#16Days: One Way to Build Your Resilience

By JO Rodrigues

This year the UNiTE campaign’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls.”

Today is Women’s Human Rights Defenders Day.

Bearing this in mind have you noticed how many women defending human rights and working to end violence against women and girls end up leaving themselves behind? There is a tendency for us to put many others’ needs before our own.

I wrote this post a year ago to help women build resilience so that we may continue to do the important work we are doing.

Experiencing something upsetting or traumatic, whether in our work or personal life, immediately makes many people recoil and isolate themselves. We suck it up. We decide it’s better to be on our own. No connection means not getting hurt. We’re protecting ourselves.

The more I learn about emotion, memory and suffering, the more I realize that the idea of isolating yourself to protect yourself just makes you more miserable, angry & frustrated. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself.

But the alternative can be overwhelming. To connect requires you to be vulnerable – vulnerable to the exact hurt that has caused you to isolate yourself.

Here’s the catch: if you close yourself off to pain, you also close yourself off to love and connection. A wise, dear friend once told me this when I was experiencing overwhelming emotional and physical pain (Thanks Brig!).

Here’s the other catch: If you don’t have the tools to keep yourself grounded and safe as you reach out for love (acceptance, support etc.), you will get hurt again and it will be painful.

Acknowledge you don’t have the skills – at least to yourself. To do otherwise won’t help.

Realize, as well, that many of us don’t have the skills to keep us grounded and safe.

We’re taught to read, write and count but not how to accept feelings and emotions, listen to each other’s pain without casting judgment, communicate empathetically or communicate clearly what our expectations and boundaries are.

If you want to protect yourself from hurt, you need to connect and not isolate.

You need a support system. It’s one of the ways to be resilient in the face of work and personal challenges.

At the core of this support system is you. If you are not there for you no one else can be there for you. The buy-in to take care and support yourself needs to come from within. You need to be your best friend. Around this core is your community. The one that supports you in all the imaginable and unimaginable ways you will need.

How do you get this support system?

There are 3 steps:

  1. Self-awareness. It starts with cultivating self-awareness. This requires curiosity, acknowledgment and acceptance of yourself.
  1. Clarity. A by-product of this process is developing clarity on what your wants and needs are as well as your boundaries.  
  1. Communication. In order to have a support system you need to communicate what you want and what you don’t want.

You also need to learn how to communicate with others. Again, you will have to exercise curiosity, actively listen, acknowledge what is being said and be clear of your intentions, expectations and boundaries.

Feeling overwhelmed at the task? Yeah, I felt the same way. I still do from time to time. The difference is now I know. I know that using these tools keep me from feeling miserable and powerless. As scary and as difficult as it is to practice these skills I do so anyway because I reap the rewards.

I still have challenges in my personal and professional life but how I react to them has changed.

I am more compassionate with myself and others. The result is trust and relationships that support me and take my work to another level of making a positive impact.

I am also incredibly clear on what my expectations and boundaries are. Instead of feeling under-valued and dismissed, I have a voice and I use it. I will not be shut down or told my perspective doesn’t matter. I use my energy more wisely. Trying to be heard by people who don’t want to listen is pointless. Flowing around them like a river moving around obstructions is how I choose to work now. I feel empowered instead of defeated!

Before you meet your next life or work challenge, take the time to build your support system.


Reading this post is a first step. The next step is to take action.

Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can to be empowered to make a difference.

To help build your support system sign-up for my free toolkit on Clarity, Empowerment and Resilience here.

JO Rodrigues is a member of the Steering Committee for the WPSN-C, a consultant for WPS as well as trainer and coach for humanitarian aid and international development workers. More info on her work can be found here http://jorodrigues.net/

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