Staying Emotionally Strong in Times of Adversity

by Jonathan

emotionally strong during tough times

“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” -Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)

This is a guest post by
Steve Borgman of Personal Success Factors.

As much as we love smooth waters, an Arab proverb states that smooth waters do not make skillful sailors. In this journey called life, the question is not, “Will storms arise?” Rather, the question is, “When will the next storm arise?” And even more important than that question is, “What type of person will I be when the next storm arises?” Advanced life skills are needed to navigate these sometimes treacherous waters.

As I was pondering the topic of skillful sailing, I thought about a book I read a while ago. The name of the book is The Resilient Self: How Survivor’s of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity (Villard, 1993). For too long, an impression that many have had of psychologists is that they tell people to ruminate on their past, blame others, and live as victims, without ever rising above adversity. Unfortunately, the argument of insanity or of an abusive background would be used to condone criminal acts. This is an extreme perception, but the truth is that the study of people who have come through adversity with key strengths has given us insight into some advanced life skills we can harness as we face adversity on a daily basis.

The study of resilience has identified us to some of these advanced life skills that I’m going to introduce to you. Think on these resilience factors so that can be ready to successfully navigate the next storm in your life.

Insight

The skill here is in learning to ask tough questions and to give honest answers. It’s about asking yourself hard questions — about your strengths and weaknesses, for example, or about the role you play in your own problems — and giving yourself honest answers. When going through hard times, the questions you choose to ask yourself are key to how what you will focus on and how you will handle the storm.

Here are some suggested questions to help you develop insight about your difficulties:

  • “How did I manage to get up this morning (make it to this appointment, get through yesterday, etc.)?”
  • “How I been keeping going day after day when there seems to be no hope?”
  • “How is it (“What have I done so) that things are not worse?”
  • “How come I have not given up yet? What held me? back from completely giving up?”
  • “How did you learn to cope with such an awful situation, when you were still so young? Did you have to do it all by yourself?” (for example, talking about childhood abuse/trauma)

Relationships

What is your view of people and of the world? What is your view of the future? Research into children and adults who flourished despite adversity shows the following. Relationships begin in children with contacting – making fleeting ties with others who are emotionally available. In adolescents, relationships sharpen into recruiting – the deliberate attempt to engage with adults and peers who are helpful and supportive. In adults, relationships mature into attaching – mutually gratifying personal ties that are characterized by a balance of give and take.

Application: Do not be shy about asking for help from reliable people when going through difficult times. Men, in particular, often have a difficult time expressing their emotions and being willing to ask for help. Reach out and get connected, whether that is through a church or other place of worship, a support group, or a professional counselor. Being willing to ask for help in times of adversity and diversity is a sign of health and strength. And don’t forget that cultivating those relationships during good times.

Independence

Research has shown that adults who emerged in healthy ways from distressing childhoods practiced independence as defined in the following way: they distanced themselves emotionally and physically from the sources of trouble their life. Independence begins in children with straying – wandering away when trouble is in the air. In adolescents, independence grows into emotional disengagement – detaching from troublesome situations and standing up for oneself. In adults, independence takes form in separating – taking control over the power of one’s pain.

Here are some ways to practice independence when adversity comes your way:

  • Take the time to acknowledge the pain of the adversity, but also take charge of it by distancing yourself from it. This is very different from denial, or repressing pain by pretending that it does not exist. Resilient people allow themselves to experience pain, but they share it with trusted friends, and they also do other things to distance themselves from the pain.
  • Set boundaries. Only allow yourself certain times to think about or reflect on the adversity. If you are prone to worry, schedule 15 minutes of worry time. Then, when painful feelings or worry come up, tell yourself, “I’ve got my worry time scheduled–I’ll think about it then.”

Initiative

Initiative is the ability to take charge of problems, instead of being overwhelmed by them. You must learn that if you are ever going to live long and with significance in this world, you are going to have to accept and embrace adversity as a challenge and opportunity, rather than something to be overwhelmed by. The bigger dreams and goals you have, the more adversity you can expect.

It takes a degree of mental toughness and creativity to approach the problems of living in a way that will benefit you the most. I suggest utilizing Tony Robbins’ power questions both to approach the daily hassles of living as well as the bigger crises that come into your life. Here are some of those questions:

Morning Power Questions:

  1. What am I happy about in my life now?
    What about that makes me happy? How does that make me feel?
  2. What am I excited about in my life now?
    What about that makes me excited? How does that make me feel?
  3. What am I proud about in my life now?
    What about that makes me proud? How does that make me feel?
  4. What am I grateful about in my life now?
    What about that makes me grateful? How does that make me feel?
  5. What am I enjoying in my life right now?
    What about that do I enjoy? How does that make me feel?
  6. What am I committed to in my life right now?
    What about that makes me committed? How does that make me feel?
  7. Who do I love? Who loves me?
    What about that makes me loving? How does that make me feel?

Evening power questions:

  1. What have I given today?
    In what ways have I been a giver today?
  2. What did I learn today?
  3. How has today added to the quality of my life or how can I use today as an investment in my future?

Problem solving questions:

  1. What is great about this problem?
  2. What is not perfect yet?
  3. What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
  4. What am I willing no longer to do in order to make it the way I want it?
  5. How can I enjoy the process while I do what is necessary to make it the way I want it?

Creativity

Creativity is using the imagination in a way that, once again, helps you mobilize your resources and navigate tough situations in life. Creativity and humor are related resiliencies. One of the most helpful tools to tapping creativity during hard times is a workbook called The Artist’s Way Workbook, by Julia Cameron. It encourages the practice of freehand journaling every morning in order to tap into your inner resources. Other helpful forms of creativity may include drawing, listening to music, painting, walking in nature, and meditation. I have found that I am most creative internally when I am running out in open nature, all alone.

Humor

Humor is an offshoot of creativity. Learn not to take yourself or life too seriously! Learn to cultivate your sense of humor, because when you do, it will help you play in the midst of difficulty, shape your reality by offsetting pain, and help you laugh in the face of the absurdity of your pains and troubles. By no means do I mean that you should minimize or pretend that your troubles don’t exist. However, being able to find humor in every situation will help you cope more effectively. Learn to enjoy funny books or movies. Laugh often.

Morality and Values

This means that you have identified your core personal values, and that you are living and acting on the basis of an informed conscience. It means that you have developed a philosophy of living and a moral framework and principles for behaving and decision making. Ultimately, these values and principles will serve as roots that will give you nourishment when the storms of adversity pound against you. In the most responsible and developed stage of morality and values, we have an obligation to use our gifts and talents to serve others, even in the midst of suffering and pain. I cite some examples here: Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. These are only a few examples of persons who tapped into morality and spirituality in the midst of adversity.

I hope that you will use these advanced life skills to successfully navigate the ups and downs of life, both the seemingly small, and the very big. Let me know if you have used any of this skills, whether you are using any now, and which ones you would like to develop for the future.

Stephen Borgman grew up in Brazil, South America, to parents whose legacy of service he hopes to continue to emulate. He is a licensed psychotherapist committed to bringing hope, understanding, and solutions to his readers and clients. You can find his writing at Personal Success Factors and Prospering With Aspergers. He also writes a blog for Psychology Today. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

If you enjoyed this article, consider email or RSS updates!

PrintFriendly and PDF

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome Steve to Advanced Life Skills. This article is positively loaded with practical steps and guidelines for staying emotionally strong during times of adversity. Thanks for all your hard work on this Steve, it’s really quite exceptional.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Jon, I am honored to be able to contribute to your blog. I love the title: Advanced Life Skills. We all need them on a continuous basis. Because it seems to me that life can seem more and more complex as we get older: so much change. But I have a feeling life has always been the same at the core. It helps to have a resilient mindset and a strong reference group. And there are so many great people on your blog and in the personal development community.

Reply

Mary Ann

Get on, Steve! You sure know how to put it out there. I for one needed reminded; therefore, it is only fitting that I comment. It was a nice refresher course. Sometimes we need them as I did today.

Thank you!
^5!

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Thank you, Mary Ann. I write, in order to be reminded! Seriously, the more I write about these things, the more I hopefully internalize them. It is through teaching that we learn the best. Now if you take what you read and pass it along, you’ll be teaching in turn :)

Reply

Mick Morris

This is a really thorough and practical resource to assist with recovery and resilience. I have bookmarked it for reference and sharing with people, Thanks.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Mick, I’m happy that it could be of use to you and to the people you share it with. I know that when I first learned about these principles, I found them very striking.

Reply

Stephen - Rat Race Trap

Hi Steve, as Jonathan said this is loaded with practical advice. I like the concept of resilience. I remember listening to a Bob Proctor audio once on resilience. He had decided it was the most important factor in success. I think he might be right and for life as well.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Stephen, thanks for the feedback. You are so right about the need for resilience. Actually, Jonathan’s last post about meeting challenges creatively is a nice complement to this article. It’s humbling to write about all this: I’ve been having some challenges myself, and it’s time for me to re-read this article so that I can come out on top :)

Reply

Farnoosh

Stephen, I like your writing voice and your sincerity. I feel overwhelmed and inspired after reading this – So many questions, so much homework for me ;) – seriously though, you break i down so well. It is difficult to be strong in adversity, quite obviously – but preparation can go such a long way and the techniques you mention here are excellent preparation tools. How will I react to the next storm? Very nicely said. Thank you!!!!

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Farnoosh, you are very kind. You made a great point: Preparation is key. We can never be fully prepared, but by reading material like this blog, your blog, and others’ who are positive, we can gain the mental and emotional resilience needed to conquer storms in our lives.

Reply

Nea

This is such a wonderful article. The amount of useful, life-changing information is amazing. I especially like the power questions, which are a positive way to reassess our lives.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Nea, I agree with you: when I read about the power of asking the right questions in Tony Robbins’ book, Awaken the Giant Within, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. Unfortunately, we tend to ask ourselves the wrong questions if we are used to negative mental habits: “Why me? Why do other people get all the breaks? Why is he such a jerjk?” Power questions are definitely the way to go, if we want to improve our outcomes, both internally and externally.

Reply

ZuzannaM

Hello Stephen,

The post you made is a real good post. There are questions that were good to read and examine my own deeds. Loved the series,
“Morning Power Questions, Evening power questions and Problem solving questions:”
Those significant points are of a great value in ones life. Thank you for the wonderful presentation and of-course for me educational as well. It was a joy to read the blog on Jonathan page.

Best wishes,
Zuzanna

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

It seems as though those power questions are a hit :) I know when I shared them on a different previous blog post someone wrote me and told me that they printed them out and put them on the wall beside their bed. Now there’s a great way to put this into practice!

Reply

Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey

Hi Steve,

I totally agree! Asking the right questions when going through times of adversity is key to helping cope. We have the choice to either look at the glass as half full or half empty. Thank you so much for sharing!

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Jarrod, I’ll definitely take the half full cup of water. It reminds me of the twitter status I saw the other day: When things get tough, count your blessings, and not your troubles :)

Reply

Frank

Wow! If this post was a meal. I could eat six times a day for the rest of my life. I have never seen so many steps, each of which can probably sustain a post of their own, gathered together to help people get through their “storm.” It is a really powerful tool to put things in their perspective by asking yourself the right questions. I guess it is time to start “talking” to myself. I throughly enjoyed reading this.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Frank, you’re correct about the size of the meal :) I struggled with whether to actually put everything in one package, but in the end, that’s what it ended up to be. When I find big meals like this, I bookmark it in Instapaper and read it in my free time on my iPhone :)

Reply

Dia

Hi Steve,

Thanks for this very nice article. You mentioned something very nice about how setting a specific time for “worry” helps us a lot. This is so true and helpful. Otherwise, we would spend our day worrying.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Dia, the worrying technique is borrowed from cognitive behavior theory. What’s good about it is that it’s actually a constructive use of time. We can clarify our fears/worries, formulate it into a problem to be solved, and then start working on solutions.

Reply

timethief

Hey Steve,
Your article is definitely worthy of printing out and keep close at hand. This part in particular resonated with me today: “Take the time to acknowledge the pain of the adversity, but also take charge of it by distancing yourself from it.” Tomorrow it may be another section that rings true and calls my attention to it. Thanks so much for sharing these power questions. I appreciate it.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Timethief, thank you for your kind comments. It’s true that it helps to come back and reflect on these points, because there is really so much there. I am so proud of all the resilient people who have gone through so much so that we can learn so much, in turn, from them. By the way, your name is intriguing, so I’m going to need to stop by your site ;-)

Reply

Hulbert Lee

Hi Steve, thanks for this post. I like the list you provided here on asking tough questions. It’s important that we understand that tough situations are there to test us, and if we can find a way to overcome through those problems, challenges, or obstacles, then we can come out as a strong person. Thanks for sharing this with us as well as giving us an in-depth outline on resiliency and being emotionally strong during adversity.

Reply

Steve-Personal Success Factors

Hulbert, thanks for the comment. The one common denominator of ‘success’ is that those who are successful have learned to expect and embrace adversity as a given on their way to accomplishing their goals. That’s why I love the inspiration at your site: From the Bottom Up. It gives us references to associate to, of successful individuals who have learned to make adversity their friend instead of their foe.

Reply

kaddija

thanks Steve, I love the article, it is really interesting!

Reply

rob

Steve, this is a great article and it has helped me a lot, thank you. I really like the part about the oak tree. I bookmarked it and will refer to it when needed, which has been quite often lately.

Reply

Michael

Stephen,

You write with an eloquent and captivating voice, and this was a pleasure to read; like many others I have bookmarked, and shared this post. “Staying Emotionally Strong in Times of Adversity” was as refreshing to my mind as it was challenging to my heart.

I have long considered the best approach to tap into, and to write about, my internal struggles. It dawned on me with your introduction to Tony Robbins’ that by answering these simple questions with honest words I will have a refined and simplified inner voice. I am excited with the literary challenge of putting this inner voice to pen and paper.

I don’t often comment, but you deserve a bit of recognition for this post. I’ll be following you, and you will always be a welcome guest over at my blog!

Reply

Gera

Hi Steve:

I tend to be a negative individual, always looking at my weaknesses and the dark side of my life. You have no idea how much you have helped me, from realizing I have to be more confident to knowing that I have to be presistant and never give up in this journey.

Thank you ?

Sincerly Gera

Reply

rop

this site is amaizing it has given me one more reason to live n enjoy life amid all the pain.

Reply

Jess

Great information. Resilience is something I’ve been seeing talked about over and over lately and it is resonating with me. So often we are eager and energetic during the initial phases of something, but then when the going gets tough or we run into road blocks/adversity we shrivel up or abandon our efforts and move on to the next idea.

Resilience really is key and realizing that when things get tough that is a part of the learning/growth process will make those moments a bit more tolerable. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

kamela

Real great article was just Googling when i ran into it and it really did change my day. A real positive reinforcement of the lesions that can be learned form going through life’s adversities.

Reply

denis

Excellent advice. This is really good for people who are having problems with their relationships and work. This really combined everything into a more neutral approach and view of situations. Very good job.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: