood. Also your husband thought you as a pastor should have been forgivable and more open-minded with a positive attitude, which made it even worse.”
She consented and kept saying: “That’s true... Ms. Feng, you are very sharp and you just get to the point in a few words. For months, I’ve been frustrated and fatigued both mentally and physically. Do I need a break to change the mood, or else...”
“That’s not necessary.” I said resolutely. “I will help you go through this tough time. On the following Mondays, we can talk over the phone and I will help you boost your mental resilience. We only need to learn how to pull yourself up and regain a rather resilient life, so that you can live merrily and easily.”
We had six sessions of mental counseling via WeChat’s video chat. Through efforts to strengthen her mental resilience and avoid any chance of inducing mental obstacles, I helped her improve interpersonal relationships at work and learn emotional control and pressure management skills, etc. She was then full of vigor again and could continue to serve with all her heart at the threshing floor.
Then, what is mental resilience? How can we build a stronger resilience and stay mentally healthy?
Resilience is the process that helps one better adapt when facing adversity, trauma, grief, threats, or other extremely stressful situations. The concept was proposed by E. James Anthony, an American psychiatrist, in the 1970s. He borrowed the physical concept of resilience to explain the phenomena that many could bounce back after external pressures, whereas some might fail.
The responses to adversity and fortune are actually the process of mental development, with both resilience and social adaptability constantly growing stronger. Therefore, good resilience can serve as a bridge between stress and mental health. The less resilient you are, the harder you may act rationally in the face of setbacks and pressures. This then results in an even worse mental state and a feeling of vulnerability in self-improvement, since pressures have a direct impact on mental health. The more resilient, the healthier. So there is a close tie between mental resilience and mental health.
Mental resilience is measurable and has different scales determined by a list of factors, encompassing personal competence, social competence, organizational competence, family support, emotional competence, competence in overcoming adversities, as well as the support from the society, family members and friends.
According to the research by psychologist Karol L. Kumpfer, there are both internal and external factors that affect resilience.
Internal factors refer to heredity and personality traits that determine one’s attitudes to things, positively or negatively. Others like gender, age, levels of intelligence, social skills also contribute to the differences in recognition, emotional control, self-evaluation, thereby creating discrepancies in mental resilience.
External factors include dangerous factors and protective factors. Dangerous factors are composed of stresses and challenges of all sorts: family pressures from parent-child relationship, mother-father relationship, family income; social pressures from study, employment, emotion, interpersonal relationship, etc.
Besides, the protective factors are positive supports from family, good peer relationships, protections from school and community, etc. If these protective factors can counterbalance the negative impact or harms caused by those dangerous factors, one will be in a good mental state.
However, in the wake of many adverse effects, some incidents can also indirectly trigger chain reactions. For example, divorced parents may result in a reduced family income, along with lower educational attainment and weaker social skills of their children, which then weakens their resilience. Given the fact that genes (inborn), living environment and personal experience (postnatal) vary among different people, their levels of resilience are different. Some appear more resilient in the midst of adversity, while others in the similar unfavorable situation may become more vulnerable.
Since factors like upbringing from family of origin and social experiences impact resilience, we can employ education and training to improve it. Resilience is elastic. Through self-adjustment, positive guidance, assistance and incentives, one can improve resilience. According to the characteristics of his/her own resilience, everyone can do multi-dimensional training and hone the ability to endure hardships.
Author: Feng Shuxian
Translator: Bei Feng