Life often throws unexpected challenges our way. From the loss of a loved one to personal crises, war, or other difficult life events, trauma can manifest in various forms and impact our emotional and mental well-being. While trauma can be overwhelming, there is an innate human capacity for resilience. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of becoming your own anchor and how to create stability internally and build resilience in the face of trauma.
Before we begin, what exactly does it mean to "become your own anchor"? What does the metaphor of an anchor even mean? Anchoring is a term used to describe a psychological process that helps individuals ground themselves in the present moment and connect with their values and goals when presented with distressing or overwhelming experiences that might otherwise knock someone off their course. This might be done through connecting yourself to the present through your sense of touch or by observing your breath. It might mean creating positive thoughts to counteract painful or upsetting thoughts. It might be a specific phrase, physical gesture, or action, that reminds the individual that they are in the present and safe. It allows an individual to experience a sense of stability and predictability in response to an upsetting event. The goal of anchoring is to help develop more adaptive thought patterns and emotional responses, ultimately leading to improved mental health and well-being. It is an active and practical method that empowers individuals to slow down their internal experience and become aware of their cognitive and emotional processes, and importantly, the choices they make in response.
Why an anchor? An anchor represents stability and groundedness. Without an anchor to hold a ship in its place, the ship would be subjected to the movement of the wind, tides, and sea, perhaps being taken off its course. But while an anchor represents stability, it also represents flexibility. Should a ship anchor itself in a location but later decides that it needs to be in another location, the captain simply raises the anchor and journeys on. So how do we do this? How do we "anchor" ourselves?
Understanding Trauma and Awareness of the Impact
It begins with recognizing and acknowledging the upsetting or traumatic experience. Trauma, in its many forms, can shake the very foundations of our lives. It could result from a single, traumatic event or a prolonged period of stress and adversity. It affects individuals differently, and no two experiences are the same. However, one common thread is that trauma can leave us feeling vulnerable and emotionally drained.
Becoming your own anchor begins with self-awareness. This means acknowledging the trauma you've experienced and its impact on your life. Self-awareness is about understanding your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in the context of your traumatic experiences. This step is crucial in reclaiming control over your own narrative.
Building Resilience Through Anchoring
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and grow stronger in the process. To do so, we must find a source of stability and strength, a metaphorical anchor that keeps us grounded when life's tempestuous waters threaten to overwhelm us. One way we can do this is through anchoring ourselves to the present. This can include finding something in the present to bring your awareness to that you can "hold" onto when things feel like they are spinning out of control. Picking something in your environment you can hold or feel, identifying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste, or engaging in diaphragmatic breathing, forces an individual to focus on something happening in their present. This action serves to create an internal sense of stability and can allow someone to gauge what a value congruent choice can be in response.
Seek Support and Connection
While self-reliance is essential, it's equally important to seek support and connect with others. The journey to resilience is not one you should embark on alone. Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist who can provide the necessary support, compassion, and guidance. It can be important to recognize the acceptability in seeking help from others. Traumatic and upsetting experiences are hard. Period. Seeking help is completely appropriate.
Mindfulness and Self-Care
Practicing mindfulness and self-care can be powerful tools in becoming your own anchor. Mindfulness helps you stay present, allowing you to cope with trauma-related emotions as they arise. Self-care is about nurturing your physical, emotional, and mental well-being, ensuring that you're equipped to deal with the challenges that trauma present. Additional practices such as meditation, yoga, journaling, or even creative expression, can be helpful avenues to creating a sense of internal stability. These activities can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the strength you possess.
Compassionately Accepting Change
Life is constantly changing, and so are you. Embrace the idea that recovery from trauma is not about returning to who you were before the trauma but about evolving into a stronger, more resilient version of yourself. Acknowledge the changes that have occurred and look for the opportunities to grow. Doing this through a self-compassionate lens can help facilitate a flexible approach to these changes.
Set Realistic Goals
Setting achievable goals can be a crucial part of your journey through a traumatic experience. While it's essential to challenge yourself, setting unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and disappointment. Gradual progress is still progress.
Becoming your own anchor is not an overnight transformation; it's a journey. Trauma can be an incredibly challenging adversary, but it's important to remember that you possess inner strengths you can reinforce to navigate the experience of emotional or external upheaval. Through self-awareness, support, self-care, and resilience-building practices, you can become your own anchor to create a sense of safety whole navigating the tumultuous waters of life.