When it happens, many of us find ourselves thrown off-kilter… vulnerable to self-doubt, confusion, guilt. Unable to make sense of it all, to remember who we are, what we’re good at and what’s good in our world. And yet, these are the internal and external strengths that are often our greatest allies in grief recovery.
So, what do you do when you’re confronted by grief and loss and feel utterly incapable of facing it? Perhaps it’s time to rediscover your strengths – the resources unique to you and your unique grief journey.
A crash course in strengths-based grief recovery could get you started. In this article, we’ll give you an understanding of strengths: what they are, where to find them, why they help and how to get yours working for you.
Look inside, outside and beyond
Firstly, a reminder that every human being has strengths just as we have weaknesses. No matter your personal circumstances, sense of self-worth or the opinion of others. We all have abilities, interests, talents, aspirations and potential.
To give it a little more context, Rick Hanson, Ph. D. explains “unlike fleeting mental states, inner strengths are stable traits, an enduring source of well-being, wise and effective action, and contributions to others.
Suffice to say, when faced with adversity, we need to identify and engage our best resources which can be found in three distinct domains;
- Internal strengths – our unique natural capabilities and skills
- External strengths – supportive family, friends, workplace and community
- Spiritual strengths – our beliefs, practices and spiritual community
There’s a veritable smorgasbord on offer when it comes to inner strengths, and we all possess every one of them, only in varying degrees.
They may be easy to identify or may go unnoticed because they are so familiar to you. So take a look at the list of positively excellent inner strengths below and see if you recognise any…
You can download our Recognise Your Inner Strengths Worksheet here
For a more systematic way to identify your inner strengths, refer to ‘Become your own inner strengths profiler’ in Grief Recovery Part 2: Recognise and Engage Your Strengths.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely solely on our own capabilities to work through the anguish of grief. As social beings, most of us have developed a social network. Even if we lack family and friends, most members of the Australian public have access to a range of social services.
It’s this social support that strengthens us from the outside in. To scope out these resources start close to home with your family and friends – they can be an unwavering source of strength in times of crisis (at least on a good day). Then, venture a little further, and you might find neighbours, colleagues, community and sporting groups ready to wrap their arms around you. Beyond that, there’s likely to be health practitioners, socially-minded businesses, not-for-profits and government agencies offering help at various levels.
According to Thoits (1995), social support bolsters our health and well-being as we navigate significant life events and chronic stresses. So, with good social support, we feel loved, respected, valued and cared for. It’s emotional and physical comfort that helps us weather the grief storm.
There are several tools you can use to help identify external sources of support. We explore some of these in part 2 of this article.
Spirituality, our search for a connection with something beyond ourselves, be it God, love, nature or perhaps a cosmic force, can be a real blessing when it comes to grief and loss. Whether within the constructs of a religion or outside of it, a sense of spirituality is linked to good physical and mental health as well as prosocial behaviour.
Those with a spiritual side are more likely to have a sense of meaning and purpose and be part of a supportive community. So in times of stress, maintaining faith can be valuable to both health and recovery.
That is unless the effects of traumatic loss are so significant that they cause a disruption to faith and a decline in health and well-being. In this case, a person might find new resources spring up from redirected, renewed or newly developed spirituality.
Don’t overlook the strengths right in front of you
Some of our most important personal resources can appear small and insignificant on the surface but might have the power to propel us through the grief and loss journey.
When we’re in the depths of active grief, just getting out of bed and taking a shower can be nigh on impossible. So, when you achieve that much, pat yourself on the back and chalk it up to your extraordinary inner strength of self-motivation… perseverance…or self-regulation. Perhaps all three.
When you do eventually make it out of the house, perhaps there’s a home-cooked meal left on your doorstep by a kindly neighbour…acknowledge it as tangible evidence of a supportive community resource right next door.
And say your spiritual beliefs suggest your loved one is looking down on you. It might give you comfort to engage in a running dialogue with them – reminiscing about past events, explaining how you’re doing things now, even asking for feedback or help. Appreciate the strength that comes from this aspect of your spirituality.
The power of recognising strengths
It’s clear that our inner and outer strengths are potent tools to assist in grief recovery and help us adapt to our new life. However, it’s not until we fully scope out and engage in our strengths that we gain vitality and motivation, along with increased self-confidence, productivity, and direction in life.
And to achieve this level of personal growth, you’ll need to take the next steps in strengths exploration.. a deep dive into your strengths pool followed by some vigorous strengths-activation.
In Part 2 of ‘Grief Recovery: In Search of Lost Strengths’, we address some of the resources and tools you can tap into to put your strengths into action.
Grief will always be humankind’s greatest universal sorrow. Nothing can take away the anguish, longing, and heartbreak that comes with it, but we can attempt to lessen the suffering and rediscover hope. By recognising and engaging in our strengths we allow ourselves to achieve personal growth through our ordeal, giving our losses the significance they deserve in our life’s journey.
References and further reading
Hanson, R. (2014). Grow Inner Strengths. psychologytoday.com. Sussex Publishers, LLC. Retrieved 13 02, 2021, from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/your-wise-brain/201410/grow-inner-strengths
Morgan, S. (2015). Working with strengths: The developmental pathway to addiction recovery. ProQuest Ebook Central
Pearlman, L. A., Wortman, C. B., Feuer, C. A., Farber, C. H., Rando, T. A., & Farber, C. H. (2014). Treating traumatic bereavement: A practitioner’s guide. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Stang, H. (2020). Superhero grief : The transformative power of loss. (J. A. Harrington & R. A. Neimeyer, Eds.). ProQuest Ebook Central.
Stoerkel MSc., E. (n.d.). What is a Strengths-based approach? positivepsychology.com. Retrieved 06 02, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/strengths-based-interventions/
TherapistAid. (n.d.). Strengths-Based Therapy. Therapist Aid. Retrieved 06 02, 21, from: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-guide/strengths-based-therapy#:~:text=When%20a%20person%20uses%20their,completion%20(2%2C%207).