Sometimes Life Just Hurts–Part II

Last week, I published the first part of this series.  In Part I, I explored the fact that, sometimes in life, bad things happen–without cause, or reason, or fault.  In Part I, I talked about some common emotional responses to life’s “random bad stuff.”  Naming our emotional response, whether it is fear, anger, hurt, confusion, or all of the above, is the first step in coping.  Finding a safe environment to process our emotions is the second step.  Today’s post is dedicated to some of my favorite suggestions for how to cope when you find yourself in the middle of a random bad stuff storm.


Identify or create your emotional safe space. The most important thing to do in response to random bad stuff is to deal with your emotional response.  Find a safe space to name and process your feelings (yes, I know that I said that before, but dealing with our emotional response to random bad stuff is the foundation of healthy coping, so it bears repeating).  There are many possible safe spaces.  You may rely on close friends and family (if necessary, refer them to my tips for compassionate listening).  You may turn to a faith community.  You may need some time entirely to yourself.  There may be a support group, where others have faced similar challenges.  You may connect online.  Or, you may work with a therapist.  I personally recommend a combination of as many of those support sources as possible.

Focus on what is under your control.  Remember that one of the things that makes random bad stuff so hard to deal with is that it is totally out of your control.  Give yourself permission to accept that and to focus on the things that are completely under your control.  If you are dealing with multiple random bad things at once, you may need to start small.  Choose to take several slow breaths.  Choose to spend five minutes outside, or moving your body, or reading a favorite book.  Be creative.  We always retain the ability to control something, even if is only the way that we relate to our own thoughts.  If you’re feeling stuck, use your support community to help with this.

Try to remember that everyone experiences random bad stuff.  In general, I tend to avoid using words like “everyone,” but so far, the only people I know who have not had some random bad stuff in their lives are children–and only some children.  We each face a measure of pain in our lives.  Pain that we don’t cause or deserve or create (and some that we do–but that’s a story for another day).  Several readers last week suggested Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which the author explores his observations as a prisoner in a concentration camp.  Another resource that was given to me during some of my own random bad stuff is Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  Knowing that you are not alone does not erase pain, but it can ease it.

Don’t disconnect from the rest of your life.  When you are feeling hurt and betrayed by an experience with random bad stuff, it can be tempting to try to disconnect, as a way to shield yourself from further pain.  Please don’t.  Disconnecting won’t protect you from pain.  It will simply reduce the chances that you have to experience the good things in life.  Try to challenge yourself to engage, show up, and reach out.  This can be tough when you are hurting.  Be gentle with your expectations–just try to engage.

I hope that these suggestions bring you a bit closer to peace with your own random bad stuff.  I’d love to hear more about how you cope–favorite strategies, resources, etc.  Thanks in advance!


Image Credit: “Pain” by iProzac via Flickr

13 thoughts on “Sometimes Life Just Hurts–Part II

  1. Dear Ann,
    These are great posts. I need to find Victor Frankl’s book. I’ve read Rabbi Kushner’s book. I really like your suggestion to remember that random bad stuff happens to everyone. One emotional response to trauma is to feel “marked” by it, even though it’s random. Support groups around specific traumas (like rape) really help with that isolation. It was helpful to me years ago to accept that some things are out of anyone’s control. My phrase for that is, “Sh-t happens.”
    Thanks for your work.

    1. Carolyn,

      Support groups can be such a powerful source of healing. Connecting with others who have shared the same trauma or loss is a wonderful way to reduce shame and isolation. I love your phrase–and I’ve used it a lot with clients. I like to say that the office is a “no censorship” zone, so clients can use the language that feels appropriate to them without feeling the need to apologize. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Lovely advice for coping with the bad stuff. I especially like the advice for creating space to process with the bad feelings. Sometimes this really gets left out or skipped over, that you need a safe space when you are ready that allow processing of all the (not always so pretty) thoughts and feelings that come up when bad things happen. And you need to also focus on what is under your control. Nice work. Best, Allison

    1. Allison,

      I think that one of the reasons therapy exists is to help hold the “not so pretty” stuff that we don’t always want to air with our friends and family. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the post.


  3. I seem to want to do investigative work when bad things are in progress. It is my belief that we continue to rotate in a cycle of difference – that which includes being in conflict with ourselves and others, where our belief system becomes damaged. There are times when I climb the mountain of “Echo” and ask why, why, why, why, why. Sadly enough, I don’t believe that all answers begin with BECAUSE. There are reasons for a lot of bad stuff, and within myself, I will admit that most of the time I have not been paying attention to the mundane and minute things in life that can knock you over. I am not ashamed to admit that I am still trying to understand love affairs from long ago. I am trying to keep track of time by having an abundance of calendars, most of them that I cannot find from running fast with no direction that includes goals. It is times like this when I have resorted to silence to read, think and find my way back to me. My alone time with self is rare from the intrusion of others, unless I refuse to answer the telephone. My focus is to gain more self discipline, and complete more task; but I notice how I like to sit and do nothing, which is creating a space for me to gather myself together from broken parts from somewhere within myself, which I do not know. My ultimate escape is MUSIC, where I can feed myself with either sadness or joy and become comfortable in that time frame. I make CD’s of my heart-broken journey in my mind. I can observe life, know that I have loved, even when it cannot be understood or explained.

    1. Dear Zorro1014,

      I really appreciate your description of the journey to better understand yourself as “investigative work.” What an apt phrase for this process. Thanks so much for sharing!


  4. Dear Ann,

    Trying to focus on one thing that we can control when random bad stuff happens is very helpful advice. For me, the most difficult aspect of that is to be able to distinguish between those things I do and do not have any control over. It helps when I recognize and accept the things I am powerless about.

    The Serenity Prayer helps me to remember to make this distinction:
    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    the courage to change the things I can,
    and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Thanks for the helpful coping tips.


    1. Andrea,

      The Serenity Prayer has been in the back of my mind as I worked through these two posts–and it’s something that I turn to often when I feel overwhelmed and need a reminder that I cannot change everything. Thanks for putting those words with this post.


  5. Ann,

    When my father died of cancer when I was 24, and a series of illnesses, then cancer, followed my mother until she died nine years later I sank into a depression I never thought would end. During that time, someone placed “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in my hands. The words from that book, and the gentle wisdom of people like you were part of the road back. And not just the road back. Life presents you with losses, some big, some small, constantly. Having the tools to find your way through the grief is what you learn.

    Something that I’ve learned and always pass on to other survivors: find an island of joy in every day, find one small thing that pleases you and take the time to celebrate it. The other day for me, for example, it was a seeing a beautiful design by a textile artist. The colors were vibrant and the composition complex. It was an unexpected and delightful surprise. Something to celebrate:)

    Thanks so much for think and all you do,

    The tips you’ve outlined are excellent. The also acknowledge the action of love in our lives. When we’re hurting we can’t often see it; but it’s always there.

    1. Dear Jody,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, your hurt, and your journey. What a wonderful gift. And I love your imagery, “island of joy.” I may steal that phrase, because it perfectly captures the willingness to see what is beautiful and be warmed by it, even in our darkest moments. It doesn’t negate the pain or the struggle, just reminds us that the pain and struggle is not the sum total.


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