How to Best Manage Life’s Adversities

Most people have at least a few challenges in life. Whether their afflictions are physical, mental, emotional, social, familial, relational, vocational or personal, they may feel angry, hurt and even victimized by their hardships. Yet, others, who face similar or even harsher conditions, cope with greater resilience. What are the factors that promote resiliency and how can we adopt healthier coping techniques?

Perhaps the most obvious self-misery element is self-pity. Some allow themselves to sink into wallowing in thoughts and feelings of “poor me”, “Why did this happen to me?”, or, “Why am I being punished with pain, disease, loss, loneliness, fear or life-hardships?”. Those who approach life-hardships in these ways tend to have an extended period of seeking for answers beyond the common grieving period. They often encounter longer recovery and harsher adjustments than those whose acceptance period is shorter.

Prior to becoming a Clinical Psychologist, I worked as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with Adults and Students in New York and later at The University of Illinois. I was struck by the diversity of coping skills of various individuals. Their reactions were not related to age, wisdom or prior life experiences. They were related to mental and emotional resilience as they progressed toward acceptance and adopting permanent coping skills in restoring themselves to greater functionality. One inspiring young math professor lost his sight in a car accident. He returned to teaching several months later and was writing the formulas on the board swiftly and explained their meaning as though he was a sighted person. I queried him about his amazing adaptation and he said, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’, and I was not prepared to abandon my career and passion for teaching math to students, so I practiced and practiced until I succeeded in visualizing writing the formulas on a straight line on the board.”

Dr. Kubler-Ross enlightened us about the five emotional stages of adjusting to a loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. This brilliant model has helped many suffering individuals feel encouraged through their progress toward healing. Whether the loss is physical, emotional, intellectual, work-related, relational or even material, all people progress through these steps in their healing. Some spend more time in one phase, while others go through it more quickly, but the process is predictable.

Those who understand that grief is a necessary part of the process are likely to recover more rapidly.

  • Understand that you were NOT selected for woes and suffering and that grief is the temporary avenue toward resumption of your healthy self.
  • Accept that your emotional and/or physical pain will subside with time.
  • Reassure yourself that though you are grieving now, you are on the path to resuming a state of wellness.
  • Reassure others that your “old” self will resurface in due time and that their patience and support expedite your healing.
  • Be kind to yourself in thoughts and actions through your recovery.

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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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