Last Wednesday, at 3.30am I was violently shaken awake by an earthquake that has left central Italy in a state of complete shock and utter despair.
In the space of just 20 seconds, an entire village was virtually razed to the ground, and many more similarly affected. Yesterday, some 30 individuals were buried in a town that, just fifteen hours before the quake, my husband and I were discussing the merits of staying on in for a further day’s sight-seeing.
It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that I have given quite a bit of thought over the past few days as to how very precarious life can be.
As a hypnotherapist, I see many people seeking to overcome stress and trauma of the kind that this week’s events might have brought. But trauma also that comes from traffic accidents, burglaries, violence and abuse.
The effectiveness of hypnotherapy in helping to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is now widely acknowledged but these last few days I have found myself thinking instead about how we might more proactively protect ourselves from becoming traumatised in the first place.
I speak not so much about the trauma of earthquakes, tsunamis, war and other such events which often have a deeply profound impact on the individual, but more about the mundane and commonplace ‘trauma’ and distress we experience when life deals us what we might clumsily call a ‘bum’ hand.
So how best to protect ourselves against life’s bumps and scrapes? The trauma and upset that comes with relationship problems, poor exam grades, rejection, losing your job, ill-health or financial difficulties?
Well I believe that the answer lies somewhere in our ability to foster a spirit of resilience, a set of behaviours, thoughts and actions that can and should be learned and developed by us all. Collectively, they are what help us ‘bounce back’ after life has squarely knocked us off our feet.
But to benefit from its protection, resilience requires that we first face – and accept – our emotional pain and sadness rather than seek to run from it, sweep it under the carpet, disguise it in some way, or dull it with mind-altering substances. It is only by owning and then moving through the pain that we can gain a different perspective. And it is only by having a different perspective that we can start to notice that there are other options. And if there are other options, then we can be more adaptable, and the hope that something better will arise, can take root.
Aside from hope, resilience needs a plan. There is no value in burying your head in the sand and wishing that problems will just go away. When faced with adversity, we need to be decisive about what we’re going to do…even if it’s just very small steps that we take.
Though we cannot always control what happens to us or stop stressful events from happening, through hypnosis we can change how we think and feel about them.
As the events of last Wednesday unfolded and the fuller picture of Italy’s loss emerged, I turned my attention to the second hand on my watch. While the hotel that I and my family was staying in shifted and groaned as the ground rumbled beneath, the entire village of Pescara del Tronto, just a few kilometres away, had been razed to the ground. It took twenty short seconds.
Hypnosis cannot bring back a loved one, reverse the tragedy of unrequited love or make your boss give you a promotion, but it can help us to focus our energies on the things that we can control and let go of that which we cannot.
If I’ve taken anything away from Wednesday’s events, then it’s a renewed commitment to accept my utter vulnerability in this wonderful, terrifying world; to ‘roll with the punches’ that life delivers; to find understanding in the emotions I experience; to maintain a proper perspective on life and resist the temptation to distort reality (favourably or otherwise); to change what I can and not fret about what I can’t; but above all, to remain hopeful and live every day as if it were my last.