In 2020, have you started wondering, “what on earth is going on?”
If you have, then I’m right there with you. However, rather than dividing us further, I’m here to talk about how we can become resilient in the midst of all this.
To be resilient is to adapt positively to significant levels of adversity. I will be the first one to say that there’s already a whole lot of adversity in 2020, but we’re here to go even further back.
Back to your first day of school when you hid in the bathroom to avoid the bullies. Back to the time when your parents yelled, screamed, fought, and threw out the cursed word, ‘divorce.’ Back to when you felt helpless as someone you loved died in front of you.
These are a mere fraction of experiences during our childhood that will shape us, for better or for worse. How you may ask? Let me introduce you to attachment theory.
There are two broad categories of attachment theory: secure and insecure attachment. Insecure attachment is split into three types: avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. It is these attachments that determine our current levels of resilience. Let’s start with the three types of insecure attachments.
The Avoidant Type
You may have been subjected to withdrawn, unconcerned, and dismissive caregivers who seemed unloving and outright cold. As a result, adult-you became physically and emotionally distant and critical to loved ones around you.
The Ambivalent Type
You may remember feeling like you were getting mixed messages from your caretakers. Maybe a word to sum it up would be inconsistent or maybe even, erratic? This results in adult-you who is constantly insecure, anxious, but, as you’re proud to say, comes with a dash of charisma.
The Disorganized Type
Your memories of childhood may be filled with pain as you recall intrusive flashes of potentially physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive caretakers. You often felt unwanted as you faced the constant fear of being abandoned. Now, the adult-you is reaping the not-so-desirable fruits of explosive outbursts, an inability to trust others, all the while, craving a sense of security more than anything in life.
Before we get to the secure attachment style, let’s introduce another concept: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s)ACE’s is the common denominator in the three types of insecure attachment., According to the CDC, ACE’s are potentially traumatic experiences occurring in our childhoods. These include all types of abuse, neglect, household dysfunction that can ultimately lead to behavioral problems, substance addictions, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, depression, cancer, and obesity as adults.
Sound familiar? You may have experienced one or more of these, but I’m reminding you that we’re learning about resilience? Let’s continue on.
As children, we can be subjected to any one or a combination of these factors and we become stressed. However, prolonged exposure to these ACE’s will alter the balance of hormones in our bodies over time. The previously stress-sensitive systems in our bodies are now constantly activated to fight, flight, or freeze. This can accelerate disease processes, like the ones described above.
In the absence of a supportive adult this cycle will lend its hand to toxic stress. This is where attachment theory and ACE’s meet; where a compassionate adult can protect the child from experiencing toxic stress.
Do you remember that one friend, neighbor, or that one time your grandma held you close, and you melted? If not, it’s not too late. With this ongoing wave of traumatic experiences during 2020, we can work to become securely attached, or in other words, resilient. Let’s talk about our final attachment type.
The Secure Attachment
Think of a time before quarantine, back to when you freely gathered with loved ones. Back to the times when you cried your heart out in the loving arms of a friend over a lost friend. You remember the times you ran to your neighbor’s always open house, whenever your parents fought. Now, the adult-you can hold fast to mantra of, “whatever the world throws at you, I’ll get through it.” This, my friend, is resilience.
In order to have resilience, you must have support. You must identify your own misgivings (we all have them), and find those who will uplift and speak truth into your life. This requires energy and vulnerability, but you will grow to become resilient, even now in 2020. It’s now or never, and there is no shortcut. However, we can become people who embody resilience and share this hope with others.
—Nadine Rong, ABSN Student
Nadine Rong is an ABSN student at the George Washington University School of Nursing and will be graduating in December 2020. She is excited to join the health care workforce as a nurse at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. She hopes to continue her education by becoming a family nurse practitioner (FNP) who will eventually specialize in psychiatric mental health.