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Making It Through Tough Times: An Ancient and Wise Way to Bounce Back

“Why? Why me?”

Those are natural questions to ask when you’re faced with a crisis in your life.

There are never any easy answers but it does help to have a framework – a way to structure events in your mind – for getting through the tough times.

A structure for the hard times

A particular resiliency framework that has been used for eons is still helpful for us today. This process is known as initiation.

Our ancestors created this process and many indigenous peoples today still use it. Initiation rites in villages are practiced to help the young people mature into adults, complete with their own unique gifts that are vital to the strength of the village.

There are three parts to an initiation:


The young person is physically separated out from the tribe to face the adult world on his* own.

The Ordeal

Tribal elders often set up challenges for the young person to face which, while sometimes harrowing, elicit the person’s Core Gift and usher the youngster into adulthood.

The Homecoming

The young person returns to the village and a great celebration is held to honor his return. The tribe sings and dances with joy because a new adult has joined the village with a Gift that will strengthen and bless the tribe.

Initiations can be good . . .

In our world, we go through initiations frequently.

Some of them are good.

Going off to college can be seen as an initiation. The young person is separated from her tribe (family and friends), goes through the ordeal of college and studying (which can be a mix of fun and stress), and returns (homecoming) with not only a diploma, but a new knowledge of her strengths and her Gift to bring to the world. Usually, a celebration is held to honor the new graduate.

. . . but are often very difficult

Often, though, our initiations entail periods of pain in our lives. My friend, Becky Phillips, endured an agonizing ritual when she lost her parents, a sister, and a close family friend in a train crash.

Her initiation was very long as she experienced separation not only from the family members that she lost, but from the world as she knew it and from friends and family who could not possibly understand her pain.

Her ordeal consisted of raw, raking grief and the struggle to create new meaning in life and her world. Yet, somehow, she made it through.

Becky’s homecoming was also a slow process and somewhat subtle. She allowed her family to gently welcome her back as mother and wife.

And now, she is providing herself with a homecoming as she celebrates the lessons that she learned along the way: how valued her late family members were to others and how they touched lives, how much she loves and cherishes the people in her life now, and how short and truly precious life really is.

Becky is now a stronger, quite gifted member of our current “village.” She has the ability to encourage us through our own adversities, having been through one of the worst ordeals one can imagine.

How to use initiations to bounce back in life

1. Assess where you are.

If times are a little rough for you right now, check to see if you might be in one of the inevitable initiations of life.

Do you feel separated out from others? Set apart from the “normal” life that you see other people having? Perhaps you feel isolated.

If so, you are in the separation phase of initiation.

Along with feeling set apart, do you also feel like you are going through the wringer right now, literally being jostled back and forth by the great agitator of life?

If you answered yes, you know you are in the ordeal.

Congratulations, you are officially experiencing an initiation.

2. Remember that it’s a good thing.

Even though initiations can be painful, remember that the end result is a new person who is stronger and wiser than before and more in touch with her unique Gift she brings to the world.

So, as you’re bumping around in that wringer, that washing machine called life, hold onto the fact that you can come out the other side of this not only in one piece, but transformed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you this: We often come out of initiations with scars. That’s just part of life. Scars are there to remind us of our wounds, of where we’ve come from. Wear them with pride.

3. Give yourself a homecoming.

It is essential that the initiation is completed with a homecoming. Without a homecoming, the process never completes and you must go through it again until a homecoming is provided.

But, you ask, who is going to give me a homecoming celebration after I’ve gone through a personal initiation?

You are.

I have talked with many clients who tell me their story of separation and ordeal and even how other people gave them a homecoming by congratulating them on making it through their crisis.

However, the client still isn’t satisfied, still feels restless.

“Did you welcome yourself home?” I ask them.

“No . . .” is the sheepish reply I hear.

Welcome yourself back into the community as the strong, transformed person you are. No matter how many scars you bear.

Share your story with others and celebrate. You made it!

Complete the initiation. It must be done.


What initiations have you been through in your life? Is it hard to give yourself a homecoming?


*Although most initiations among indigenous people are for boys, girls also may go through a rite of initiation at the onset of menses.

Making It Through Tough Times: An Ancient and Wise Way to Bounce Back

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). Making It Through Tough Times: An Ancient and Wise Way to Bounce Back. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Sep 2012
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