All of us face tough times: When life goes badly; when we feel overwhelmed by depression or anxiety; when we experience loss; when our relationships falter; when our partner disappoints us or leaves us; or when we don’t find a partner. All of us struggle to get through these periods.
And all of us know that, whether we like it or not, tough times are a part of every life.
As we struggle, many of us hope to get back to where we were, before. To feel as good as we did before we lost our job, or our parent; to have as good a relationship as we did before things went south with our partner.
But why limit yourself to getting back to where you were?
Just as exercise builds up our physical strength, difficult circumstances give us an opportunity to grow. To become more resilient. In fact, the very issues that knock us down can help us to become stronger than we have ever been.
How this works:
For starters, keep in mind that we get stuck at the outer limits of what we can cope with. For example,
- Natalie*, in despair after the end of her long marriage, is floundering in depression because she believes that it is impossible for her to have a fulfilling life on her own.
- Dave doesn’t apply for a promotion that he wants, because he’s extremely nervous about moving to a new job, and doesn’t know how to soothe himself when he gets highly anxious.
- Greg and Mark, struggling through one disagreement after another, are ready to end their relationship, because neither knows how he can be close to someone who is so very different from himself.
Natalie, Dave, Greg, and Mark have all reached the limits of what they know how to do. We all get to this place, sometimes. It feels terrible to be stuck, and not know how to help yourself or cope with what is troubling you.
But when we are stuck in this way, up against our own limits, life gives us a chance to learn something new.
Our limits are not set in stone; they are simply our growing edge.
When life hammers you, you have three choices.
- You can fold: Usually not a good move, if you want to have a decent life.
- You can try to hang in there, and hope that the difficulties will be over soon: You may survive, but this strategy is not likely to help you deal with the next problem that comes your way.
- You can take on the crisis as a challenge that can teach you to be stronger.
The last choice may include learning ways to cope with, transcend, or make meaning of your experience, tough as the experience may be. If you choose this strategy, you are likely to develop more resilience and wisdom to manage life and its difficulties, going forward. This is how I aspire to help my clients deal with their struggles.
Facing pain, disappointment, and heartbreak isn’t fun. But they are guaranteed to regularly show up in our lives. And, if we choose, we can use them for our own growth and resilience.
If you are feeling besieged by life, and don’t know how to chart a course that will get you to a better place, feel free to reach out to me. I will do my best to help you find your way.
*All names and identifying details changed.