This is part two of a series of posts dedicated to breaking down components of resilience. The series is an elaboration on a post I made in 2015, continued now as part of the June 2016 Carnival of Aces on Resiliency. In part one, I introduced the series and covered tenacity. In this post, I will cover affect management and positive frameworks.
“Affect” is one of those words that means something different depending on how you pronounce it, and is easily confused with another word with a slightly different spelling. If you pronounce it “affect“—with the stress on the second syllable—then it’s a verb, which means to cause some change, to have an effect on something (note that “effect” starting with an e is typically a noun, and it is the result that happens because of some cause). Or, “affect” might mean to pretend, to put on a false show of some emotion. For example, you could say something like, “His curiosity was piqued, but he affected disinterest.”
But if you pronounce it “affect,” with the stress on the first syllable, then it’s a noun. It means how you feel, your emotional state, and how you’re showing that state through your body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. This is the sense that we’re using when we talk about managing affect.
Essentially: how do you manage your emotions?
There are lots of strategies a therapist might coach you through to help you manage emotions better. These can include:
- challenging distorted thinking
- crisis planning
- techniques to stay grounded in the present
- selective exposure (to triggers)
- increasing your ability to tolerate distress
- routines for self-care
…and many more. This is a complex topic, so there is no way I can cover it in depth here. Since I am not trained in psychology, I only have a cursory knowledge of the theories behind this. If you’re really interested, you can look into it yourself, but for the purposes of using this model to build your own resilience, I don’t think you need to know all of that. We all already practice affect management, whether or not we know what it’s called, and it’s something that we can improve without the help of a therapist.
So I don’t want anyone to think that if you don’t have access to a therapist or aren’t willing to take the non-trivial risk that they’ll do more harm than good, then you’re just out of luck. That’s not how it is. Support helps—in any form—but you can still make significant improvements all on your own. You want to avoid being too dependent on others anyway—they’re unreliable, and making others responsible for your emotions isn’t healthy for either party. Asking others for support when you need it is important, but if you feel yourself sliding into a mindset that you’re helpless on your own, challenge that.
Another way to look at this might be, what are your coping skills like? When you feel any difficult emotion, what do you do to deal with that? What helps you get through it? How can you process or improve your mood? And if you rely on any coping strategies that you feel are unhealthy in the long run, how can you find another way?
Just reflecting on these and observing how you already manage your emotions can help you figure out what strategies work for you, and what don’t. From there, you can increase the effective ones and look for new ones in the areas you have trouble with.
There are so many potential ways you could manage your affect that I have trouble picking one as an example from my own life. Instead, I found a great one from Sara at Flying While Falling Down:
I think, for me, the key to resilience is looking to the future. It’s looking to reading books that have asexual and aromantic characters. It’s looking to the fact that this year, there was an asexual flag at my city’s Pridefest. It’s looking to the fact that there are so many other people that want to know who they are and how they fit into the world.
This is a really good example of changing how you think in order to inspire a mood change, which in turn allows you to keep going longer—boosting your tenacity. See how the components of resilience are all connected? Many techniques for managing affect also draw from creativity, adaptability, discernment, or your support network. Some can be considered positive frameworks, too. Which brings me to…
What does it mean to build a positive framework? Well, a framework is a structure that provides a stable base to build on. In this case, it’s a conceptual structure, a set of ideas that provide support.
Here I’m going to tie this directly to the ace community, because I think that asexual identity itself is a positive framework. And it’s one that most of us have not had access to for a significant portion of our lives, although with younger generations that is changing. When we grow up with experiences so marginalized that we don’t even know that asexuality is a legitimate option, we experience hermeneutical injustice. Having no other way to interpret our experiences, we might very well conclude that there is something wrong with us. That’s what everyone else seems to think. Until we find out about the asexual community and learn that there is a whole other way to interpret our experiences.
There are (obviously) tons of examples, but here’s a recent one from Sara K. at The Notes Which Do Not Fit:
My identity also helps me deal with how other people react to the lack of sex and romance in my life. Before I took on an asexual identity, people often made comments about sex and/or romance which I felt uncomfortable with. But I did not understand why I was uncomfortable. Now, I understand that I have a very different perspective than most people do on sex and romance. That explains a lot of the dissonance I feel between my thoughts and other people’s thoughts on these things. Whatever people think of me, my perspective on my own sexless life is 100% valid. That makes me more resilient in the face of ignorant remarks made by other people.
Identifying as asexual (or ace spectrum) gives us a positive, healthy conceptual framework for interpreting our experiences. It also gives us access to a support network that we didn’t have before (to varying degrees—some of us face more barriers than others).
And then, from other aces, we can find HUNDREDS MORE EXAMPLES of frameworks, because the ace community is obsessed with models, graphs, definitions, labels, and analysis thereof. There is nothing we’re better at generating than conceptual frameworks.
Not all of these frameworks are useful, of course. Ace history is littered with abandoned models, labels that never gained traction. And sometimes we really just need to cool it, lest we overwhelm ourselves with doubts. But I think because many of us have spent such a long time without knowledge of concepts like this, without a map, we’re pretty strongly driven to build new frameworks. This is especially true for relationships. Because having relationships (of all kinds) often requires us to build new frameworks, and successfully communicate them, in order for the people we’re in any kind of close relationship with to actually understand us. The existing, culturally-dominant relationship scripts are woefully inadequate for many (most?) ace-spectrum people, so we have to create alternatives.
So in a very real way, the strength of our support networks can be dependent on our ability to create positive frameworks—and our support networks increase our access to positive frameworks in turn.
I think our tendency, as a group, is to try very hard to find or create the perfect framework, the perfect model, the perfect label. Analyzing and brainstorming together is a big part of how we tend to socialize with one another. And that’s a good thing! However, it can sometimes lead us to tunnel-vision on things like the minutiae of different attractions, and maybe not give alternative frameworks much consideration. So, if I make any suggestion to the community at large about this, it would be to try to broaden our scope more. (I plan to make another post about this later, but for now, let’s leave it at that.)
Generally, I think learning new things makes people more resilient. You’ll find things like “loves to learn” on many lists of “traits of resilient people” (with very poorly worded titles). That’s because learning increases conceptual knowledge of the world, bolsters existing frameworks, and exposes people to alternative frameworks. The more exposure you have to new ideas, the more chances you have to find a positive framework that works for you.
This post has been cross-posted to Resources for Ace Survivors.