Yes, You Can Get Through This
Building resilience helps you transform in the face of your toughest challenges.
Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
A young Ukrainian girl recently joined my daughter’s class at school. She and her mother are two of millions of refugees who fled their homes to escape the war.
I know that I can’t truly comprehend what it’s like to be violently uprooted from your home, torn from your family, lose your material belongings and sense of security as a member of a cultural community. As I get to know them, I’ve seen the full range of emotions from shock to rage to fear and deep sadness about the war that’s overtaken their life. Their internal experiences are sometimes pushed aside to make way for their practical needs—finding a safe place to live, learning a new language, getting work, and attending school. Behind the surface is an ever-present yet stark possibility that some of their family members and friends still in Ukraine may not survive.
The truth is that life will always present us with adversity—situations that are unfair, painful, difficult to live through, and even traumatic. I would bet that every single one of you has experienced something that caused great pain, anguish, uncertainty, fear, sadness, or anxiety. Many of these situations we can’t directly control or stop. So, how can you help yourself get through it? It starts with building your resiliency.
Resilience is a strength-based process of adapting to the difficult experiences you encounter in life (American Psychological Association, 2022; Brodsky and Cattaneo, 2013; Brodsky et al., 2022). To face the truth of whatever you’re going through and choose your response to it in a healthy, self-enhancing way.
As outlined by Dr. Lucy Hone, resilient people are really good at three key things that help them get through adverse situations. First, they understand and accept that bad things happen in life—to everyone including themselves. Second, they focus their attention on things that they can control and are positive in spite of their challenges. Third, they ask themselves whether what they are currently doing in response to the difficult life experience is helping them or hurting them and modify accordingly.
Expanding from these characteristics, Dr. Hone argues that you can start building your resilience to adversity today. Here are some specific suggestions to get you started:
- Accept that Suffering is Part of Life. Remind yourself that you’re not alone in your struggle. Life is hard and suffering is a part of the journey. You may need to grieve, to feel your pain, to process the experience and acknowledge your pain. As you do, it will help you remember that difficulties happen to us all and you’re not alone in your struggle.
- Choose Where You Put Your Attention. This is especially important—and tricky—when you’re mired in a miserable situation. Yet if you let yourself fixate on the details of your pain, you’ll likely feel bitter, resentful, angry, and unfairly treated by the world, which will hurt you more in the end. Instead, focus on what you do have control over. Look for anything positive that is emerging from this experience or that still exists in your life in spite of your hardship and allow yourself to appreciate your growth.
- Do What Helps You and Stop Doing What Hurts You. When we’re especially stressed or in pain, we often act and think in ways that actually hurt us more. We may fixate on a situation, reliving the details of a trauma or pouring over the specifics of our heartbreaking situation in ways that make us feel worse. So, over the course of your day, ask yourself whether what you’re doing helps you and hurts you—and if it harms you, try to stop doing it.
- Find New Purpose. As hard as change can be, pain is often our biggest motivator to evolve and grow. Given the situation you’re in presently, what do you want for yourself next? Develop some goals—even if they seem small—and take steps toward them each day.
The Naked Truth is This: We will all face adversity in our life. Like our new Ukrainian friends, you also may be in such an unimaginably hard situation that you’re not sure how you’re going to get through it. Yet, the truth is in the face of hardship, you can also find hope, determination, and bravery that’s truly inspiring. Remember that suffering is a part of life, strive to focus on the positive in your life, and do what helps you overcome your hardship to find a new purpose for your life. The only way out is to move forward by finding the internal strength to get through it.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, PhD ABPP
Note: I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.
American Psychological Association, retrieved September 16th, 2022. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
Brodsky, A. E., & Cattaneo, L. B. (2013). A transconceptual model of empowerment and resilience: Divergence, convergence and interactions in kindred community concepts. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52(3-4), 333–346.
Brodsky, A., Buckingham, S., Fedi, A., Gattino, S., Rochira, A., Altal, D., & Mannarini, T. (2022). Resilience and empowerment in immigrant experiences: A look through the transconceptual model of empowerment and resilience. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 92(5), 564–577.
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