Our stories can make us victims or survivors, it just depends on the narrative in our head and what aspects of our stories that we chose to focus on.
The stories we tell ourselves and everyone else can impact how we handle things in our daily lives. If we’re used to being the victim in our stories, we tend to feel victimized anytime something challenging pops up.
Take, for example, Tina Turner or Oprah Winfrey. Both these women came from a history of abuse and rather than let these circumstances beat them or define them, they used their trauma to inspire others by showing it didn’t stop them from reaching huge levels of success despite their circumstances and setbacks.
So what shared trait do Tina and Oprah, and others who don’t allow their setbacks to stop them, have in common? Resiliency. It also shows that adversity can actually help us develop our ability to cope with the unexpected and grow from it rather than succumb to it depending on how we process it.
Resiliency is something I’ve had to display in order to be successful at my job as a 911 operator but it’s also something that can waver depending on my circumstances.
If I’m overly tired, I’m less resilient. If I am drinking alcohol more than normal and letting my self-care drop a bit, I’m less resilient. If I’m not communicating my feelings to friends or family when stressed out, I’m more likely to have an emotional outburst.
Being mindful of the various factors that affect my resiliency is important in keeping me mentally fit enough to do my job.
According to the American Psychological Association, resiliency can be learned so if you haven’t had a chance to develop your resiliency over time, it is never too late to do so. This is what I find works for me.
1. Don’t deny a hard truth, face it.
If the unexpected happens, the first reaction is often shock and disbelief. You might notice yourself or others saying things like, “I can’t believe that happened,” or “I wasn’t expecting that,” moments after an incident. Whether it’s something as common as finding out your partner cheated on you to something more uncommon like hearing about a virus that spread so quickly it caused a global pandemic, shock and denial would be appropriate reactions but staying in this stage longer than necessary prevents you from accepting what has happened so that you can move on to what needs to be done now.
2. Listen to your fear, acknowledge it but don’t let it sabotage what you decide to do.
Lissa Rankin, author of “The Fear Cure,” actually speaks to how fear can impact our decisions by sabotaging us through thinking around a scarcity-based mentality which she outlines in her four fearful assumptions model below:
- Uncertainty is unsafe.
- I can’t handle losing what I cherish.
- It’s a hostile universe.
- I’m all alone.
Now, imagine changing these mindsets into four courage-cultivating truths instead. Do you think you’d handle adversity differently with this awareness? I find I do when I apply this to my hardships.
Four courage-cultivating truths are:
- Uncertainty is the gateway to possibility.
- Loss is natural and can lead to growth.
- It’s a purposeful universe.
- We are all one.
So when something challenging happens to me, I allow myself to feel the negative feelings but then I always think big picture. If I’m the narrator of my life, why do I think this event happened to me? Was it another lesson I needed or is it going to make me stronger for something bigger down the road? I truly question it and almost can always find purpose out of my adversity.
3. “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” – Helen Keller
So many of us have moments of suffering, sometimes a lifetime of suffering. But what can we do to get out of it? We can overcome it. Sometimes, overcoming is a mind trick. It’s responding instead of reacting. It’s taking action instead of inaction, and it’s having the inner strength and belief to know that you can climb out of something.
When I got out of an abusive relationship, I felt defeated, ashamed, and embarrassed that I allowed that to happen to me. I viewed what happened with lots of shame and self-blame and I felt stuck. I went on anti-depressants immediately as a response to not deal with the trauma once it finally ended. I realized while I was on the anti-depressants, I wasn’t properly dealing with the trauma or overcoming it, I was just numbing the pain and avoiding it.
Once I accepted what had happened, saw what I was doing to avoid it, and realized that I wanted to become a survivor, not a victim, I sought professional help. My doctor and I decided it would be okay to go off the anti-depressants, face my trauma, and learn from it, and now I feel stronger than ever.
When I date now, I’m quick to exert my boundaries and walk away if necessary. I can see any pattern clearly that I’m falling into and I can get myself out of it. I learned to love myself again and now use my voice to help others in similar circumstances. I don’t date in fear anymore that it will happen again.
4. Have a strong network around you.
Part of being resilient is having the right attitude when the unexpected happens and what can shape our attitudes and beliefs are the people we surround ourselves with or use for support. If you’re surrounding yourself around people who worry, are often victims themselves, or aren’t people who can help you see the silver lining, you’re likely not going to be able to easily have an attitude of acceptance and adapting to change.
Surround yourself with the right people. If the people you are approaching are feeding into your fears, stop the conversation and call the one person you know who always can help you find the silver lining of a negative experience or at least support you in a way that doesn’t play into fear-mongering.
5. Be okay with not being in control.
If we attempt to control every situation, reaction, and moment, we’re going to stress ourselves out over the impossible. The belief that we can control anything but ourselves is not helpful as it’s legitimately never possible and yet we see people attempt to do this all the time. Be okay with “relinquishing” control, going with the flow, and only controlling yourself.
Have you ever been the subject of gossip? I certainly have and I know that when a rumor is circulating about yourself among your peers, it can be incredibly challenging as you have this innate desire to approach anyone who has heard it and give your side of the story. In reality, you’re just wasting your energy because even if they hear your side, you don’t know that they will believe you or care, so control what you can, which is your own assessment of your character, holding your head high, and not feeding into what people think of you.
6. Try not to act impulsively in the midst of a crisis.
I’ve had a moment in life where I was driving in the pouring rain, playing my music, when suddenly out of nowhere my car hydroplanes. I remember my heart escalating and panicking, pumping the brakes as a response trying to stop it, only to find that I’m spinning more out of control as a result. The correct thing to do in this instance would have been to remain calm and steer myself away from harm’s way, but it’s sometimes hard to do that with no preparation, no previous thought about it, and panicking in the moment.
This can be applied to anything in life. When those unexpected moments happen, avoid the knee-jerk reaction and try think calmly and rationally.
My biggest takeaway when dealing with adversity is always, what is my suffering teaching me? That question alone sometimes helps give our fear and challenges purpose and then the drive to apply what it’s teaching us to our future causes.