When Bad Things Happen to Good People: Recovering and Bouncing Back When Things Go Wrong

Because bad things continue to happen to good people—be it through flood (fire, earthquake, illness, disease, financial reversal, accident, the death of someone near to you, or just plain bad luck), I would like to summarize how people begin recovering from a devastating loss.

When a major loss occurs, you will grieve or mourn for what you no longer have, and grieving usually lasts a lot longer than you expect it to. It’s OK to be there for a while, but eventually you must find a way to make peace with what has befallen you, and come to terms with your new life the way it is right now, not the way it was.

Everyone who is dealing with a major loss is faced with the same choice: allow yourself to be angry, bitter, defeated and let your spirit be destroyed, or find a constructive outlet for your emotions that is forward looking—such as creating new goals for your life, a new vision for your future or devoting yourself to a greater good.

Here are some ideas about how to do that:

  • Resist the temptation to give up. Life is about falling down and getting back up again.
  • Talk with trusted others. If you don’t talk about it, you will feel worse.
  • Right now, under-indulge in things that anesthetize your emotions, such as food, alcohol, recreational drugs or TV. You want to fully recover, not be emotionally numb for a long time.
  • Pay attention to the attitudes and emotions that can sabotage you or turn you sour—and don’t give into them. I’m referring to behaviors such as lashing out at other people, letting fear or anxiety get the better of you and giving up on your dreams for the future. You must find a way to not give in to negativity or defeat, and it will not help you to push other people away.
  • Make decisions that look out for your well-being, your happiness and your peace of mind. Your response to a crisis says a great deal about how much you believe in yourself and the value of your life. You must rise to the occasion and not let this adversity defeat you.
  • Be in touch, on a daily basis, with your soul or spirit. Your essence. The part of you that stands above all your day-to-day concerns. The “you” that has a lifelong perspective and not just a short-term perspective.
  • Don’t allow yourself to feel helpless or victimized. Believe in your ability to ultimately prevail, and don’t let obstacles or setbacks defeat you. Adopt the attitude: “I will rise to the occasion and get through this.”
  • Make yourself look for a silver lining. Find something potentially positive in what you are going through. All rebirth is preceded by loss, and transformation almost always comes from ruin. You know what you’ve lost. Now look at what possibly can be gained from this loss, or how you can use what has befallen you as a transformative experience.
  • Develop an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving about what’s good in your life—and about what remains a blessing. It’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have, what has hurt us and what we have to be unhappy about. It’s harder to look for the good in our lives, but as you focus on the good, your mind is taken off the bad. If all you look at is the scarcity, you miss the abundance that is also in your life.
  • Tend to your intimate relationships. This is no time to take someone you love for granted or to be ill tempered with him or her. You need warmth and understanding, you need someone to lean on and you need a warm shoulder to cry on. Ignore this recommendation at your own peril.
  • Playing and having fun—adult style or not—reduces despair and reminds us that we’re still alive. It also keeps us connected with others, knowing that someone is here with us through the hard times.

One of the powerful experiences in life is to look back, years later, and to marvel at how we got through some of the life-transforming traumas of our past. Yes, trauma has the potential to scar us. But it also has the potential to make us stronger, more generous, more productive, wiser and proud. Resolve to make yourself proud when you look back at this years later.

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