How do you handle the traumatic stuff in life?

Life can hum along smoothly for a long time, but every now and then something happens and it just comes off the rails.   None of us are exempt from crisis or traumas… perhaps there is a death in the family, or a financial reversal, or any number of unimaginable  surprises that interrupt that smooth hum.  We all face crisis in our life. Crisis can have either a positive or a very negative impact on us.  But it all comes down to how we handle what happens to us.

So the question at hand is this – when life throws curves at your wonderful plans how do you handle them?  How  are you wired to respond?  And what do you do with the crisis, or the trauma that results from this sharp and sudden disruption of what we think of as normal?

As a visual person I look for examples that help me to understand that not all people respond the same way to crisis and traumatic life disruptions and i love this little analogy:

All three of these ingredients faced the same adversity – boiling water.  The potatoes went into the pot hard and firm, but the boiling water softened them,  The eggs went into the boiling water liquidy soft, and the cooking action of the boiling water hardened the egg…. and then there was the tea bag.  As the tea bag sat in the boiling water it changed the water, released its essence, influenced the water with its scent, taste and color.  If you were to look at your life, would you say you reacted to crisis like a potato?  eggs? or tea bags?

As we process life, and live through crisis and adversity how we react may change over time.  But here are a few things that might make any traumatic crisis less devistating:

  1. Develop a contingency plan  – for example, set aside a portion of your income in a savings account for “a rainy day”, which could be paying for that car repair that was unexpected, or carrying you during a time of unemployment.  Contingency plans can include thinking through possible “worst case scenarios” and planning ahead so that should something bad play out you have already thought through how you will process it.  According to emergency preparedness experts we function on autopilot at the onset of a crisis.  Having that plan to rely upon is a guidance that will ease the anxiety of what to do, or how to function.
  2. Determine your mindset – Remembering that bad things happen in life is important, but what is critical is how you will function after.  Make a serious decision to never let crisis damage who you are, or what you are capable of accomplishing in life.  This is choosng the “tea bag” style of handing crisis.  Important self talk during a crisis would include asking questions like  these:
    • What is the lesson or lessons I can learn from this crisis?
    • What possible strengths may i gain from going through this situation?
    • Who can I look to as an example of someone who has lived through this?
    • How can i apply the lessons i am learning to my future?
  3. Remember that crisis are not forever.  In the midst of something turbulent its easy to loose sight of the idea that this too shall pass… but it will.
  4. Crisis is often a correction to reorder your life, allow things to fall into place, rather than the opposite thought of falling apart.  In my own life i must say that my focus was askew, and my life needed to be reprioritized when our big financial melt down happened.  Looking back from the vantage point of today I can see how the crisis allowed us to shed the baggage, lighten our load, and fine tune our hearts and minds to what is needful.  While going through the crisis I never dreamed of the monumental benefits this change has brought… but i would never change a thing.  Allow your life to be changed, and embrace the changes.
  5. Use your story for the good of others – I have heard the expression “Let your mess become your message!” and have seen this played out with so many people – the cancer patient that becomes the advocate for cancer education and improved cancer treatment processed; or the dad who lost a child to a kidnapping becomes passionately involved with education and work with the police to find missing kids.
  6. Read whatever you can find in the line of self help, or autobiographic information on people who have made it through crisis.  There are lessons to be gleaned from how others have not only survived, but rebuilt and thrive since the crisis.
  7. Give yourself the space, time, and ability to adapt, change, accept, grieve, and grow.  Any change that occurs requires time to process it.  And there can be a grieving process that needs to work through.
  8. Find a community of support – certainly you are not alone in what you are or have gone through.  Find others, be bold and willing to talk with others about what happened, and you will find solidarity with them.  That sense of community is so very vital as an essential need of every person.  And finding common shared experiences bonds us into a stronger community.

Life is too short to let your circumstances crush you, or limit your capacity.  Join me in the challenge of growing, of learning, and of thriving on the other side of the crisis.  You will make it through.  You might look different, but you will be ok!