We hear so often of people taking moments of great pain or trauma and using them as fuel to come out stronger, more resilient, and successful. And this sort of growth and development is possible for all of us.
But when the chips are down, and positivity and progress seem futile, how can we actually begin to turn our life around?
We can do it if we start simple. Overcoming difficult life experiences is all about time and space. It’s advice we’ve all heard time and time again for a reason. Taking as much of both of these as we possibly need is essential, as well as being kind to ourselves, recognizing that there is no strict timeline. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, mourn, recover, or move past anything. What matters most is getting and taking the time and support we need. When we’re ready, we will be able to grow from it.
In the early stages
To register and react to something properly, you need to slow down. If possible, try not to catch any knee-jerk reactions. They only muddy the waters. That being said, if you have already had a knee-jerk reaction, forgive and go easy on yourself. You’re only human.
In high-stress situations, your perception narrows. No matter how self-aware you may already be, in these moments of difficulty, you aren’t operating at your best. You aren’t able to grasp facts clearly, and your brain doesn’t function properly. In the traumatized brain, the thinking and emotion regulation centers are under-activated, and the fear center is over-activated. You’re quicker to panic and feel stress, fear, or irritation. You’re acting out of your fight, flight, or freeze instincts, not taking the time for logical or controlled responses. You won’t be functioning properly, so don’t expect yourself to. Be kind to yourself.
With this in mind, stop and breathe if you can. Recognize what you can’t change and start responding to what you can. As humans, we need a level of certainty, even more so in these situations. No matter what experience you’re going through, slow down enough to recognize what you can do in these first moments. Try to create as much stability and certainty for yourself in the coming days or weeks as you can.
Turning things around
The key to navigating difficult situations is developing your self-awareness. That means knowing what you need and what to ask of others, and identifying whether you play a role in this situation or if you’re merely responding to one externally.
Whether you’re trying to navigate the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the discovery of an affair, or anything else, make time to take stock and gain perspective of what’s happened. The fear of not knowing makes things so much worse, causing your mind to run riot with baseless assumptions. Give yourself clarity by laying out all the facts and trying to view the situation holistically.
And when ready, get support. Lean on people who can be there while also letting you be—loved ones who will follow your lead and won’t ask or expect anything from you.
Try to understand that well-meaning people aren’t the same as experts. If you’re dealing with something that demands professional support, don’t be afraid to turn down offers from friends and family that perhaps aren’t right for you at this moment.
When it comes to creating positive outcomes for yourself after a difficult experience, it’s about looking for the lessons and recognizing how you can grow from this pain.
Perhaps in the case of discovering an affair, you’ll learn to trust your intuition as you recognized some warning signs but crushed them, telling yourself you were being silly—but you weren’t. If you’ve lost a loved one, and the very worst thing you could have imagined has happened, see that you have survived, you’re still here, and you’re doing OK. There’s great pride and freedom you can take from focusing on what you can do and are doing.
Something I always say is “through pain, we grow.” We build resilience and self-awareness and learn to more easily recognize the positives in things. Difficult life experiences provide us with a stronger, more refined set of tools to move forward with.
No matter how bleak things can seem in the moment, there will be something changing within you that will leave you better versed to tackle situations like these in the future. So long as your head is on your shoulders and your heart is still beating, you’ve got everything you need—no matter how inadequate or broken you may feel right now. You’re stronger than you know, and through every hardship, you will only become stronger.
And when you do turn things around, pat yourself on the back. Acknowledge your strength and resilience. Appreciate yourself and everything that’s brought you to this very moment.