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Building Resilience through Healthy Relationships

Clergy and religious can help develop resilience in themselves and handle hardship more effectively by cultivating good self-esteem and healthy relationships, according to the coordinator of the Caritas Counseling Center at Saint Luke Institute.

“Resiliency is the ability to maintain stability in the face of adversity,” said Taryn Millar, Psy.D. “It doesn’t mean a person won’t get hurt or upset. It just means that they’re not going to make the situation worse.”

Individuals who are resilient are able to better inoculate themselves against stress that may affect mental and physical health, Millar said. Clergy, religious and others in ministry often face stressors including emotional fatigue, unhealthy work-life balances and neglect of self-care.

Resilience is shaped in each person by a combination of controllable and uncontrollable factors, Millar said.

Uncontrollable factors include genetics and childhood experiences. Controllable factors include self-esteem, relationships and a sense of hope.

Individuals with low self-esteem can make changes in how they view themselves, Millar said. Some ways to do so may include receiving therapy or taking classes on leadership, finances or time management.

“Another big thing is to…engage in gratitude,” she said. “Gratitude has been shown to positively affect outlook.”

It is also important for priests and religious to devote energy to nurturing healthy relationships, Millar said. Loved ones or fellow priests with whom one can relax serve as a “support system buffer against stress and burnout.”

“If you’re having a bad day, whom did you call?” she asked. “If a person can’t think of anybody, that’s a problem.”

Millar said that it is difficult to be resilient if a person has little hope for the future. The best way to cultivate hope is to practice mindfulness.

“Stop and pay attention in the moment,” she said. “Pause and review.” Though a difficult family life or traumatic childhood cannot be changed, Millar observed that negative experiences can be used for good.

“Use something you’ve learned about yourself and turn that painful experience as best you can into a strength,” she said.

Priests and religious, because they often serve in leadership positions, have the opportunity to promote resiliency among others by modeling it, Millar said.

That includes maintaining a sense of gratitude and humor, taking time for self-care, and being sensitive to the need for communication and deliberation among members of a parish or group.

Clergy and religious who have dedicated their lives to service sometimes fail to commit appropriate time and energy to caring for themselves, Millar noted, which can lead to both physical as well as mental health problems.

“Everybody has resilience. They can choose to engage in behaviors that reduce their resilience or optimize it.”