Changing how you respond to and cope with challenges can improve your relationships and life overall. When you’re getting the same bad results over and over again, it might be time for a new perspective to help you create better outcomes.
When times are tough, things will change. When times are tough, they sometimes get tougher and sometimes get better. And when they don’t get better, they might stay pretty bad for a while.
These aren’t happy truths. They’re real truths. They are reality.
Of course, you already know this. Some people don’t take it to heart, though. Some people don’t accept it as truth. They think, “This is bad. This is how it’s going to be. This is how it’s going to stay.”
They think, ‘What’s the point of looking for happiness if it’s not there? What’s the point of seeking joy in my life if there’s no more joy to be had because of X, Y, and Z?’
There are some really devastating X, Y, and Zs out there, unfortunately.
After my first major breakup, I went into a depression. I was in moderate to severe depression, where everything that used to make me feel good didn’t anymore. Everything that used to make me feel bad or sad didn’t either. I felt devoid of emotions.
That’s why I describe depression as a “void” sometimes. It’s like a void where no emotion exists.
I wanted to feel those emotions, but they weren’t there. At least, not when I was depressed. Depression for me was like a dark room that I couldn’t even reach the light switch in. I saw a little light coming through the door, but everything else was dark. That was my experience.
Throughout life, I went through some dark, depressive moments. After my first major relationship ended, I had to go to therapy a few times to learn how to express myself to access what was really inside me.
One thing depression does, if you don’t know, is block your access to expressing what’s inside you. For me, it was very difficult when the therapist asked me to talk about someone or something. I thought, ‘How am I supposed to tell you what I’m feeling if I can’t feel?’
She asked me about my older sister, so I started talking about her and how she was like a mom to me. I said our mom couldn’t be our mom because she was too busy trying to keep our stepfather from being violent with us kids.
My sister played that mom role, and it was difficult for her. In therapy, when I started talking about my sister, I started crying. That hint of emotion felt good! It felt sad, yes, but I also felt happy because I discovered I had these thoughts and feelings about my sister that I didn’t realize were there. Deep stuff!
I felt grateful for having feelings and emotions in that moment. I also felt grateful for my sister showing up when my mom couldn’t. Therapy helped me access that.
I’ve said this before, but therapy is great because you can walk away and look back at the therapist’s door and realize your problems are ‘back there’ now. You can come back and talk about them again, but you can leave them there as you go about your life.
I know, it’s not that easy. That’s not how it always happens. In fact, it probably happens less often than more. But that’s how it felt. When I went to therapy, I opened a door and talked about all my problems, after which I could leave them behind me when I left.
Then, when I return, those problems will be there to talk about again. And hopefully, I can overcome them – which I eventually did. Therapy really helped.
I remember the last day of therapy. I told her, “I don’t think I want to come back anymore. I don’t need to.” I really didn’t want to anyway because therapy can be hard. There’s a lot of stuff that can come up and out of you. But it can also change your life.
I knew it was time to end therapy, so I stopped going. Afterward, I felt pretty good – well enough to continue addressing what was going on inside me without professional help.
That’s the path we should all take when we learn new tools. When you have the tools, it’s important to use them.
One new tool I learned was expressing some of the deeper stuff so that I could start feeling again. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me telling me the person in their life—the one they care about—can’t connect with their emotions.
They ask, “What do I do? I don’t know how to get through to them, and I want to emotionally connect with this person, but they can’t connect.”
Someone has to want to connect with you and themselves. If they haven’t practiced flexing that emotional muscle, it can go dormant. If they don’t use it, they lose it.
Waking a dormant emotional muscle back up can be challenging for the emotionally disconnected, but it is possible for most people.
For me, when I was depressed, accessing that muscle was very difficult until I allowed myself to be vulnerable, humble, and honest. That’s when it happened. The more honest I became with myself and about how I felt toward certain people in my life, the more I connected with myself. Connecting with myself was key to healing. Or at least the first stage of it.
When you can allow whatever’s inside you out, where you can see it in front of you and talk about it with someone you trust or love, you give your body a chance to release the pressure.
Emotions build up pressure, especially negative ones. Positive emotions can build up good pressure, sort of. But negative emotions definitely build up bad pressure. You carry that kind of pressure in your stomach and chest. That’s typically where they go. The negative emotions, feelings, mounting pressure, anger, and upset compound inside you, typically around your organs.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been angry in my pinky. My pinky can be in pain, and I’ve been angry about that because I hit it with something, but my pinky has never held anger.
I have practiced putting upset emotions in different parts of my body, which is fun if you haven’t tried it. I might take anxiety out of my stomach and put it somewhere else. That’s a visual and physical exercise. I visualize myself pulling it out of my stomach and putting it in my hands or feet. Or I could try putting it in a tree or on the sidewalk. I can also put it way over there.
This is just a visual exercise you can practice while feeling something you don’t like. I’m not saying it will take away depression, anxiety, or anger. It’s just fun to play with because we feel it, so why not do something with those feelings?
Why do we feel negative emotions in our organs? I know there are chemical reactions, stress hormones and such that create those feelings, but if we can create them, we can “uncreate” them with thoughts and feelings since that’s what created them in the first place.
That’s my belief, at least. You may not have the same beliefs I do, but I believe in mind over matter. If you bite into a lemon, your mouth waters. If you think about biting a lemon right now, your mouth is likely to water.
That’s mind over matter. You can make your body do things (to a certain extent), but again, visualizing in this way is just for fun and possibly a way to help you feel better. If you can make your mouth water thinking about biting into a lemon, why can’t you make a feeling appear or disappear?
Just about every one of my past partners left me because I was dysfunctional and toxic. After my divorce, something I believed was going to last forever, I realized I was the common denominator of all the problems I was having. I was the common element in all my ruined relationships. When I discovered and admitted that to myself, I finally took responsibility – which is the first step toward real empowerment.
Taking responsibility for what was happening to me changed things. When you take responsibility for something that happened to you, it changes. I’m not saying you’re responsible for a safe falling on your head. But when you take responsibility for the steps you take, your life has no choice but to change because you have more control over what happens next. How you respond to what happens to you helps you focus on your next steps instead of what just happened.
A safe falling on your head may be a bad example because that would likely do some real damage. I don’t want to think that way. But when things happen to you, where does your focus go? Does it go on the cause of what happened? Or does your focus stay within yourself to make a better decision next time?
Maybe you are, or could be, focused on what you may have done to facilitate what happened to you.
As my relationships ended, my focus was always on what they were doing to me. I saw them as hurting me or leaving me.
I focused on how it was their fault for leaving and not trying harder to make things work. My focus kept me playing the victim as these people did things to me.
I never put myself into the “cause” part of the equation that led to the effect – the chain of events that occurred that created the result I didn’t want.
If I choose to look at the chain of events that led to the results I didn’t want, and I choose to take responsibility for the role I played in that chain of events, I can then identify almost the exact components of what led to that result.
For example, if I look at someone leaving me as the cause of my depression or unhappiness, instead of the previous years of me giving them bad looks, being critical, judgmental, guilting, and hurting them in various ways, I’ll fail to identify the actual cause of the bad result. And because of that, I’ll repeat the very same mistakes in my next relationship.
I’ll repeat the errors of my past until I look at myself as the common denominator of my problems and start reflecting on how I made that bad thing happen. This will help me change my approach and how I handle challenges in the future.
How you cope with challenges is often your worst culprit when life turns out badly.
Your coping mechanisms decide your behaviors. And your behaviors decide what happens next.
For example, in my past, if something angered me, I’d cope by swallowing the anger and repressing the negativity, stuffing it down. This built negative pressure inside of me. I’d hold the anger in and make passive-aggressive comments, and do passive-aggressive things because I was carrying around anger that I wasn’t expressing.
The longer you hold anger, the more you forget it’s there—it becomes part of you, your behavior, and your decisions.
I walked around with repressed anger coming out destructively, hurting relationships and people I cared about without realizing why everything was happening to me. I chose not to express the anger inside, so when my relationships ended, I focused on them doing things to me instead of taking responsibility for my part in what caused things to spiral downward.
If the people I hurt said, “If you don’t stop, I’m leaving,” that would have scared the hell out of me! I had a fear of abandonment and used them as my only source of happiness, which is toxic, dysfunctional.
If they said something like that to me, it would’ve shaken me enough to realize they were seriously unhappy. It would have woken me up to the hurt I was causing. And I needed to stop “or else.”
If they said that, I don’t know if I would’ve gone to therapy… or changed… or what. I was very insecure. I was a different person back then. Hearing those words from someone I cared about would’ve rattled me enough to take them seriously.
I definitely don’t blame them for not saying anything like that. I was controlling and manipulative at that time, and they didn’t realize what I was doing. I didn’t even know what I was doing then. I just thought that’s how relationships went. I was never taught how to love someone in a healthy way. That’s no excuse, but recognizing that now makes sure I never do those things again.
When we change ourselves and our behaviors, our life changes. If bad things keep happening to you, you might consider how you cope and handle difficulties in your life.
How do you cope with challenges today?
If someone upsets you, what do you say and do?
Are you getting the results you want?
If you’re not getting good results and you’re unhappy, you might have to do something different to get different results.
I hear from people who tell me, “I’ve told my partner they’re hurting me, and I want them to stop, but they don’t. Then I cry, and they still don’t stop even though they see me crying!”
If that’s the case, you might have to accept that they will never change unless you do something more drastic, like make them accountable. If it’s a coworker, you could say, “If you steal from my desk one more time, I’ll embarrass you at the next meeting.”
You may or may not want to do that, but the idea is accountability. It’s telling someone, “This can’t happen anymore. It’s unacceptable,” and so on.
Sure, there can be fear of confrontation and consequences of what will happen next. But ask yourself, “What results am I getting now with how I cope today?”
If you change how you cope or respond, you’ll almost always get different results because you’ll either walk away to protect yourself, or they’ll change, which is still a form of self-protection.
Life is too short to keep tolerating bad behavior and disrespect. I’m always ready to take big, scary steps so I don’t have to deal with daily misery. In other words, I’d rather fix a problem than be miserable every day. I don’t want you to have to deal with misery day after day, either.
I started this article by asking, ‘what’s the point of moving forward when life is miserable? What’s the point of looking for happiness when you know it’s not there because of X, Y, and Z?’ The point of moving forward is that sometimes we can change things but don’t realize it because we think we have no options.
Sometimes, there are old beliefs that keep us from doing what we should do for ourselves. And we may keep repeating old behaviors and coping in ways that give us bad results, making us think we really do have no choice but to accept that this is as good as it gets.
The reality is, however, we do have choices we may not even realize we have. All it might take to get a better result is to make a simple change in our responses and reactions to life’s difficulties and challenges.
I know, that’s not really simple. Sometimes it’s very difficult. I remember the first time I honored my personal boundaries. It was so damned hard! I had no evidence I’d make it through that moment alive.
I’m being overly dramatic now, but that’s how it felt back then. We can become so afraid of doing the right thing for ourselves. But we shouldn’t be afraid. We should be confident , knowing we are worth it and worthy of feeling good and being treated with respect, kindness, and dignity.
We should feel comfortable in our own skin because of the choices we make to not allow people to walk all over us. That’s how we improve our lives. That’s how we learn there are other ways to respond to life’s events so that we can get different results.