Reality Check: When Times Are Tough

At some point, I suspect that everyone faces a tough time. Your tough time could look quite different from my tough time. However, all of our tough times may have more in common than we’d think.
When something interferes with our ability to satisfy our basic needs, we experience frustration. For example, one basic need is survival. Illness or injury can put this fundamental need at risk. Other challenges, such as struggles with work, school, or finances might not sound as serious, but they could also be perceived as threatening our ability to survive.
Another basic need is for love and belonging. When we go through emotionally tough times, such as the grief of losing someone close to us, we may not be able to satisfy that need in the way we did before. Other painful emotional challenges, such as rejections and misunderstandings, can also have us struggling to satisfy that need.
When minor difficulties crop up, we find a way to cope and carry on. What makes a tough time particularly tough is when we can’t figure out a way to cope. What to do when there seems to be nothing we can do?
We still have some choices. One is to honestly examine our options—even if we keep the results to ourselves. Sometimes when we believe that we have no options, the reality is that we do. It’s just that we don’t like the available options; they’re difficult or unpleasant.
For example, if you have an unsatisfied need for security that’s related to challenges at work, there are actions you can take. They may not sound like fun and you may not want to do them, but you have options. Taking action—effective action, that is—is one way to handle a tough time.
However, it could be true that for your tough time, there are no actions that you can take. If that’s so, then one effective option could be to change perspective. How? Try this question: “Is there good that can come of this?”
While I’m not convinced that all rotten things happen for a reason, I do think that it can help us if we can figure out a way to use our tough time for a purpose.
When we encounter tough times ourselves, we may see the suffering of others in a new light. Relationships, values, life itself can look different when seen through that lens of experience. We can see others with more empathy, perhaps recalling that we once felt overwhelmed as they do. Through our experience, we can offer more helpful encouragement and support than we might otherwise.
By now you may be thinking, she’s just trying to make hard times seem easier by suggesting a different way of looking at them. You would be correct. But this isn’t the same as suggesting that someone going through tough times just “adopt a better attitude.” It’s not that simple, is it?
Some tough times are inevitable; many are out of our control. In some cases, “the only way out is through,” and it’s painful. However, if we can attach a purpose to our suffering—perhaps a purpose such as growing empathy—the trip through may not seem quite so tough.
What has helped you get through your tough times?

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