When the Going Gets Tough

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  • September 2, 2014

When life gets hard for you, how do you react? Some people become fearful and anxious, some become stoic and determined, some people get angry and blame everyone and everything, others throw up their hands and withdraw, and some people just get stronger and wiser.

Each person has a unique and habitual way of responding to the challenges of life. If you don’t like the results you’ve been getting with your usual way of reacting, you can decide to change things.

Here is the secret to success in adversity. First, you have to separate your emotions from your behavior. Too often people let their emotions drive their behavior. Then, when the emotional storm finally subsides (and it always does), they see the damage they have done to the people and things around them. Feelings are hurt, relationships are ruined, objects have been destroyed, and time or money has been wasted. While you can buy more things and make more money, you can’t take back words that have been said or actions that have been taken. And, the problem is still there.

When you listen to your emotions, there is usually only one instinctual reaction. You can separate your emotions from your behavior by realizing that you do not have to act on your feelings. Instead, take a time out and choose how you will respond. If you deliberately engage your brain, you can see that you have a choice of many different ways of responding.

Second, when your life gets hard take responsibility for it. Yes, you are responsible for dealing with what is happening to you. It is your life; who else would be responsible for it? While you don’t have control over all of the factors, you have made a million decisions in your life that have brought you to this moment and to the particular challenge facing you. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will stop looking for an excuse, an escape, or for someone else to handle it for you.

Third, make a conscious decision to deal with the problem. Indecision will immobilize you and bury you under the weight of your fears. Once you make the decision to tackle the problem, the hardest part is done. Now you can set your emotions aside, roll up your mental and physical sleeves, and get to work. Your anxiety, insecurity, and resistance will try to get in the way; but remind yourself it doesn’t have to be perfect, it may not be pretty or graceful, and you will prevail.

Finally, when the going gets tough, remember that you are not alone. It may sometimes seem that you’ve been singled out for misery but not one of us escapes the tragedies of life. Don’t withdraw in fear, hurt, shame or depression. Reach out to others. They can’t take your pain or your problem away, but other people can love you and encourage you, listen to you, or lend a hand in some small way.

Albert Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer”. You have that resilience and beauty within you too. No matter how difficult the situation or how hopeless you feel, dig deep and find your strength.

Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D.
Registered Psychologist