In the living of a life, there are so many challenges that usually come from changing circumstances and loss. Sometimes, those who are suffering from “hard news,” find it almost impossible to dig themselves out of despair, grief and suffering. Adjustability and resilience often determine how one gets through difficult times.

Adjustability is the ability to adapt to new surroundings and to acclimate to different circumstances. For example, if one moves to a new neighborhood, makes friends, and becomes a part of the new community, they can be described as “adjustable.”  Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties and “spring back.” An illustration of this might be getting over and accommodating for the loss of beloved neighbors that you just moved away from.

Lots of events in life lead to some sort of suffering: death, trauma, having to adapt to new spouses, step siblings and extended family, to name a few. You have choices. You can hang out in the challenges and losses, the frustrations and grief, or you can acknowledge that you are having a “tough” time and figure out how you are going to acclimate to the changes that have taken place in your life. Accepting change is not an easy path. Often, one feels lost with no guidance about how to get themselves up out of the abyss and back on to the path of a fulfilling life.

Just how do you “pick yourself up?” You have to work with yourself emotionally and create new rituals. You have to do this your own way. The adaptability/resiliency process is an individual one. Think back to a past loss or to an earlier change you have had to make. How did you get through it? How did you adjust? Write down what you did.  These are your recovery tools.

If you have never before had to make adjustments to loss or had to change very much in your life until now, here are a few ideas:

  1. Know the signs of emotional pain: sadness, depression, guilt, shame or fear.
  2. Allow yourself a designated amount of time per day to remember the “old days” or to be with your sadness, depression, guilt or shame and then consistently guide yourself back to the present and embrace where you are in your life today. When you hang out with painful emotions they soon become like old “friends,” and you become habituated to being with them.
  3. Live with gratitude. Loss and forced change often bring resentments with them. If you don’t focus on gratitude for all that you have and all that you are, you can become bitter. Bitterness is a mixture of anger and disappointment involving the belief that you have been treated unfairly. Gratitude involves focus on the positives in your life. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons and author of How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier has shown that living in gratitude can significantly increase feelings of well-being.
  4. Create a gratitude jar. Each day, write one or two things that you are grateful for on a piece of paper. Put it in your gratitude jar. Review its contents after 30 days. Make a collage of the pieces of paper on which you have noted the things for which you are grateful. Review it often.
  5. Find a therapist, a pastor, a trusted friend with whom you can process your emotions. Keeping one’s emotions repressed inside doesn’t assist in accomplishing emotional recovery.
  6. Know the signs of emotional recovery: a. When you tend to respond more than you tend to react. b. When you are able to integrate some positive emotions with the emotions that cause you pain. c. When you are able to find some enjoyment in your life. d. When the possibility of having new experiences sparks your interest.
  7. When you are able to create new rituals for yourself. For example, if you have lost a pet and every morning around 9:00 am you fed her, you replace that with taking a walk with a friend every morning at 9:00 am.
  8. When you feel peaceful inside when you think of the loss or change you have had to walk through.

Remember the movie The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland? The beginning of that movie was black and white. When Judy went to Oz, life became full of color and wonder. Even fear of the wicked witch was in color. Emotional recovery is all about color: the color of loss and grief, the color of healing and gratitude, the color of acknowledging the opportunities that are ahead of you. Embrace the color. Hope for it.

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Ann Schiebert

Dr. Schiebert is a psychologist in the Emergency Department (ED) at the medical center of one of the country’s most respected major HMO’s. There, she evaluates for safety, determines types of treatments, assesses capacity and cognitive impairment, and provides feedback and support for families of patients in the ED. In addition, Dr. Schiebert also works in the medical center’s Chemical Dependency Department where she treats patients challenged by trauma, chemical dependency, codependency and dual diagnosis. Ann has penned a series of books titled Let’s Make a Contract. She has three in the series thus far, having to do with getting teens through substance abuse, getting them through high school, and the forthcoming title for adults, getting through unhappy romantic relationships.

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