Each experience is telling us something about ourselves, other people, the society we live in, the country, the world. The messages we receive from our experience are filtered through our belief system, previous experience and cultural norms. For example, one person may see adversity as something they will never recover from, someone else takes difficulties and hard knocks as opportunities to review what they are doing and make a fresh start.
How you deal with a difficult life challenge, how it changes you, who you become, what you learn from it – are entirely yours to choose. Consider this native American story:
An old Cherokee said to his grandson who was full of anger at an injustice done to him, Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they did. But hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these and other negative feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is evil – full of anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf is good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, truth, compassion and faith. It is hard to live with these two wolves, for both try to dominate my spirit. The grandson thought about it for a while and then asked his grandfather, Which wolf will win? The old Cherokee replied, The one you feed.
Adversity creates its own kind of wolves – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual marks that determine how life will progress. In your case, is it the mark of a victim, a survivor or someone who thrives?
As a victim, you believe yourself to be helpless, defeated and vulnerable. Self pity may keep you rather passive, hoping to be rescued, feeding the evil wolf energies. Your options seem very limited. You are preoccupied with the adversity and see it as defining your whole future in a very negative and restrictive way: I’ll never recover from this; It has destroyed my life.
The problem with continuing to see yourself as a victim long after the event, is that it maintains a painful and dysfunctional connection to an offender or adverse event. Moving forward requires new thinking, flexibility and openness, but blame, regret and anger will tie your focus to the past rather than to new opportunities in the future.
As a survivor, you accept that despite life’s knocks you have much of yourself left, got through it or are well on the way. You recognise your own potential to change and grow. Committed to moving forward, you use all skills, strengths and resources available to create a new life.
Justifiably proud about the progress you are making – often against the odds – you take brave steps towards a new future. But is it enough?
Defining yourself as a survivor still takes the past event as reference points for who you are now. Your identity is still tied up with what happened to you. Only when you move beyond the experience and commit to living your new life with optimism and empowerment can you become someone who thrives.
As a thriver, you have not only gotten through or bounced back from adversity but are renewed, resilient and inspired by dreams for the future. You have made peace with the new circumstances. You find the positives in the new conditions and let them enhance your quality of life. Plans are developed, connections formed or renewed, possibilities explored.
You recognise the road you have travelled and appreciate your new abilities and gifts. You are proud of who you have become and accept yourself as you are although it might be very different to before the incident.
How to get from being a victim to becoming a survivor and ultimately thriver.
Accepting reality does not mean condoning an event. It simply means looking at the facts of the event: Was there malicious intent? Was it an accident that could happened anywhere? Were you in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people? Is it likely to happen agin?
Make a choice
It is up to you whether to take responsibility for yourself. What happened was beyond your control but your reactions can be chosen by you. Will you let it define your life forever or is it a temporary roadblock requiring a detour? Will it push you into loss of hope and helplessness or is it a call to action for rebuilding and renewal?
Look at your thoughts
Which ones are you listening to? The automatic ones that tend to obsess and ruminate about what happened or deliberate thoughts you choose to focus on? Which ones are true or at least realistic? Which ones drag you down, which are directing you forward?
Tame your emotions
It’s natural to respond with strong emotions to adverse and very challenging events. Make sure yours are not clouding your thinking or turning your life toxic, reducing your options and keeping you stuck in the past.
Become solution focussed
Once the new reality is accepted – although not necessarily welcome – attention is withdrawn from focussing on problems. It becomes directed at ways to move forward, to become proactive, to create a new life.
Go with the pace
Transitioning from victim to survivor to thriver is not an even path. There will be hiccups, ups and downs, frustrations. Progress may be slow, difficult and require much determination and persistence. Look after yourself, go with the flow and hang in there.
Keep the big picture in mind
If needed, create some slogans:
It’s a big (difficult) change, but there are options.
Other people have gone on and made a good life for themselves.
Life may be different but can still be satisfying and interesting.
I have overcome other hurdles, I can do it again.
I have power in this situation.
If you had to bounce back from a difficult experience, what was most helpful to you? What did you do? What did you discover about yourself? Feel free to share your thoughts and leave a comment.