Welcome to Marian's February 2011 Newsletter
You Will Recover: Christchurch Will Rise Again
As most of you would have heard already, there has been another major earthquake aftershock in Christchurch, this time involving the devastation of the inner city and a substantial loss of lives. The whole country has been put under a state of emergency. Having waited 20 hours to hear if family members are safe, I am aware of the mix of emotions that are experienced, even on the sidelines of such an horrific event.
At some stage this morning, a psychologist was interviewed who encouraged people that the powerful emotions of fear, anxiety, shock, anger, grief, etc were normal and appropriate responses at such a dreadful time. She also encouraged people to talk if they were ready, or just to sit quietly if that was how they felt; to look after themselves, their families and their neighbours; and also to ask for and/or give support. Alluding to people’s response to the first earthquake, she said that this experience would have shown them their strengths, which they could now draw on. Another person commented that ‘we have done this before: we can do it again’.
The Prime Minister John Key, the Mayor of Christchurch Bob Parker, leaders of Search and Rescue teams and others have made speeches to inform and give encouragement during reporting of this terrible event. Various words have been used that give hope and comfort such as robust, resilience, reassurance, resourcefulness, recover, restore, rebuild, etc. Other words have been used that express the enormity of what is happening such as dreadful, disaster, demolished, despair and death.
As you know, I am deeply interested in the field of Positive Psychology. This does not mean advocating that people deny emotions that are often termed ‘negative’. It means being real: knowing that we are human and that humans hurt, and hurt bad sometimes, and also that they are also amazingly strong and do recover over time. You pull through by coming through the process, drawing on your strengths and building a new state of normality and safety.
All of the feelings, all of the emotions, all of the responses and reactions are valid. Often our systems close down for a while and we just feel numb and can’t really believe what has happened. We each express our feelings differently. There is no ‘correct’ pattern: recovery can be quite up and down rather than a direct line from shock to acceptance. Finding safe ways of expressing the pain and the difficult feelings will help in coping, especially if this can be shared with others in a caring way. Starting to build back some sort of routine may also assist in re-establishing a greater sense of security, enabling the ongoing healing process and providing some structure over the coming days, weeks and months.
The title of this article is taken from a speech by Prime Minister, John Key.
My love and prayers are with you all
Geese, Humans and Clear Boundaries
While walking around the lake I was fascinated by the behaviour of a family of geese. There was a goose, a gander and three goslings a few months old. Apparently geese mate for life and their young stay with them for quite some time. I knew that adult geese can become quite vicious when defending their young so I hung back and watched from a distance, not wanting to disturb them, but also keen to see how they dealt with humans invading their territory.
There was no panic and there was no attack. They gave little outward sign that they had noticed us, but they certainly had. Without drawing any undue attention to themselves, one of the adults honked softly and the rest of them fell into line with one adult at each end and the goslings sedately walking between them. Slowly, but with great determination, they climbed a small hillock next to the lake and simply walked out of sight between a couple of trees. They did not react with anger towards us, nor did they taunt us. They did not even judge our intentions as harmful. They just instinctively went to a safe place.
I took the path around the side of the hillock and again observed them discretely. The geese had retreated to a spot they obviously knew well. They had found sanctuary in a little clearing on top of the rise, calm and secure in the knowledge that the family was completely safe. Behind them were the trunks of trees and in front, in a semi circle, were some bushes that had been trimmed, leaving an intricate criss-crossed hedge of bare branches which provided a barrier between them and anyone passing by on the lower path. There was a loosely formed path on one side of the clearing so if the worst happened and they were approached, they would have a choice of defending themselves and their brood or leaving through the trees behind them or the path at the side.
I was really impressed by their choice of refuge. The setting provided clear boundaries in which they could find shelter, safety and security for themselves and the vulnerable goslings in their care. But, more than this, it provided them with options of how to respond if their safe haven was endangered. The boundaries they selected had not become a prison, locking them in and the world out. They were unthreatened by the proximity of a human aiming a camera at them, and I think they may have even been as curious about watching my behaviour as I was about observing theirs.
They were quite comfortable and supported by the environment they had chosen; they were free to move about within it and they could decide to re-emerge into the area surrounding the lakeside at any time they deemed it safe to do so.
It made me think about the importance of establishing boundaries in our own lives. Sometimes it is wise to identify a safe place to stand and say ‘this far and no further’. By setting clear boundaries we protect the most precious and vulnerable parts of ourselves. We also give others the opportunity to learn what is appropriate when interacting with us and in turn identify their own boundaries.
When establishing boundaries, like the geese there is no need to hiss and roar. We can gently but firmly define what is acceptable and what is not; assertively stating our intentions quietly but with determination. This does not mean that we mistrust others, nor do we judge them. It is a matter of mutual respect to be clear about limits. If someone or something tries to breach those boundaries we also have a choice. We can defend ourselves and the stand we have made, or we can strategically retreat until the situation is defused and it is appropriate to have a discussion to resolve the issues or clearly restate where the boundaries exist.
A healthy boundary is not a barrier. The geese did not opt to hide themselves behind thick solid walls. Instead of offering protection, that kind of choice would have left them restricted and hemmed in, cut off from the beauties of nature around them and unable to enjoy life. Instead, they could see out and they could be seen. They could communicate openly while protected, but they could not be attacked unawares because they had chosen a good vantage point that allowed them to see clearly what was happening around them.
Why not take some time to think about appropriate and healthy boundary setting. I’d be interested to learn more about your experiences and what you think are important aspects of boundary setting.
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