Have you ever felt so shocked, that time stood still? Maybe the phone call was bad news, or the thing you wanted most became impossible, or the rejection you felt was crushing . The emotional pain you feel is overwhelming, and you know you need a strategy to move forward.
You know you have to respond to your situation, but maybe you are unsure of what to do next.
Psychologists have found that trouble, trauma and tragedies are not actually the problem. The problem is how we respond to them. We know that trouble, trauma and tragedy cannot always be avoided, and that bad things happen to good people. However, researchers report that those people who can respond to the trouble in healthy ways will be resilient, have shorter recovery times and suffer fewer negative effects.
What to do When You don’t Know what to Do
Some people respond to challenges with emotionally destructive means like blame shifting, addictions, and isolation. It’s tempting to respond to pain by numbing, drinking, self-medicating, inappropriate relationships, or over-shopping. Others respond by taking responsibility, problem solving, and reaching out for support. Those who take the harder, braver path choose to respond to pain by staying alert, present, creative, information seeking, engaged and positive.
How we respond to our troubling event means everything. During seasons of loss and pain, it is important to do two things well:
Do what you can,
Leave the rest.
Do What you Can. Doing what you can does not mean doing everything, or doing what other people should be doing but aren’t. When bad things happen, some may be tempted to “over do it” or “over function” or “take over” but this is not always the best thing to do. Doing what you can means being clear about your role and responsibility and doing that thing the best you can. Don’t do other people’s things, just do your thing. You don’t have to have all the right answers or a plan etched in stone. You only need to exert your power, influence and choice in a way that is beneficial. It is important to decipher what you can control, and what you cannot.
Doing any helpful thing in the midst of trouble is not only good for you and for other people, it is good for your resiliency too. Trauma research shows that people who find something useful to do during a troubling event, fair better with fewer trauma symptoms. Whether it be encouraging, attending, guarding, problem solving, helping, protecting or directing, exerting some personal power in big or small ways is helpful.
Leave the Rest. Leaving the Rest is an acknowledgement that not everything can be done quickly or by you. Releasing yourself from taking care of others’ responsibilities is brave and necessary. Leaving the rest means engaging in a waiting period with hope. You know how dog trainers will say, “Leave it! Leeeeave it,” to their dogs when tempted or distracted? We may be tempted to argue, convince, lecture, shut down, or bargain our way out of the pain or guilt. But these are not helpful options for the long run. We must let go of the things we can’t control, and do something about the things we can control.
“Leaving the Rest” actually takes more energy than “Doing what you can.” Resisting the temptation to over-function or to be a control freak takes a lot of self-control. When you are actively taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to tell yourself things like, “Don’t take the bate,” and “This ain’t your circus, these ain’t your monkeys,” and “Don’t buy a ticket for that crazy train,” and “You can let it go.”
Waiting can cause a powerless feeling, but waiting with purpose, hope and a plan is very different. “Leaving the Rest” does not mean “Wait and see what happens,” as much as it means, “Wait for the right time to move forward.” For the waiting period to be manageable and positive, there are Waiting Exercises that I will cover in my next blog.
If you are in the middle of a dark season, take the small steps to Do What You Can, and the faith steps to Leave the Rest. Every small step in the right direction counts.