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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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