Psychological Resilience in a time of war: Individual and National Dimension

Oleh Romanchuk

Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy
and the Institute of Mental Health, UCU
Child psychiatrist, psychotherapist at the “Family Circle” Center

Psychological resilience is the ability to go through various life challenges, while maintaining psychological health and personal integrity. It is an incredibly important topic for discussion, research and scientific conferences for researchers and professionals. However, this is not the main point today. Now we have a war and we are strengthening our resilience together. Resilience is not only needed to cope with all the stress and challenges associated with the horrors of war ¬but also to win this war together.
When the enemy’s strategy is to frighten us with the force of his aggression, to cause us panic, to sow despair to finally coerce us to surrender or flee, our response to him is our resilience. Individual. National. Universal solidarity of all the forces of Good on this earth.

Therefore, this will not be a long scholarly article on everything we know from research on resilience, but rather a brief overview of its key ingredients to help us strengthen our resilience with an even greater sense of consciousness in wartime.

Resilience is always about a sense of values and meaning. And that is why we repeat to ourselves now and again that we have Truth on our side. God is with us. Victory is ours. We are on our own land fighting for our freedom and for the freedom of our future. In support of this, we also have our legacy from the Cossack times, this incredible saying: “If you hear the Truth within yourself – you are invincible!” This is important for us now, because the Truth is the weapon that the enemy does not have, while it is an inexhaustible supply in our hearts.  Truth is the weapon that makes us invincible!
Our connection with the Truth must be maintained and checked in with, the same way a pilot keeps on his course while flying an aircraft. Only with this connection, can we realize that every step we take is part of a great journey, which has a meaning. Thus, this becomes a source of energy for our progress, giving insurmountable perseverance in our movements…

Resilience is about the energy of light and the energy of Love, as it represents the greatest meaning in life. This is why we remind ourselves that we strive to be Warriors of Light. We do not want to be like our enemy, by doing inhumane actions. It is this Love that gives our soldiers the courage to go into battle without fear of death… This love must also be kept pure, because in response to all barbarism, the desire for fierce blind revenge can flare up so easily. That is why in Shevchenko’s “Molytva” (“Prayer”) “malicious backs” and their dark energy is contrasted with this light request “And for pure hearts? – around them, Put your angels, And keep their purity…”

Also, resilience is about the strength of our unity and mutual support… And this is consistently confirmed across all scientific research: our resilience is based on the depth of our relationships (at the family level, at the community, nation, humanity level). It is based on mutual devotion and care, the ability to cultivate trust and not only dare to trust, but also to work on being trustworthy. And this is probably one of the lessons that is the most difficult to learn at the national level. But it is our challenge, our invitation, and we are doing great, we are learning! And so now, when we see how many people show incredible courage and endurance, honesty and generosity, professionalism and humanity, our sense of faith in our people is growing. And Symonenko’s lines deeply resonates in every cell of our beings: “My people are! My people will always be!”.

Resilience is associated with this sense of belonging. We are strong when we feel part of something bigger, whole, lasting longer than our individual lives which is to be a part of the Great History. That is why now we feel how the Cossacks, Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, Shevchenko, Franko, Lesya Ukrainka, Stus, Andrei Sheptytsky and countless heroes of all generations stand behind us, to whom we say “Glory to Heroes!”. And we realize what a gift it is and what an honor it is to stand on their shoulders and continue to work together for the sake of future generations… Their resilience, their life achievements can become our great resource. Let’s draw from it! This resilience becomes even stronger when our Great History is not limited to national history, but when it becomes part of the universal history of Good and Light. And in this history we are intertwined with many histories of freedom, dignity, love and brotherhood. And the shoulders on which we stand become even wider and stronger. This is also about Mahatma Gandhi, and about Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Janusz Korczak; their names are countless…

And we must also be reminded, because it is so easy to forget, especially when the war is over (and it will inevitably be over) – that our strength is in this unity, and it is great. Because when acting harmoniously together we can do much, much more, than each of us individually. And that’s why we share, learn from and are inspired by different stories from the past and present, such as this small village in Chernihiv region, where the united community that is unarmed forces columns of Russian tanks to reverse and drive away… When we are so united, filled with Truth and Courage we are truly invincible… And this strength becomes even greater when we are united with the whole world forces of Good and the international community…

Resilience is also about choice. It is not an innate or individual quality that is inherent in certain individuals. It’s more like muscles: we’re all born with them, but they grow when we use them. And when we choose to respond from a position of resilience, we become more resilient. When we choose to respond deliberately and wisely to challenges, we become these qualities. When in danger we act bravely (despite fear, because fear is natural, but “courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act according to values against fear”), we grow in courage… And so we repeat to ourselves now, like a battle mantra: “Our task and our choice: to endure, to withstand, to win! Whatever it is and no matter how long it takes – to endure, to withstand, to win!”

Resilience is also about Hope. Not just a blind optimism that suggests that “everything will be fine tomorrow.” We are aware that the road can be long, and in order to win the war, we may have to lose more than one battle and suffer painful losses. But Hope is that in the end, the Truth will surely win!

Hope (ukr: надія) is what calls for “action” (“на-дія” is “for action”). Therefore, resilience is about effective, wise and balanced action. Everyone can act in their own way; everyone has their own place in the great Formation… Action is not about “waiting it out by scrolling the news”. It’s about taking your place in the Formation every day. For an elderly woman it may be that she prays for the soldiers, for the mother that she takes care of the children, for the doctor in the hospital, the baker in the bakery, the defender is holding the fight…

Resilience is also about the ability to think clearly and to have a clear and wise mind. Because helpless thoughts can so easily trigger an internal tornado of panic, despair, or anger. And sometimes those thoughts are not even needed much, because when we act, and when on the battlefield, often short prayers or inspiring “mantras” are more helpful. Here is one of them from the Minister of Defense Alexei Reznik – “Darkness will recede. Dawn is near. Let’s keep the formation… »

Resilience is not about steadfastness and infallibility. Rather, the ability to fall and stand up, admit mistakes and correct, learn from them – humbly again and again… And also not to judge those who are nearby in the Formation, who swayed or erred – but to help them up, to learn lessons, to correct…

Resilience is also about the ability to regulate emotions. Feelings and emotions are important: they communicate, unite, mobilize and give energy to action. Anger gives strength to fight, anxiety – caution in a situation of danger. But sometimes feelings are dysregulated: anger “breaks through roof”, in despair we can “skid”. So resilience is also about emotional competence, the ability to understand and respond wisely to emotional signals, but also to regulate them when they are wrong or excessive. Now we all had a “workshop” on this subject – and we are learning to “ground” our excessive anxiety, “breathe deeply” and bring down the “degree of anger”, share the sadness of loss…

Resilience is not about a state of “relaxation” and calm. In a state of war, there is no “technique” how to “unleash” and feel complete peace when cruise missiles fall on your country and people die. It is about accepting suffering, the ability to be with it and to respond in accordance with values.

This is also about the role of positive emotional states. They are extremely important, because we all know well how good laughter and sincere joy relieves tension and restores the soul; how important it is to see beauty, to admire, to feel touched by it. And although it sounds strange, but in the dark days of war this beauty is seen more (as stars in the dark night are more visible) – first of all the incredible beauty of people, our people. Resilience is also about the ability to “generate” such positive states – by means of song, joke, dance – and the ability to share them, because “shared joy is multiplied”…
And, of course, resilience is about a disciplined rhythm of self-care and recovery. It is especially important in conditions of chronic stress and uncertainty. This includes sleep, food and physical activity, the resourceful activities mentioned earlier, time for silence and rest, even a short one. Limited reading of news. The ability to save energy for the battles that are really important and not to scatter it on the secondary ones. And to have that energy not for one day, but for as long as it will take to win…

So, we have a path ahead of us. It will change and is already changing us. In it we are born and reborn – not only for ourselves but also for the world! And we know for certain that this is the path that no one can ever turn us away from – to live, to create our dear Ukraine. To create it with all the love and courage of our hearts – a free country of free people, who are part of a great and bright family of nations who choose to create a civilization of peace and love on earth!

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