Bouncing Back From Adversity
Tim Connor, CSP
Everyone at least once in their life experiences some form of a setback, adversity, failure or loss in at least one area of their life. Adversity can strike with or without notice. It can hit a relationship, a loved one, a career, your business, your health or your financial status.
No matter where or when it hits, the anxiety, stress, frustration, disappointment, fear, sadness or panic leave the same feelings or emotions in its wake. A senses of hopelessness and/or despair.
Life is circular not linear. First there is birth, then growth, then maturity then death, followed again by birth or re-birth and so on. This is the law of the universe, whether it is life itself or a change in career or a relationship. I do not mean to imply that all relationships must die before their time, but they do eventually end. There is a big difference. Endings are different than death. Death is certainly an ending, but there are literally thousands of types of endings.
Periods of life end, for example youth. It is followed by adulthood. All careers end if not by premature death, then retirement or the beginning of a new or different career. Relationships end, if not physically then a stage in the relationship, for example lust, infatuation or physical attraction is replaced in long standing relationships with deep and abiding love.
Setbacks and adversity are often signals that some aspect of life has come to an end or needs to come to an end. They are wake-up calls or what I call choice points in life. Many people, myself included, on a number of occasions, resist endings from time to time. Sometimes however, we embrace or encourage them. We want to continue life, business or a way of life forever. Most people die with unfinished business left in them. It is seldom that there isn't something more that could have been said, done, seen, learned or shared by someone who has passed on.
This is not an article about death and dying. It is about bouncing back from an event that life has thrown in our path, or we have brought into our life because of our attitudes, decisions, behavior or actions. At the end of this article I will offer some ideas on how to bounce back, but first let's look at a few areas. What gives adversity its power over emotions, feelings and responses? Why is adversity a tool used by some to improve or change, while it is used by others as an excuse or reason to give up or whine and bemoan their circumstances? Where is the potential learning or lessons in a setback or adverse situation?
Life isn't fair, and it isn't unfair. It just is. Life is neutral. It brings each person unique opportunities to learn and grow as a result of the events or circumstances that cross their path. Everyone, I repeat everyone regardless of their age, sex, nationality, religion, career status or financial position is a student in life. Some people, upon an outward-in first glance may "have it made". But do not judge by appearances only. Everyone has inner battles of one kind or another that they are fighting.
No one is immune to the teachings of life. Class is always in session. School is never out. There are no vacations. We never graduate. We don't get to select the curriculum, but we do get to do all the assignments and take all the quizzes. If we pass, we get to move on to other sometimes bigger or higher lessons. If we fail, we get to repeat the same lesson again and again until we finally learn whatever it is we need to learn as we travel through life. The repeated lesson might present itself from a different spouse, career situation, or any number of new and/or different circumstances, but the lesson will be the same.
There are several predicable stages that people go through following any loss regardless of its nature or severity. They are denial, anger, acceptance and finally moving forward.
Many of us bring repeated adversity of one kind or another into our lives and a great many people choose to see themselves as victims. To see yourself as a victim, and not take the responsibility for your circumstances is to live in an inner emotional world dominated by blame, guilt and resentment. I once heard a friend make the statement, "why is this happening to me again?" There was a common denominator in all of the repeated events. It was him.
Adversity gives us the opportunity to do a number of things as we move through our lives. Some of them are: reevaluate old life patterns that are not working; see ourselves more clearly as a contributor; develop new attitudes about life, relationships, money, people, work etc.; observe how we handle the lessons we are given.
A number of people have asked me why some people seem to have or attract more adversity or failure while others seem to glide through life with wonderful relationships, stable financial lives, growing careers, lots of friends and excellent health. I don't know for sure why some people seem to have more, do more and become more while others struggle daily with the basics of life. But I do have a few ideas and will share them with you as food for thought only. You won't find these in a psychology text or on a counselors couch. They are just my observations seeing life through my own personal struggles and successes.
Everyone is on their own personal path through life.
There is a law in the universe called the law of cause and effect. There is another metaphysical concept that states, be careful of what you ask for because you will probably get it. Still another says, what you are seeking is seeking you. There is a great quote from Yogi Bera, "expecting different results from repeated behavior is a mild form of insanity." Another from my relationship seminar says, life determines who comes into your life, your attitudes and actions determines who stays.
As you can see from a number of different perspectives, a great deal of the adversity and loss in our lives is self-inflicted as a result of our conscious actions, expectations, perceptions and thoughts or our unconscious values, beliefs, judgments and paradigms.
All behavior is the result of a persons consciousness. To attempt to change behavior without first changing consciousness is to invite failure whether it is with eating habits, communication patterns, or work ethics, and everything in between. The reason so many people fail at whatever behavior they attempt to change is because they try to change outside-in rather than inside-out.
What does all of this psychological mumbo jumbo have to do with adversity and bouncing back? Everything. Our state of mind is often fertile ground that attracts adversity into our lives. Our state of mind will determine how we will respond to, or overcome the events that come to us. Our perceptions, or filters (how we see life) will determine our interpretation of whether this is an adversity or not. Give twenty different people the same adverse event, and I guarantee that some will see it as negative, some will see it as positive and some will see it as devastating. The event was the same, the interpretations unique and personal.
Let's summarize and answer the first question, what gives adversity its power over people's emotions, feelings and responses?
When we are confronted with a situation regardless of its nature, that is perceived as a threat to our comfort, security, sense of well being or the status quo we tend to imagine the worst. Fear takes over. How will I survive alone? Will I ever find a new job or career that I will be successful in? Will I ever find another lasting nurturing relationship? What will my life be like with only memories of the past? Am I destined to struggle my entire life? How can I ever get over this tremendous loss? There are others, but I am confident you see my point.
When we operate out of a consciousness of fear, we tend to lose our perspective. We don't think rightly, see clearly or feel safe. We therefore see ourselves as victims and out of control of our lives.
Adversity can be a tool, just like any other emotional tool for positive change. If the wake-up call is heard, we can listen carefully to what we believe it is trying to teach us. This takes awareness, courage, self-love and patience. If we are too hard on ourselves and beat ourselves up thinking, I am such an idiot, or I'll never get this right or, I deserve all this bad stuff, we will find it difficult to create the proper mind-set to change direction. Adversity needs to be looked at with precision, careful observation and honest introspection. It needs to be seen as one of life's teachers, and not some villain that is out to get us or beat us down.
Having said all this it is also important that we not let ourselves off the hook with justification or acceptance. It is important to learn to become more comfortable with where we want to be or who we want to become rather than where we are or who we are.
As promised here are a few things you can do if you are smack in the middle of a situation that is uncomfortable, challenging or trying to teach you something, in other words an adversity.
One, try and keep the circumstances or situation in perspective. Will this be as big an issue in 100 years as it is today. Two, evaluate the situation in light of your entire life. Three, focus on what you have, not what you lost. This isn't any easy step when you are neck deep in pain, sorrow or grief, but continuing to focus on what is no longer, tends to keep you locked in the past and a state of 'no positive action'. Four, do something, anything to re-focus your thoughts, energy or activities in a positive or more healthy direction. Five, if it is a loss of a relationship or loved one, remember all that you had with them that was good and positive. Six, Remember you can't change what has happened, but you can change the future. And you change your future in your present moments. You also create all of your memories positive or negative, in your present moments. Seven, keep in mind the concept that you don't always get to determine what comes into your life, but you always get the choice of how to react or respond to it.
These are not easy steps. Loss and adversity of any kind are painful and difficult as long as you continue to remain focused on the loss or the problem. To use adversity as a positive teacher that has come lovingly into your life to help you overcome shortcomings, character defaults or poor judgment is a sign of emotional maturity. To wallow indefinitely in the negative circumstance, failure, disappointment or loss is to remain stuck and out of control. Life is neutral. It doesn't care how you react or respond to its teachings.
So the final question I would leave you with is, what kind of a student are you as you pass through the classes in life? Are you a willing learner or are you resisting the teaching, and the opportunity for personal growth?