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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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