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How to Survive AND Thrive When Things Go Wrong

It’s one thing to survive misfortune – but wouldn’t it be great to thrive, too? To grow beyond who you were before adversity struck?

You can.

It might not always happen, but the more you are aware that good can come out of hardship, the more likely you are to look for and experience growth.

Let’s take a look at a graphic representation of the components of resiliency:


You can see that surviving hard times requires skills that we’ve talked about previously on this blog:


This is always a very broad category, but basically, acceptance is about moving out of denial that something bad has happened to you. It’s about letting go of resisting and fighting the event and moving into accepting and integrating it into your life.


Remembering that you have made it through tough times in the past will help you get through your current difficulty. Also, realizing that there may be a silver lining to your problem in the form of new opportunities and lessons can help you survive adversity.

Social Support

Allowing your friends and family to help and support you during down times can literally pull you through the muck of misfortune.

Surviving AND thriving

And then there are the skills that help you both survive and thrive:

Positive actions

These intentional activities produce more happiness which, in turn, will help you get through tough times and make you feel better on the other side.

o Practicing acts of kindness
o Keeping track of things you are grateful for
o Processing negative emotions and savoring positive ones


Looking for the lessons

Is there something you can learn from adversity, from your personal maelstrom of misfortune?

One friend of mine had a string of bad luck that ended with her business being audited by the IRS. When I asked her if there was any silver lining at all in her recent experience, she said, “Yes, there is. I’ve learned that I just can’t do it all. I need help. I need the help of a good bookkeeper and accountant and that’s okay.

“I took pride in thinking I could do everything in my business, but look where it got me. I feel relieved that I’m finally open to accepting help.”

When my late partner had breast cancer, we learned a valuable lesson: the art of non-resistance. Instead of fighting all of the difficult emotions that surrounded her illness, we accepted them as just part of the experience. In so doing, we also learned the joys of living in the current moment.

Finding the gifts

I heard an amazing story about an Iraq war veteran who lost both of his eyeballs to a roadside bomb. You can read more about it through the link, but the incredible thing was the ability of this young man to find the gifts in his situation. For him, the greatest gifts of all were a second chance at life and the opportunity to receive love from his family and friends.

It’s not always easy to find the gifts.

Several years ago, I was co-facilitating a breast cancer support group. I asked the women what gifts they found in their illnesses. The room grew very quiet. One young woman in particular stared at me intensely, not blinking. Finally, some of the older women provided a few examples of gifts they had discovered along their paths with cancer.

At the next meeting, the young woman who had stared at me was the first to speak.

“I was so angry with you when you asked about gifts. I thought ‘How dare she ask about gifts!? There are no gifts when it comes to cancer!’

“But then, after I calmed down. I started to notice things. I saw how close I’ve become to my friends and my family; how I’ve opened myself to truly receive their love.

“And I found that learning that everything really is small stuff has been a great blessing.

“My greatest gift has probably been to really enjoy each moment with my boys. Our lives are so much richer now.

“And now I feel that being made aware of all these gifts has been a gift unto itself!”


Surviving and thriving. You really can do both.

What’s your story?

How to Survive AND Thrive When Things Go Wrong

Bobbi Emel, MFT

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. In addition to seeing clients in her private practice, Bobbi is a well-regarded speaker and writer. Check out her other writing at The Bounce Blog.

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APA Reference
Emel, B. (2012). How to Survive AND Thrive When Things Go Wrong. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bounce-back/2012/02/how-to-survive-and-thrive-when-things-go-wrong/


Last updated: 28 Feb 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Feb 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.