What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – that’s the phrase often shared on social media, in the meeting room, and during difficult conversations. Today, a study from the University of Buffalo suggests that this old adage rings true. People who had experienced numerous hardships showed higher levels of resilience – the ability to mentally withstand similar or even more difficult events. However, those who had little experience with hardship showed a worsened ability to cope with major life events, such as personal injury or the death of a loved one. So why exactly do hard times make you stronger?
To Feel is to be Human
While it’s easy to fantasize about the highest highs of life – the birth of a child, achieving professional success, spending time with loved ones – we’re remarkably averse to experiencing its lowest lows. Often, we prefer not to feel, especially when challenging life events and mounting levels of stress begin to take hold. Many people attempt to numb this discomfort through drugs and alcohol, resulting in a cycle of addiction that morphs into isolation, illness, and even more negativity. The first step of building resilience is to meet life’s obstacles head-on, negative emotions and all. It’s easy to forget that by numbing ourselves, we also rob ourselves of any feelings of pleasure. However, it’s entirely possible to come out of bad circumstances with improved self-confidence, even if the road to get there was rocky. The key to this is developing constructive responses.
Responding to Hard Times with Resilience
There are two options when faced with a challenging situation: succumb or overcome. Those who allow these difficulties to ruin their lives do not mean to – they could lack proper coping mechanisms or support from others. People who overcome their problems do so by learning the correct pattern of response. First, let yourself identify and experience your emotions during this time – feel your feelings. This doesn’t mean you should wallow in misery and stay in this phase; instead, catalog your internal landscape using a journal or counseling session. Expressing these emotions to another person or a printed page can be invaluable to your processing and working through a situation. If you’re having a hard time accessing these feelings, consider beginning a mindfulness practice. This will allow you to detach from a turbulent inner dialogue and objectively recognize your thoughts and reactions. Next, know when to seek help. The fact is, some issues are too big to rise above all on one’s own. Addiction is one of these. By recognizing personal limitations and building a support network, those in recovery have a better chance of maintaining their sobriety and improving their circumstances. This help can come from many sources, including:
- Healthcare professionals
- Therapists and counselors
- Recovery center staff
- AA or NA meetings
- Professional organizations
- Sports team members
Finally, take action. If you’re feeling bored or restless, build a constructive schedule that fills up empty hours with healthy activities. Spend more time with friends who will discourage substance use and encourage open discussion of your circumstances. Make appointments with counselors and attend meetings more regularly. Through these avenues, you can get feedback and maintain your sobriety while working through whatever obstacle has come your way.
After you’ve overcome a challenge, it’s even more important to intentionally frame how you see what happened. If you view every difficulty as out of your control or as a spiteful act of fate, you’re less likely to rise to meet future issues. Instead, choose to see each incident as a challenge: one you are capable of handling. Congratulate yourself on working through something that seemed impossible. Additionally, begin using your time to help others who are in the early stages of their recovery journey. Leadership teacher Simon Sinek says that, “helping people solve the problem you are struggling with actually helps you solve your problem,” and it couldn’t be truer. Sponsor someone and develop a mentorship relationship, or volunteer at a shelter. Anything you can do to create meaning and help others will benefit you, too.
Makana Path is a detox and intensive healing program based in Austin, Texas. We help people to erase the self-defeating patterns that keep us from living the joyful, abundant lives we deserve. Through a combination of detox and clinical care, we give people the gifts of resilience and lasting sobriety. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and relapse, call 1-866-922-0776 today.