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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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