Moving Through Adversity

I wrote this article a while back and recognize how relevant it is today, not only for our clients but for us as Collaborative Professionals. As we work our way through this pandemic, we are prompted to value the simple things. We are also called to notice the local and larger impact of adversity.

Yes, I am a believer that we get “through” adversity, not “over” it. In fact, it is difficult for some to hear the ignorant suggestion that others should just get “over” it. What does that even mean? I would propose that it is not personal but perhaps others’ fear of feeling. Like our brains are marked by trauma in utero, so can our adult lives be. These events become part of the journey, even when they are unpleasant.

In working with several families who have experienced upset, it seems that we generally manage emotions in one of three ways. I have watched individuals get “stuck” and define their existence by the upset. In other words, 20 years later they are still speaking ill towards the event or person. I have observed people bury their heads in the sand like the ostrich in an attempt to not feel or acknowledge what has occurred. This avoidance runs the risk of showing up in self-destructive ways. Lastly, I have experienced individuals who move through the adversity. While challenging, noticeably the most healing.

So what are our minds and bodies trying to tell us? They are letting us know there is a need inside to process and heal as a result of trauma. The question becomes, do we trust and value ourselves enough. Do we have the faith and support to move through the adversity? This seems to come down to our ability to tolerate and navigate living in limbo.

Limbo is a space in time in which there are many unknowns. For example, in a divorce situation you may be asking yourself, “Where will I be living? What is going to happen to my finances? How will my children spend their time?” These are just a few of the questions that race through.

It is difficult to find positive words to explain this place of existence because it is so uncomfortable. It is often described as a feeling of spinning, while waiting for your feet to hit the ground. It is important to note that we are not likely to see situations with clarity when we are in limbo because we are so vulnerable. However, limbo can present opportunity.

While it may seem counterintuitive that at such a painful time something prosperous could occur, it can. Often times, we are being tested to tolerate the unknown and let go of having the answer. We are being stretched beyond what is comfortable. It is that very discomfort that can propel us to think, feel, and act in different ways than we traditionally have before. It is that very same distress that allows us to put life into perspective.

How can we honor this space as one of growth and healing? I would first suggest that you become aware of how you have learned to get your needs met. Getting our needs met begins at a young age. As time moves forward, how we accomplish this can shape in healthy and unhealthy ways. Be cognizant of how you are attempting to get your needs met at a time when the primal demand may just be to stop the pain. Recognize when it is safe enough to move beyond self-preservation.

Second, pay attention to boundaries in these circumstances. While it may feel good to get it out to anyone who will listen, try to surround yourself with healthy, productive support people. Perhaps those who can relate, as well as demonstrate the ability to move forward while maintaining a positive outlook. Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes. Be sure to keep an open mind to those around you who may have something beneficial to contribute, even if their circumstances are different.

Third, wrap your arms around yourself and embrace that you are worthy of recovery and repair. Take time for self-care and reflection. On the bad days, feel the pain and give yourself permission to have a bad day. On good days, put one foot in front of the other.

Beyond the rocky terrain of limbo lies a space of peace.

Perhaps a new regard for life exists ahead as perspective changes and learning occur. The opportunity to model for our children and our clients is right in front of us. After all, adversity is an opportunity for self-growth.

Melissa Sulkowski