When Bad Things Happen: How to Survive, Thrive and Never Look Back

When Bad Things Happen How to Survive, Thrive and Not Look Back

Knockbacks, knockdowns and knockouts are an unavoidable part of full living. The number of times I’ve wished they weren’t – so desperately at times that it’s hard to believe it’s not enough to make those bad things disappear. When bad things happen, it’s up to us – and only us – to decide what happens next. It’s cliché (oh I know how cliché this is, but stay with me) – but by changing the way we experience the bad, we can emerge from the chaos and thrive, strengthened by an experience that could have just as easily floored us.

Everything we need for a rich, abundant life is in us but sometimes we won’t find what we need to flourish until we’re forced to look. Sometimes we find ourselves cracked open, wide open, and it feels like complete devastation. Heartache, loss, grief, fear – they can all feel like a form of destruction that pushes from the inside out. Sometimes though, we need to fall apart so that we can come back together in a way that’s unexpected and exactly as we need to be – stronger, wiser, more secure, more open and more fierce than before.

In the midst of heartache, there are three choices – to stay down, to fall further, or to rebuild. Staying down for a while is completely okay – it’s all part of the stillness that’s often needed for healing – but then comes the point to decide that enough is enough.

  1. Things happen for us, not to us.

    The pain of loss, shame, fear or disappointment can be overwhelming. It’s normal at the first sign of breakage to feel betrayed by that, and to wonder why it’s happening. Framing the bad things that happen as happening ‘to’ you will keep you stuck with confusion, sadness and aloneness. What if this is something that’s not happening to you, but for you? Setbacks are nearly always opportunities in disguise. Slowly and gently open up to the possibilities and the opportunities that have been made available because of what has happened. That which taunts us is here to teach us. Experiment with embracing a fall as you would an opportunity – sometimes they are one and the same.

  2. Even the deepest pits have a bottom.

    Everything has an ending. The pain you’re going through won’t last forever, but it will last as long as it has to in order to give you what it needs to. Perhaps that’s a new boldness, strength, wisdom or redirection. Be open to finding the learning contained within the experience, and the pain will end will end soon after.

    [irp posts=”1042″ name=”Letting Go: How to Master the Art”]

     

  3. Your scars are evidence of your strength, resilience and growth. Own them as something beautiful.

    Everything we go through changes us somehow and it’s up to us to make sure we’re changed for the better. Life is dynamic and messy and often frayed at the edges, and all of it is an important part of your story. Let the chaos, the grief and the rejection help that story to be one of growth, courage and flourish. You have the power in you to do that. Challenge always comes with potential for growth – that’s what the challenge is all about. It’s the heart and soul of a fully lived life, because it’s the lows that make sure the highs have full definition.

  4. Feel the feeling.

    It can be tempting to bury a painful feeling by distraction, denial, or whatever other handy way you’ve learnt to do this. Although this eases the pain, it blocks the healing. Feelings have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning can be excrutiating – no doubt about it. The more you can allow a feeling and embrace it as something that’s meant to be happening, rather than as something to be avoided, the more complete your healing will be  – and you want that. If a feeling is pushed down, it will push back until it’s acknowledged. You can bury it for a little while, but it will never disappear. Feelings just don’t work like that. They will seep through and colour future experiences, inviting the same situations with the same endings, or a caution and distance that isn’t warranted, getting in the way of you fully engaging with life and the people in it. Be patient and embrace the feelings as part of the healing process, because that’s exactly what they are. 

  5. Let the feelings work for you.

    Feelings exist for a reason. Within a feeling are the words and wisdom you need to move forward, flourish and grow. The only way through a feeling is straight through the middle, because there will be knowledge and insight you need to collect along the way. When a feeling has done what it needs to do, it will shift and loosen its grip, but first you have to let it be and open up to what it’s bringing you. Anger motivates towards change. Sadness brings a stillness to allow for healing, reset and recharge. It also signals to our tribe that we might be in need of love, warmth and connection. Be still, feel the feelings and let the words that are attached to them emerge. They have a purpose and your willingness to allow them will be the thing that determines how long the feelings stay and how much they influence (or undermine) your future. 

 Life has a way of making sure we end up where we need to be, but we need to be ready to embrace the opportunities that come disguised as barriers. If everything was in our control, we’d probably miss a lot of opportunities for growth that exist within the healing from a bad experience. When things happen that rub against our edges, it would be easy to give up and be crushed by it, but sometimes it’s the friction that’s needed to spark a fire. A life-giving, life changing fire. The key is being able to stay with the pain of that friction for long enough to find it.

34 Comments

Jennifer

Thank you so much for this post. I really needed to read something like this right now. Not only am I going through a break up (the relationship ended 3 weeks ago), but earlier this week I found out I was not accepted to the Nursing program which I applied to. The break up and rejection from this Nursing program have put me in a tough spot. I am depressed and grieving the loss of what could have been. However, I am starting to believe that hitting what feels like “rock bottom” to me might actually be a good thing. My dream of becoming a nurse isn’t gone, I just need to find an alternate route to becoming a nurse and embrace this delay as an opportunity to grow. As far as my love life goes, it’s been messy and it’s unfortunate that things could not work out with my ex, but this break up is also another opportunity to grow and become a stronger person.

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Chelsea

This has really helped give me courage to do the things that I need to do for myself in order to be truly happy. Thank you. Words of wisdom.

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Tracey whakaneke

Having a huge painful experience take place in my life knocked me into a nervous breakdown and renedered me unable to live life for a while. The pain was incredible! I couldn’t leave my husband, who had had affairs cause I was so broken. We with time, honesty and love worked on keeping our family together, our glue, to survive those early days. With feeling my pain I slowly allowed the anger to give way to new days and we talked of new beginnings for us. I loved my husband so much I never wanted to live life without him by my side. But I was so hurt and in so much pain I was hospitalised. I couldn’t work or leave the house. The low we experienced was a turning point in our 27year marriage. I slowly started loving him again and had to accept the past and forgive him so we could have a future together. He never left my side. He changed. He accepted my pain and resolved to take care of me so I could live again. His ongoing support and deep commitment to me changed my world over time. I started getting happy again and my heart ached less. We talked about everything and shared our fears and insights into why we had got it so wrong and damaged what we shared. I never wanted to live life without him by my side and this love I had for him was growing again. I am grateful for this lesson in our marriage because it exposed our “real selves” and forced us to be honest. We are a success story because our love and attraction to each other overcame the pain created by our actions during a time we lived our marriage in denial to each other. Our truth was to survive this. Our love became unconditional. Our words and actions became honest. We stuck together and we are now so glad we did. I have had several more hospital stays and each time my husband stood by my side and gave himself completely. He consistently continued to show his total support and deep love for me. I had to forgive him. My pain lessened and now 3 years later we are so inlove again we talk of our lesson as a blessing in “getting real” Sex was our glue. We spent weekends in bed and hours just laying together. We tell each other every day how grateful we are to have each other after being faced with life apart. The experience shook us to really see our marriage in a new light.

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes it’s at the point of breakage that the greatest healing happens. I’m so pleased you have been able to find your way back to each other.

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Fiona

Great read. There are things we can control and things we can’t. Every moment , good or bad we have a choice. And I agree. Things are placed in our life for a reason. And I have always said. Out of bad experience, comes some good, a little more wisdom, a like More growing. We r unaware at the time. Go through the middle. I like that. Many thanks.

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Lisa Livingstone

Thank you so very much – I was admitted to A&E on Friday with acute chest pains which were actually anxiety related. I am experiencing so many issues currently work, relationship difficulties – along with general life stuff. I’ve spent the last 3 days sleeping, crying, heaviness in my chest & arms. I know things have to change, now to decide how, and to acknowledge that at times you just need to “ride the tide” where it takes you xxx

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Hey Sigmund

I really hope you are able to find comfort soon. It can feel awful when you’re in the thick of the struggle, but the struggle always ends and gives way to something better. Know that there is always beauty after chaos xx

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Candice

Just wanted to say that I think you have a beautiful way with words. I’m always glad I took the time to read your posts. Thank you.

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Rose

Hi there, In general, I agree with your article, it provides a positive pathway through the dark times that can sometimes hold us down and back.
I’ve got a BUT though… I think it’s worth remembering that sometimes things happen for no reason, not because life has found a way of making sure we end up where we are. When children are abused, abandoned, tortured, neglected and all the other awful things that can happen to them at the hands of adults, these words do not ring true. There are many exceptions. Acceptance of what has happened to you in your life is how we are able to deal with these things and move on, but to be told that the reason that it happened to you was life giving you what you needed? No.
(This is not what has happened to me, but as a foster carer who helps kids deal this these issues, I can only tell them that they did not deserve whatever happened to them, that they did nothing to cause it.)

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Hey Sigmund

You’re absolutely right. Sometimes bad things happen and there’s just no reason and no explanation at all. Nobody deserves bad things to happen to them, but sometimes it’s possible to find something to hold onto to make it easier to propel forward. Sometimes, that’s not possible, as in the situations you’re referring to. This article is about the situations – a breakup, job loss, unhappiness – in which power can be taken by looking for the learning. That doesn’t mean the bad thing is deserved, but that it’s happened, now how to move forward from a position of strength. Thank you for the work that you do. You are changing the course of lives that deserved so much more than where they started. I’m grateful for people like you who are holding the kids who have been through unspeakable things.

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Sharon

Thank you so much having had. A Sadness wave last night about events in the past, your post is even more helpful and insightful. Move the dirt aside to keep on growing ….

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Hey Sigmund

Yes! Keep growing. Always keep growing. Where there is struggle there will always be growth. I’m pleased this post found you when it did.

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Suzanne Brown

The article was so well worded, thank you. All you say about emotions is so true and you express it so well. Thank you.

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Heather Walker

Thank you for another great article. Do you ever write for teens? Again thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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Joseph Langen

Great article on following your feelings rather than allowing them to control or destroy us. I particularly like your suggestion to use our emotions as an invitation to change rather than an excuse to become violent which seems prevalent today. Keep up the good work.

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Sue F

Another great article…thanks Karen. I often re-read them when I get a bit “stuck”!

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Jowi

Sometimes the experience is so devastating and life-changing, and not for the better or some opportunity not otherwise experienced, that it must be embraced and endured for the loss that it was, and will always be, even if it never goes away. There is no such thing as closure then but only acceptance and embrace of a deep sadness that is.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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