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How to Bounce Back From Difficult Situations and Thrive
How do you come back from difficult situations? Few of us live a life without tragedy striking. Someone unexpectedly loses their job, the doctor diagnoses a chronic illness, or our child turns to self-destructive behavior. The initial message might feel like a blow to our sense of security. As the world seems to spin out of control, how do we come to terms with our new reality?
Meeting Lorna gave me some clues. I stood behind Lorna in a very long line waiting to see Bill Cosby at a local church. Lorna was a thin African-American lady in her mid-fifties. Her conversation was punctuated by hardy laughter. I was immediately drawn to her. As the usher directed us to our bench, we sat next to each other. After a few minutes of chatting, I asked Lorna, “What do you do for a living?
“I do anger management presentations for middle school and high school kids.” My ears perked up. We had similar interests. “Really?” I am also a teacher, and I am interested in doing workshops and speaking. How did you get started?” I asked.
Lorna pulled an 8″ x 10″ picture of two young men from her duffel bag. She spoke slowly as she pointed. “This is my son, JJ and this is my son Edward.” Their confident smiles mirrored their mothers’, I thought.
“Nice kids,” I said.
Lorna’s voice cracked as her two long fingers caressed the image. She touched JJ first.
“Three years ago JJ was killed in a drive by shooting. So far his killer has not been caught. Then three months later Eduardo was shot and killed in a car jump.” We sat in silence for a long time.
Our eyes welled up with tears as we sat looking at each other. Wow, I thought. I have a twenty-two-year-old and an eighteen-year-old son. I couldn’t imagine life without them. Softly, I asked, “Lorna, how did you deal with back-to-back tragedies without losing your mind?”
“Well baby I came awfully close. At first, I was just numb. How could both boys be gone? I raised them alone. We were very close.
Sometimes, I fantasized about getting even. But that didn’t ease the pain. Meditating day and night on my boys almost saved the life out of me. I knew I had to do something. I joined a support group for parents who have lost their children. After a while, I realized that I was not alone. I felt supported and understood.
I know I will never be the same again. But I realized that I needed to do something positive to make up for this loss. Where I live, you hear gunshots almost every day. The young people in my neighborhood are so angry. So, I decided to do something about the root of all this violence — anger. I started a foundation to teach young people how to deal with anger in a constructive way.”
Lorna touched my hand. “Helping these bitter teenagers was the only way I could find some peace. I must have talked to hundreds of them. Surprisingly, these kids have tragic stories to tell of their own. Some are in foster homes, others are physically abused, abandoned. of relatives, you name it. Heartbroken children who don’t know how to manage their anger can do terrible things — like kill. I find this to be a pattern.”
By watching Lorna’s story, we can learn how to be emotionally resilient when tragedy strikes. There are four key elements.
Adjusting to a new reality takes time. Change is difficult even if it is beneficial. It’s even more stressful when it’s traumatic. Refrain from believing unrealistic expectations such as, “I must be strong and carry on.” Respect your own personal healing time. As you heal, ask for help. Can someone go to the cleaners for you, babysit your kids or clean your house? Friends and family are eager to help but often don’t know how to help. Show self-compassion by being realistic about your injury and pain as you slowly transition back to the routine of life.
When difficulties hit, many of us find it easier to withdraw rather than lean on our relationships. However, confiding our feelings to a few trusted friends helps the healing process. Excessive emotional burdens are relieved when we have compassionate ears to listen to our pain.
Find a support group about your problem. Only other parents of murdered children could truly empathize with Lorna’s difficult losses. At such meetings, members share tips that help others deal with specific issues surrounding this type of tragedy. If grief is overwhelming, however, consider locating a therapist who specializes in grief counseling. A specialist counselor can help you loosen up and support your healing process.
Forgiveness: Key to Healing
One of the most difficult exercises is to forgive an offender, and sometimes even oneself. It is a process without time limits. It is an arduous process, but essential to the quality of our lives. I remember a preacher saying, “Bitterness is poison we drink hoping the criminal will die!”
Scientists have documented countless times the deadly nature of unforgiveness. Autoimmune diseases, such as Lupus, cancer, hypertension and depression are linked to anger and unresolved issues of unforgiveness.
So, what is forgiveness? It is letting go of judgment we might feel toward the offender, the situation, or ourselves. Nursing hatred only torments us. We often become obsessed with our loss and retaliating for it. What a hard way to live!
Forgiveness, however, does not mean tolerating inappropriate behavior. Nor does it mean subjecting oneself to abuse. When appropriate, it seeks justice. For example, a wife may have to separate from a physically abusive husband; she may have to get a restraining order, and require that he seek therapy for a specified amount of time before she even considers reconciling with him.
Harmful behavior patterns can be forgiven but not tolerated.
In addition, we sometimes blame ourselves for difficult situations. Blaming yourself is counterproductive even if you played a role in your predicament. Instead, learn the lesson inherent in the situation. How can you correct your behavior and attitude to avoid the tragic event in the future? Learning lessons helps prevent future problems. Forgive yourself, but be a shrewd student of life.
Contribute to Others
As Lorna began to recover, she realized that her neighborhood was riddled with gang violence. She stated, “After my boys were killed, suddenly I woke up! I was no longer disheartened by the helicopters hovering over our houses at night, or the shootings breaking out at any time of the day, or the angry faces of the neighborhood youths. I knew , that I have to do something so that other parents don’t have to experience the pain I felt.”
Positive action helps shift our focus to the big picture. Lorna used her personal tragedy to help hundreds of children learn about anger management. Can meaning come out of tragedy? you bet
These four practices will help restore peace in the midst of any personal storm. What can you do to help yourself bounce back from tragedy? By being patient with yourself and respecting your healing process, finding practical and emotional support, and submitting yourself to the practice of forgiveness, your recovery is assured. Most importantly, helping others through similar tragedies will give your personal struggles meaning and purpose. We cannot determine what happens to us in life, but we can decide what we will do in response to it. Choose to thrive in the midst of hardship.
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