Be kind September 4, 2012

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~ Plato

I was teaching a resiliency class to a group of women who were on unassigned idle (UI) status. These women have recently lost or quit their jobs, were dropped out of or quit school, or were recently released from segregation for committing a rule violation. Those on UI spend their time locked in their rooms, allowed out for only one hour a day to do laundry and shower. Assuming they don't receive any informal discipline while they're on status (failing a room inspection, for example), Sundays are the only day they are allowed "free" time among general population.

Many of the students in this class have seen me teach before and as a group this was our second class session, so they were familiar with me and the other students. We were discussing the development of self discipline when one of the women, I'll call her Ms. X, began venting about a personal problem she had with changing her behavior.

As Ms X talked I was thinking about having recently met with her while she was doing her time in segregation. Segregation is a prison within the prison where the residents are locked down 23 hours per day without any time in general population. For some women, including Ms. X, segregation seems inevitable because they don't recognize that they have choices when it comes to reacting to particular situations. [s1]Ms. X is what we call a "frequent flier" to the seg unit, having been placed there many times in the past 18 months. I provide mental health services to the seg unit and normally see the seg women each week while making my rounds.

I have seen Ms X grow from the first time I worked with her, so I was interested to hear about the situation she wanted to discuss. Ms. X went on to say that she has success for only so long in her life before she does something to mess it up. She gave an example of one situation and some of the bad choices she made. I told her the problem might be a fear of success. Sometims people will get uncomfortable with success and give up. While people may give up for a variety of reasons, there are strategies to help overcome the concept of the fear of success. I told her it might be useful to start keeping track of her successes no matter how large of small they might seem. By recording her successes regularly she may be able to break the habit of "messing up" after a streak of good behavior. She seemed excited about this information, and I noticed as I went on teaching that Ms. X was paying more attention to what I was saying.

Meanwhile, another student "I will call her Ms. Y" was a bit more down in the dumps. She was commenting under her breath about how unfair certain staff members can be. She, too, was a frequent visitor to the seg unit so I was somewhat familiar with many of her personal concerns. As I continued to teach, I thought to myself that I have not yet found a topic that may lessen her frustrations.

Suddenly, Ms. X turned around to Ms. Y and said, "He is only trying to help us. Do you have to be so negative about everything?"

You could have heard a pin drop the room got so silent.

Before Ms. Y could respond, I reminded Ms. X that fifteen minutes earlier she herself was venting about her issue, and we, as a class, had taken the time to resolve it.

"Did you notice the suggested solutions help you calm down? Now that you have found some peace, perhaps we can help Ms. Y resolve some of her concerns."

Ms. X understood, and I regained her attention as she made the connection. I went on to describe possible solutions for people like Ms. Y who seemed to be steeped in

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negativity. I wrote the issue on the white board as well as solutions, and made a plan to revisit the discussion during our next class. Before I could say another word I heard the following.

Ms. X turned again to Ms. Y. I'm sorry, she said.

Ms. Y's face relaxed into an accepting smile and said, It's okay. You understood.

I praised both of them for working through what could have been a tense moment and may have led to a verbal conflict, instead of shared understanding and compassion.

Each of us has challenges in life to deal with. Resilient people look at these challenges as opportunities to learn. Learning to successfully navigate through them can be difficult, yet at the same time rewarding with each success we achieve. Be patient and practice compassion toward others. Don't give up. Resilient people bounce back and continue to grow.

More next month .........Dr. Schanus