Finding Light During Dark Times

Most people encounter some hard times during their lives, such as loss of a job, relationship rejection, divorce, health concerns, a threatening diagnosis, loss of a loved one, chronic or disabling medical condition, severe injury, financial woes, housing difficulties or any other hindering life conditions. Some people are shattered by their circumstances and crumble under the stress while others, who are equally devastated, find ways to manage their hardships and survive and even eventually thrive. How does the latter group achieve the resilience needed to cope with severe hardships?

Famous sayings are created as messages of support and encouragement for those who encounter life’s hardships. A Chinese proverb states, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” This highlights the inevitable benefits of trials and tribulations as stepping stones toward growth and improvement. Dr. Martin Luther king underscored the goal of challenges as lessons of survival. He stated, “Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” Ray Davis emphasized the control we have over our hardships by saying, “A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.”

How does one use these famous sayings in actualizing control over his/her life’s woes? First, you may dissuade yourself from believing that you have been selected by an external power to have the trouble or difficulties you experience. Then, honestly assess your contribution to being in this predicament and if you were not a contributor accept that “Life” does not choose some people for needless suffering. Assess what is and what is not within your power to change for the better. Ask yourself, “Am I being in command of my life – within the context of my hardships?” If the answer is “yes” than that excludes you from being a victim and frees you to take charge and find methods to improve your situation.

In her Ted Talk, Paralympian Aimee Mullins claims that using certain language to describe one’s condition may be very limiting. Using the term “disabled” highlights limitations rather than choices. She states that “Everyone has something rare and powerful to offer, and the ability to adapt is our greatest asset.” She adds, “Adversity is perhaps a change that we haven’t gotten used to.”

The concept of “feeling like a victim” is discouraged by observers as they witness someone cave to feeling inept, helpless, “done to” or overwhelmed by life’s circumstances.

When facing life’s hardships:

  • Abstain from believing that you have been selected for suffering.
  • Assess your role in being in this situation without shame, blame, self-accusation or self-discounting thoughts.
  • Analyze the factual elements leading to your state and use cognitive solutions to repair and improve your situation.
  • Avoid blaming others as a way of freeing yourself from some responsibility for your hardship.
  • Follow my common advice, “Avoid looking back when you are trying to move forward. It is likely to make you trip.”

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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