How To Maintain Control Through Life’s Disappointments and Other Crushing Blows

I remember a time years ago when I felt like I had everything together – I had it made.

Life was coming together just as I had planned and I was happy and optimistic for my future.

My family was running like a well oiled machine. My work was satisfying and expanding.

Nothing had been handed to me, but I was savoring victory of years of hard work, paying my dues and relentless perseverance.

It was my time and I was ready for it.

Everything felt balanced and I was living intentionally, making smart, strategic decisions, and calculated risks that were paying off.

I had support and encouragement in healthy relationships, and opportunity and mentorship at work.

Both providing me with a sense of trust and security.

At that point in my life after all I should have my ducks in a row – the dramatic upheavals of adolescence and my 20s were over and my life should have been as solid on the outside as I felt on the inside.

Just as I was breathing in the sweetness of victory I was reminded swiftly that unexpected life events don’t stop at 20.

Within a 2 week time frame London bridge came crashing down.

I lost my job due to cutbacks, my best friend cut ties with me after a devastating trauma, family members dove into varying funnels of turmoil and upset.

My finances were now threatened as future projects crumbled in the wake of the cutbacks as were opportunities to continue to connect with bright like minded people.

Everything I had built as part of the company was extinguished and the team of colleagues I enjoyed fell apart. 

Poof.

My relationships both personally and professionally and all the stability I had created through sacrifice and time were gone and I was left shocked and devastated in a 360 degree assessment of my position.

Those around me in the midst of this had their own problems and everyone still expected me to fix things and give constant support.

And then a health scare popped up.

That was the screeching halt.

The time warp of overwhelm hit and that sweet spot of joy, purpose, and meaning I had felt earlier were a distant memory.

I groaned into each day bracing for the next wave of disappointments.

Eventually the waves stopped crashing against me and things settled.

I found new opportunities and formed new relationships.

I set new boundaries and people learned to take care of themselves.

But in the midst of that rather than letting life pulverize me, I chose strategic and specific coping strategies to move through it.

Because sh*t happens and you can’t always control it.

But you can control yourself and your behaviour.

I was methodical and deliberate with mine despite rampant emotional processing.

I sifted through the rubble and selected what I would take from it, how I could reframe it, and who to leave behind from it…and then I focused on moving forward.

This is the formula for success.

Sure I was disappointed – I didn’t ignore that or shut myself off to it.

And in that I created new vision – I had new perspective.

Instead of this mature mesh of grown ups that I thought I had selected and invited into my life, I felt as though I was surrounded by flakes and losers.

This isn’t unique.

Stuff like this happens to everyone.

We shouldn’t be surprised, but we are.

We grow up thinking life will be fair.

We hear about how if you put goodness into the universe, it will return goodness to you.

To treat others as you want to be treated.

And in a way, because it would be fair, sometimes we expect it – or at least don’t question it.

Sometimes we bring it on ourselves.

And sometimes it’s not your fault.

But let’s face it – you know it – life is not always fair.

People are not reliable.

Even the best will disappoint, be hurtful, and leave you behind.

You can choose to be reduced by it. Or you can choose to be strengthened by it.

Was I going to weep over these losses? I don’t have that kind of time and energy to waste.

Resilient people can be let down, disappointed, and hurt and feel the depth and weight of that emotion and still be able to function in their lives.

Not only do they function, they don’t avoid their feelings or run away from them – they tolerate the emotional discomfort and move through it and come out the other end.

These are 5 ways they do it…

1.Resilient people don’t run away from emotions.

Resilience is not shutting down or controlling your emotions.

Contrary to popular belief.

It’s allowing them – all of them – and being able to tolerate them.

Don’t be afraid to feel disappointed or sad – stop running away from negative emotions. You’re human, you’re supposed to feel dammit!

Not feeling or shutting off emotions doesn’t make you strong, it makes you stupid…or at best numb and suppressive.

Either way it’s not healthy and it’s a false sense of control anyway.

We are supposed to feel every emotion in the spectrum proportionate to the event and be able to return back to a calm, healthy state.

We are supposed to be impacted by others and by events.

We are not in control all of the time.

And we aren’t supposed to be happy all the time.  

We are supposed to respond to life’s events appropriately and then recover.

And that includes feeling disappointment.

I had lost my best friend, the best parts of my job, vibrant health, and harmony in my family.

All at once.

I felt alone. I felt uncared for, discarded. It sucked.

I allowed it. I owned it. I didn’t project it onto anyone else and I didn’t share it or talk about it a ton. And then I let it move through. Like a grown up.

2.Resilient people compartmentalize.

This is the single greatest secret to managing stress in your life.

Learning how to compartmentalize and win.

This simply means that you are able to you are able to keep one part of your life that’s going awry tamed and in a corner while you still function in your life.

Your work stuff stays mostly at work.

Your home stuff at home.

Your relationship stuff out of the way of your productivity.

It’s hard. Because doing this can make you seem hard or unfeeling.

But it’s not that.

It’s allowing your brain to focus on the task at hand without allowing what’s not working in your life to infect everything else.

It’s building strength so you’re not crippled.

You do this by learning how to be present.

In this moment, getting settled in your chair or wherever you are. Feeling your seat or your feet on the floor. Tracking your breathing, getting into your body and focusing your thoughts and energy to the one task at a time that you need to accomplish.

Your thoughts will wander, emotions will creep up… you notice them, you refocus, you get to your distracting thoughts and feelings later – they’ll still be there.

Physical activity and breaks help this a lot.

Taking your thoughts hostage as they come in to try and sabotage you helps a lot.

Radical self care helps a lot.

Be intentional with how you treat yourself, talk to yourself, listen to yourself and your activity levels during this time to help you stay focused.

P.S. It’s not supposed to be easy – it’s quite hard – but once you master this skill you’ll be amazed at your own strength.

This skill has been one that has been most instrumental in all of my successes. I have learned to become a master compartmentalizer while still being a feeling human.

3.Resilient people set boundaries.

You take a hit, you fall down, you sting for a bit, you get back up.

Resilient people then set boundaries to minimize the same thing happening again.

Someone found a chink in your armour? (armour you shouldn’t have to walk around with in the first place)

You do a repair, you reinforce the armour, and you hone your skills and instincts to avoid future assault.

Easy right?

Not easy.

Lots of people struggle with setting boundaries.

They over explain, they feel disempowered and weak, they try to rebuild in the midst of the rubble, in the same spot, with the same people.

Get out of there!

Do not stay in the same environment with the same people that caused you pain

Why do we do this? Loyalty, obligation, laziness, confusion?

It doesn’t matter why…this is a wake up call… make plans to GET. OUT.

Set boundaries around people that are dysfunctional.

Get rid of the users, losers, and abusers entirely.

Why lug around old heavy luggage?

You will open yourself up to be hit again if you don’t make changes.

Sometimes these wake up calls are because we are in the wrong place in our lives and we need the redirect.

Sometimes, as was in my case, everything was going right and was right, and external forces obliterated the plan.

There’s another plan. A different route. Ultimately a better outcome.

Better people.

Greater success.

Don’t be afraid to let go of who and what was so that you can be open to the next thing.

The best thing you can do is set boundaries around your time and energy that are firm and clear.

Start creating space in your life to move away from the negative experiences by being selfish enough to take what you need for yourself.

4.Resilient people reframe (and move forward).

You felt everything. You compartmentalized. You set boundaries.

Phew…you’re now far enough out to have some perspective.

Perspective comes after time – not while you’re in it.

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect – you’re a human, feeling, being.

You’re not supposed to respond to everything and everyone perfectly and if you’re surrounded by people who accept you on the condition that you do you need to extinguish those connections.

Looking back, the path I was on I thought was going to be big.

Turns out, I found even bigger fish to swim with.

Once time had passed and I had started to move forward, which I wasted ZERO time in doing because movement is a remedy all in itself –  I had much more clarity.

The reframe was that, yes all this happened for a reason including to protect me from worse disaster or future instability or longer endurance with people that weren’t even close to being on the same wavelength as me.

The bottom line is that I choose my life – every action – and every reaction.

No one did me any favors in this time of my life – rather – they took the value of what I gave them all and used it for their favor.

I still focused on providing value to the people left with me and to my work as a whole.

When you’ve done you’re own work, you know the value you bring to every area of your life.

These events don’t cripple you or leave you bitter and wounded.

They strengthen you.

You are not some meek little creature that needs big people to show you how to live or redirect you in your life.

You choose.

You know who you are and are unwavering in that so you don’t second guess your motives, intentions, behaviors, and value.

You check yourself like everyone else, but you don’t take false blame or indulge in toxic victim mentality.

You know when you’ve done wrong and when you haven’t and you only own one of them.

Beyond that, you have the confidence to stand in that and know that anyone worth a second of your time doesn’t question any of your character or integrity either.

It makes life simple.

And it makes you impermeable to these game changers.

Reframe and then look immediately forward.

5. Resilient people are not reactive people.

In your reframing look around at the people still there and the opportunities still present.

Take what you can learn from the events in your life good and bad but don’t get stuck in reflection.

The bottom line is… you can’t control everything and you certainly can’t control anyone.

People are unpredictable. Even good people.

Maintain control by choosing your own response and always moving forward.

Choose healthy ways to process emotion and rational ways to respond in ways that are aligned with your values.

Being reactive means you don’t have perspective, or control.

It means you’re responding based on initial emotion and possibly fight or flight mechanisms alone.

Reactivity breeds drama and regret.

Choose your values in advance and live by them consistently, especially when people are unfair to you.

Especially when things blow apart.

That’s when the true measure of your character – and anyone else’s – comes out.

Leave disappointments behind with grace and some class and dignity.

Being reactive is effortless. You engage, or you flee. 

It’s kneejerk. And it’s an epic lack of emotional intelligence and self control.

Running away from people when you’re overwhelmed is childish.

Leaving a wake of bewilderment in your wake as you bulldoze others to get what you want in life is a bully move.

Learn to press the pause button before allowing the activation to mobilize you into fight or flight.

You’re not being chased by a lion so settle down.

Take a break, a walk, a workout, a freaking breath and get a hold of yourself.

(Like Cher in Moonstruck where she says “snap out of it!” as she smacks Nicolas Cage across the face).

Being a healthy, resilient grown up, means you are unwavering in your life for what you can control.

Which is you.

You aren’t looking for a rock – you are the rock.

You aren’t looking for revenge or payback, your success and ability to move forward and leave pain behind is revenge and payback.

Don’t become hard and bitter or like the people that have hurt you as a defense mechanism. Don’t shut down or out because it’s too hard. Dig in and do the work on yourself so that you can take a hit and keep going without having it change WHO YOU ARE. It’s the only way you can stand tall in the midst of the garbage that can fly around you. Become better and kinder at the same time. Resilient people manage and process their emotions. Resilient people choose their behaviour as aligned with their values and aren’t reactive. Resilient people keep moving, undeterred. And they rise up faster because they aren’t anchored by the weight of their own sulking.

If you’re not there yet – the good news is you can get there. Check in with the right people to do the work. Decide how you want to be able to handle life’s crushing blows. How do you want to say you go through this challening time? Then choose accordingly to support that.

by Tara Miller

Psychotherapist & writer. Helping you live your fullest life using neuroscience based SRT (Self Regulation Therapy). Specializing in general and trauma therapy.

2 thoughts on “How To Maintain Control Through Life’s Disappointments and Other Crushing Blows

  1. Daniel Olexa, CCHt says:

    You’ve outlined one of my favorite lessons from my mid-20s: “Don’t react. Respond.”

    It took me a while to fully process just what that statement meant and the power that it held.

    Reactions are fine if you are dodging a bullet, punch or baseball.

    Responses are a better choice if you are dealing with emotional, mental, spiritual or personal issues. Perspective gained from calm introspection can create much more powerful solutions than knee-jerk replies.

  2. Gary Dashney says:

    Awesome post, Tara. This is one I’ll have to bookmark for sure! At my age, I’ve encountered very difficult times and received numerous disappointing blows. They often come out of nowhere, such as my recent cancer diagnosis. I resonated with each of your points on how to deal with these times. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *