There is a mental “trick” to making it through adversity — and it really isn’t a “trick” at all because it is so closely aligned with the truth. Call it a “truth trick.” It isn’t meant to be a cure-all, and it doesn’t lessen the reality of how painful it is digging out from a storm or looking at a flooded home, let alone grieving the loss of a loved one.
What it does is put you back in control while facing pain.
Here’s the “truth trick:” Keep reminding yourself that every trauma will end up defining you by the strength, determination and empathy you bring to it. You are being tested and you have the capacity to out-perform all expectations.
In other words—while no one would invite suffering upon him- or herself—every challenging chapter in your life story brings with it the opportunity to deploy internal resources of courage, creativity and compassion. And putting those resources into play inevitably hones you in the direction of what is good and decent and worthy in human beings.
This “truth trick” can help you redefine yourself as a survivor, rather than a victim. It helps you lean into the wind, rather than be set back on your heels.
Remind yourself that the courage, creativity and compassion you demonstrate will be contagious to others. Your friends and relatives, including your children, will witness you at your best—confronting adversity with grace. And, make no mistake about it, they can be changed by the power of your example. Your son or daughter, facing a trauma later in life, will have a secret reserve of self-esteem and self-determination because you gave it to him or her, quite literally, as a gift.
I have used this truth trick myself, as a way of calling out the most resilient part of myself. It works. Consciously being aware that you are being tested, not just tortured, can be life-changing.
There’s one other "truth-trick" I use all the time. I don’t know exactly when I came up with it, but I started using it again and again after my first child was born. Her presence on this Earth instantly put things into perspective for me, because I found myself thinking, upon hearing pretty much any bad news, about business or personal matters, “Yeah, well, I don’t like hearing that. I wish that weren’t so. But, you’re not a pediatrician.”
What I mean by this: A call from a pediatrician about my daughter facing a medical crisis would make me file pretty much anything in the “later” bucket. See, if you’re not a pediatrician, you can hurt me, but—given how much I love my kids—you can’t really break me into pieces. Only a pediatrician could break me.
You can knock down my house and flood my basement and cost me lots of money and put me in the hospital, but if you aren’t a pediatrician you can only hurt me so much. It would be real hurt, mind you (I’m not close to invincible), but I’d be OK, because I know what kind of call would put me on the canvas. I know the kind of hurricane with winds that could threaten to rip my soul apart: A call from a pediatrician with lab results I don’t want to hear. (And, yes, I’m knocking on wood right now.)
These two statements: “I am being tested,” and “You’re not a pediatrician” can help turn your perspective from that of a victim to that of a survivor. Neither one is foolproof, and neither one is everything you need.
Together, though, they may be your partners if Hurricane Sandy pretends she is stronger than you.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.