How to not make things worse when bad things happen

When bad things happen, smart women sometimes unwittingly make it harder on themselves. Bad things happen to everyone—it’s part of life. As much as they may prepare, work hard, and try to do the right thing, bad things may still happen to them and to those they care about.

Photo by Alexas_Fotos

First, do no harm…

After something bad happens, women tend to pick themselves up and rise to the occasion a bit too quickly, often because they feel they need to be strong for someone they love.

It is that very resilience and perseverance that can prevent them from fully recovering from the event. Because when they push through their pain without taking the time to heal, the pain usually creeps up or seeps out in other ways.

Not acknowledging the hurt, frustration, or anger that comes with a negative experience is akin to not shutting off your alarm clock in the morning. Its constant ringing distracts or annoys you throughout the day preventing you from operating effectively. When you recognize the siren, you can switch it off, and begin to have some peace.

For example, I’ve met a number of women who describe themselves as “stuck” in their lives, relationships, or careers. After talking about it with me, they realize that they have not fully acknowledged how a miscarriage, a job loss, an abusive boss, an illness, or a divorce affected the trajectory of their life. Whether the event occurred years or months ago, the pain, once recognized, becomes fresh in their minds and palpable in their hearts.

Indeed, Dr. Gail Saltz, a child psychologist, told an audience of concerned parents that the emotions we are unaware of are the ones that usually cause us the most suffering.

What to do when bad things happen

So what can you do when bad things happen? Here are the steps that have helped my clients and me:

  1. Sit with your negative emotions. As much as you may want to shake off your anger, numb your pain, or bury your fears, doing those things may only prolong your suffering. Instead, acknowledge the hurt. Name it. Let it be. Observe what it does to you. Allow yourself to feel it.
  2. Be gentle to yourself. Monitor how you are feeling, and do what is right for you. If someone close to you had broken her leg, you wouldn’t expect her to get up and run a race. Take it slow. Show yourself some compassion.
  3. Recognize that you are not alone. While your situation is certainly unique to you, others are likely to have experienced, or may be experiencing, something very similar. Recognizing this connection to other human beings can provide solace.
  4. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and seek out people who will truly listen. Well-intentioned friends wanting to make you feel better may try to offer advice. Others may complain or worry on your behalf, wanting to relate to you. They mean well but will inadvertently rush your healing process. Find people who are active listeners. Consider asking for professional help.
  5. When you are ready, recognize the good in your life. Even when terrible things happen, the bad rarely takes over all that is good. Again, there are likely to be many who are in similar (or in more dire) situations to (than) yours. If you can, practice gratitude. It may take some time to see it, but there may be a silver lining in your situation. Perhaps you can simply ask for 20-second silent hug from someone you love.
  6. After you’ve given yourself a chance to heal, consider helping someone else. Taking action can be restorative. It doesn’t have to be something grand. For example, you could simply be the person who truly listens (see step 4) to someone else. You could donate to a relevant or favorite cause. Small acts of love are empowering and powerful. No matter the action you take, however, tell yourself, “This is part of my healing process.”

Please let me know if this resonates with you. If it does, please consider sharing the article with others.


An older version of this article was first published in November 2016.