Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Hello friends!

My sewing machine has been unplugged one whole month. I haven't sewn for a whole month! Yay! I suspect, however, that tonight I will have to sew something, but it has been a good break. I am dabbling a bit in wood and drill bits, though. Just something different. Sewing gets so old when I do clothes. Sewing to clothe my family is boring. It's noble, and meaningful in its own way, but maybe less for me than for other people. It's the same as cooking meals day after day, to keep the family fed. I do it because I love my family and I'd like them to wear clothes that don't look hideous or (worse) fit badly. But it's boring, creatively. It isn't the skills or the time or the design - it's just the dailyness of the process, and the purpose of the making. The kids will not wear what is really fun to sew, and what they will wear is so boring that a person can fall into a coma while her foot is still on the pedal. I think this is why I crash-sew: you know, setting insane deadlines and mass-producing 17 garments in one week, just so the adrenaline will keep me awake.

So now I'm keeping my sewing machine unplugged until I think of something that I'd really enjoy making.

And all that whining was to say, "and that's why I haven't blogged for a whole week. Because I made nothing." Absolutely nothing wrong on this end - in fact we're having a very nice time playing and settling back into life after our vacation.

Today I thought I'd write a bit about resilience. I've been thinking about this on and off, whenever I consider that soon, all three girls will be in school and needing those useful things called social skills that will help them navigate the Big Real Outside World. I won't be able to watch over them the way I can while they're home with me, and I know that sometimes they will have bad days, or bad classmates, or bad situations, or bad grades, and they might feel that their reality stinks. Or, even if they sail through school, they'll eventually hit puberty and - wham! - Suddenly, they'll be... different. That's life, and we've all lived through it, so we know it isn't terminal, but when we were 15 and in the throes of relationship angst and acne and whatnot, it sure felt like it was.

When I worked as a school counselor with sad and bad kids, we also trained their in-school caregivers. Our office worked with all the schools in the country, conducting workshops and seminars for teachers, principals and in-school mental-health-care providers in different psychological and learning areas. One of these was (for want of a better term) crisis management. At the macro level, it included anything from setting up a school to be ready for natural disasters or emergencies, to handling incidents like a teacher dying of a heart attack in front of her students, to managing the attempted - or completed -suicide of a classmate. On an individual level, it would mean helping an eight-year-old cope with the death of his mother, a thirteen year old with an unplanned pregnancy, or a nine-year-old with an abusive polygamous family. It was some of the most rewarding work I've ever done, but also the most emotionally draining. I never knew if the child I'd helped would make good with the rest of his life, or fall back into his old unhealthy social patterns, or if the high-risk teenager would cut her wrists again a few years down the road. Initially, I'd bring the anxiety home with me, but over time, I learned to lay down the burdens that were not mine to bear. Crisis work was simply that - urgent but temporary intervention in an unstable situation so that longer-term, stabilizing, restorative care could be arranged for hurting folks (in this case, kids).

When we were not doing these more dramatic interventions, we taught teachers and caregivers to build resilience in the kids under their charge. We believed that giving kids an arsenal of coping tools when they were stable and going about their normal day, would stand them in good stead when they were thrown into unexpected crisis. It's common sense - the more resilient a person is, the more able they are to pick themselves up after a fall and keep walking. One of my favorite models we used in our workshops was called BASIC Ph, developed by the Israeli psychologist Professor Mooli Lahad in his work with (among others) disaster survivors. It sounds like heavy stuff but, like all good frameworks, it has useful applications to a whole spectrum of crises and traumas.

I thought it would be an interesting change (from sewing and cardboard, I mean) to share this model with you. Many of my readers are parents and grandparents of little ones, and certainly all of us have had those School of Hard Knocks experiences at some point in our lives.

First, let's do a quick experiment - think of a dreadful, horrible disaster (as you define it) happening to you or getting some really, really bad news. Really bad and horrible, the sort that turns your heart cold just to imagine it. Now get a sheet of paper and write down all the ways you might cope with it, including the specific things you might do. The more, the merrier; don't worry about the order. Mine might look like this:

This is a list of coping mechanisms or behaviors. Now set that aside and read on. We'll revisit your list later.

The premise of the BASICPh model is essentially this (interpretation mine): A person copes with stress and trauma using whatever coping mechanisms (or behaviors) she has. The more mechanisms she has already learned by the time the stress hits her, the better she is at surviving the experience. She would therefore be more resilient than another person with fewer coping mechanisms. Another way of saying it is that one way to make a person more resilient is to equip that person with more coping skills. Most people naturally have some coping skills that allow them to cope with normal, every day sort of stress. However, in the event of a major crisis, those existing skills may be inadequate, or they might need (but lack) another variety of coping skills because of the specific nature of that crisis. One of the applications of the model is to expand a person's repertoire of coping mechanisms during the calm, non-crises periods in one's life, to not only help that person cope better with everyday stress in general, but so they are up to the challenge of something far worse.

With me so far?

The BasicPh model describes six main modes of coping - all our coping behaviors, no matter how varied in appearance, can be categorized in these six categories.

The more of these coping modes a person utilizes, the greater that person's capacity will be to deal with stress, and therefore, the more resilient that person is. Most people primarily operate in only two or three of these modes and the model helps them by
  • helping them identify those natural coping modes
  • generate ways to use the other, less used coping modes

I'll take you through the six modes and then you can look return to that list you made earlier and categorize your behaviors into your main natural coping modes. I'm writing all this out from memory, since my notes are in some tub stashed away somewhere in the bowels of our house.

B is for Belief 
More than just faith, spirituality or religion, this also includes values or any significance a person might attach to certain things that bring comfort, stability or purpose. For example, a person who is contemplating suicide might be held back by his belief that life is precious.

A is for Affect
This is the emotional mode, which employs such behaviors as crying/laughing, ventilating (telling someone about the problem), self-expression through music, creative arts, poetry etc. For example, a person who has lost a loved one might write a song about the person.

S is for Social
In this mode, a person gets comfort from social relationships and social roles. The former includes actual relationships and interaction with other people, and the latter involves belonging to an organization, or performing a task related to a role. For example, a mother who has received bad news might cope by continuing to care for her family as if nothing had changed, and derive comfort from the consistency of her caregiving routines and sense of purpose.

I is for Imagination
The use of the imagination extends to scenarios, desensitization, improvisation, hypothetical situations and other means of intuiting possibilities or dulling the true intensity of a trauma. For example, a teacher facing insurmountable deadlines for grading essay books might bake a batch of cookies in the shape of books and consume them, imagining she is getting rid of her problems in the process.

C is for Cognitive processes
In this mode, a person uses mental and cognitive skills to gather and organize information and analyze and solve problems. For example, a man receiving a bad diagnosis from a doctor might do research online and through second opinions to find out more about his condition, and make lists of possible treatments, diets and lifestyle changes.

Ph is for Physiology
A person in this mode uses his body to perform behaviors to cope with stress. Common examples are comfort eating, shopping, drinking, exercising, relaxation techniques, gardening.

It is not uncommon for a person to engage in many manifestations of the same mode of coping. For instance, a person who is naturally athletic may have 7 or 8 different sports or outdoor activities to turn to in times of stress and yet be underdeveloped in the other modes. Similarly, a seemingly well-rounded person with many craft pursuits (woodworking, sewing, quilting, gardening, cooking, knitting, felting, crochet) may still be employing only one or two coping modes (Ph and A). Their multi-variety behaviors may keep them occupied on a daily basis but in a time of great crisis, these two people may find their few coping modes inadequate. 

Here's my personal case study as an example. 

I am an immigrant facing the daily, non-intense inconvenience of living in a country that is not my home country. I have lost certain things in coming to the USA - my old job, my old friends, regular and frequent contact with my family, my unconscious status as a majority-race citizen, my security in naturally knowing 'how things work around here', to name a few. I am happy as a lark most of the time because physically adjusting to an English-speaking environment in a comfortable, developed country is easy. 

Because my social circle is greatly reduced, I have a lot more time in my day in spite of being mom of three small kids (Ph, A, S). So I take up sewing and other fine (i.e. cardboard) crafts. They are something to do (Ph), I like how I can express myself creatively through them (A), and I think that if one has been given some measure of talent, one should use it and not waste it (B). I have a fabulous family (S) and some wonderful new friends (S), both of whom I can share personal issues with if I need to (A). I occasionally volunteer (Ph) at the kids' schools  not only because I miss being in the classroom (A) but also because I like feeling connected and useful and helpful (S) to my kids' teachers. I like designing bizarre kids' toys (I) and think nutella is a cure-all (I). Sometimes I even write black-humor verse and draw demented cartoons (I). While I think sewing is great for pocket money (even if I earned less in the entire 2011 than one month's salary in 2004), I mostly do it because it makes me feel somewhat connected to my home country (B, I). Sometimes I even fantasize (I) about sewing Asian-inspired (S) garments. I grumble a lot (A) about not having decent swimming pools here because I used to swim a lot (Ph) back in my home country, which I recall as an ethereal, bonding-with-nature (A, I) sort of experience. Now I am obliged to run indoors on a static treadmill (Ph) while looking at the back of the door, as the TV room, where I might have been able to watch The Sound of Music (I, Ph) while clocking miles, is too cramped. 

Occasionally, like when I visit my home country, I am both ecstatic and emotionally conflicted. It would qualify as small crisis of sorts, because I feel like a raving lunatic, or at least someone bordering on bipolar. In such situations, I need better coping mechanisms than my usual Let Us Sew Ourselves Silly (Ph) or Writing Sappy Blog Posts (A, Ph). So I read books (C) about cultural issues and identify (S) with other people who are in similar positions. I read my Bible and highlight all the good passages that bring me comfort (B). I also laugh (A) at all the funny passages that, taken out of context, could make great comic strip material (I) e.g. "The dogs licked up the blood". I pray (B, A) and tell God that I've taken four steps backwards (I) again. I corner hapless friends (S) and make them listen to what I'm going through and vent (A) on the captive husband (S) for the hundredth time. I make lists (C) of projects to do to and scheme (C) to earn enough money to buy a private jet or teleporter (I). I do research (C) and find a counselor (A) and force her to listen to my rantings. I harbor secret plans (C) to start sewing groups in third world countries (I) because I feel it is meaningful (B) and because I love people of other cultures (S). I cry about it (A) and feel sorry for myself. I laugh at myself (A) for being so silly. I cook Asian food (Ph) and eat it (Ph), even though the noodles are several years past their expiration date, the desperation of which situation (I) amuses (A) me. I blog about it (A) because it's fun to talk about myself and because I like the feeling of connecting to thousands of followers and readers (S). And often I lie in bed at night counting (C) my blessings and feeling very wretched (A) and very, very lucky (A) to be in two worlds that, in addition to having decent haberdashery and sewing supplies, are really quite nice :)

Well, that was my story! I hope you enjoyed it. It's all true, although I left out the more exciting bits like coveting expensive sewing machines and trying to teach my kids electronics. 

Once you get familiar with this model of coping, it becomes easy to identify the different modes into which your coping mechanisms/behaviors fall. Often a particular behavior may overlap two or more modes. At one workshop, a participant asked about going to a pub to drown one's sorrows in drink. "Is that Ph or A?" she asked. We asked her back, "Did you go alone? If so, it's probably Ph. If you went with a friend, it's probably S or/and A, especially if the sorrows were shared before being drowned."

Another question we were often asked was whether some coping behaviors were bad, like addictions. The model does not assign goodness (healthy) or badness (unhealthy) values to the modes. With every other thing in the universe, moderation is the way to go. People can always do too much of anything, even a good thing, and even a good coping thing. So choose wisely. 

If you are a parent and want to use this with your kids, you can begin by telling yourself not to be daft and overachieving and force all six modes out of them by the time they're in 1st grade. Kids do so much better when you work with those precious learning moments that turn up from time to time. Plus you need to remember that they also learn from watching you cope - they'll emulate whatever behavior you engage in. If you have older kids who are already forming coping patterns, hurrah. Introduce social things to kids who aren't developed in that area, or cognitive methods to kids who don't know how to problem-solve. If they seem skewed narrowly towards only one or two modes, try and naturally overlap new modes with them. For instance, if you have a teenage son who seems to only closet himself away, reading books (I), or running laps around the track (Ph) when he's got something on his mind, see if he'll do it with a friend (S) so they'll be company for each other and maybe they'll even get to talking (A)!

And if you're employing the model on you, hurrah! But don't pigeonhole yourself into silly categories like, "Oh, I'm an incurable Affective coper! I only need a good cry and then I'm good as gold!" Shame on you - the day will come when you'll need more than just that, and you'll be glad you kept those ties with that old friend, or had that favorite restaurant with your favorite comfort food, or remembered where you put those old running shoes.

If you'd like to read more online, here and here are two sites. The first has probably more information that you might want, but you can chuck out whatever you don't need. The second one is especially practical for helping kids. 

Prof Lahad has also written books - but as I don't own any of them, I couldn't recommend any specific one. 

Am off to bed now. I'll be back soon with shopping (Ph) confessions!

And some wood projects (Ph, A, I)!!

P.S. Because I thought you might ask, that tea-brewing system is this one


  1. Loved this post....this is the kind of post I will be thinking about favorite kind.


  2. Thank you for posting this. It is very timely for me and I will definitely be having a good read of the links.

  3. I was going to ask. You're a good friend, you know?

  4. i really enjoyed this post. I am a mom of 3 young children(4,2,1) and am already thinking about how to prepare them for everything life can throw at them. I already know that I do not cope with stress well so this post gives me plenty to think about and hopefully will steer me towards being a good role model for my children in the years to come. I love your blog and have learned so much from your sewing skills, but I think it is your attitude and desire to help your readers(be it sewing or other..)that makes your blog so appealing. Thank you!

    1. Thank YOU, Samantha, for one of the nicest comments I've ever had!

  5. Great post today and I keep forgetting to hop over here to tell you how excited I was to see you and your adorable projects in this month's Family Fun Magazine. Of course, I feel like I actually know you from reading your blog for so long-- not in a stalker way, just in a I pretend we're friendly neighbors who drink tea and craft together! : )

    I'll be revisiting and reflecting upon your "coping mechanisms" in my own journal as part of my continuing internal work.

    Pink and Green Mama,

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this! I hadn't heard of the BASICPh model, but like the idea of developing skills in a range of areas. And you explain it all so engagingly! Teaching skills like this is a huge part of what I hope to accomplish as a parent, and certainly no small task!

  7. Gracias ,sigo siempre lo que tiene la generosidad de enseñarme con la aguja pero hoy me ha hecho pensar , y usted seguramente es parte ,de todo lo que plantea ,hay alguien o muchos que tienen una vida seguramente distinta a la suya ,coser es lo que nos lleva a otro lugar,un lugar de creación.

  8. This is a fantastic post. I, too, am a transplanted immigrant in a comfortable, English-speaking country, and the internal drama that sometimes causes (even after 13 years) can be hard to cope with. Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself!

  9. I think your blog is totally awesome. not to mention extremely inspirational. I am eyeing the faraway tree as soon as I get my hands on a big enough box.

  10. I've been slowly working on disaster preparedness for our family -- a properly stocked first aid kit, 72-hour bags, etc. This post has provided me with another type of essential tool for preparing myself and our family for the unpleasantries life can throw at us. Thank you very much!!

  11. I stumble upon your blog one day and I find it very refreshing to read. I'm a mother of two girls and staying in KL. I just pick up sewing after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It's better to be late than never!

  12. Of all the wondrous posts, this is the one that has topped my personal best-of-ikatbag chart. I need to read more of this, apply it, and then teach. Thanks!

  13. Erm, please ignore this if my last comment has registered with blogger - I don't know where it went, for I did not get the usual waiting for moderation message once I signed in. Anyway, er, thanks. (It seems awkward to repeat the fulsome praise, but in case the comment really is lost, take it from me that it was so.)

  14. thank you for this post. THere's a lot to chew on here. I so appreciate you sharing it with us.
    I have been coping with a lot in the last 2 years, so I can now think about it from a different angle. . . thank you.

  15. I was re-reading old email/blog posts and came across the other post where you mention this and did a bunch of reading on it this afternoon. I work at a restored historic lodge on the Rogue River in OR and two of our guests tonight are elementary school teachers. We were discussing books and something related to this came into the conversation and I was able to tell them about what I had just read. I also do part-time work for a non-profit here that provides counseling for kids who have been sexually abused.(I am not a therapist)and I will keep all this in mind when I do speak to someone who is struggling.

  16. I was going through old emails/blog posts and came across the other post you mentioned this in so I did a bunch of reading this afternoon on it. Then found this post. In the meantime it came up in a discussion with some teachers staying at the place I work. Very interesting and I will be using it. thanks

  17. Fantastic post, but hard to find again, do you think you could have a link on the front page? Ruthie


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