After interviewing many successful women who not only survived but excelled following personal losses, serious health issues or tragedies, I found their crisis recovery and survival methods carried hope and lessons of success for all women.
The process used by these women to gain strength and overcome adversity is three fold. Without being able to state the mental mechanics of their recovery, descriptions of their actions and end results are the same. Through their actions, they became survivors.
Immediately following a serious blow to their existence, that moment, in a heart beat, when everything changed, the initial response was shock and disbelief. Instead of withdrawing and giving up, three things occurred. Each woman was able to:
- Acknowledge their nightmare as real
- Compartmentalize the overwhelming grief
- With time, deal with each facet and move on with a passion
Each woman innately used the protective mental process, “compartmentalization.” This adaptive mechanism blunts emotional overload. In other words, they placed their shock aside, hid it in a “shock box” and went on with life. By hiding their pain, an inner strength gradually developed allowing each woman to regain control and deal with each painful issue.
A loved one dies, a frightening diagnosis is delivered, financial ruin occurs or even blindness strikes. Some life events are so devastating they must be absorbed gradually. When the initial shockwave strikes, it is much like a rock being dropped in water. At first a large splash surges upward. The splash is followed by ring after ring of spreading waves. The waves move outward becoming smaller and softer. With their initial shock buried beneath the surface like the stone, these women were able to perform jobs and care for their families; they had to. Although the initial shock and pain of the spreading waves weighed heavily on their ability to function, emotions gradually stabilized and life order returned.
Each of us experience crisis; it is part of living. Some women survive, and in the end, excel. Others collapse in despair and never fully recover. Instead, they become victims of their experiences and stagnate in depression or self-destructive behaviors. You can take control and avoid becoming a victim of your grief. You have the power.
A broad recovery base developed for the ones who found the strength to survive. Many discovered new friendships and found a passion. “What is a passion?” When you find yours, you’ll know it. A passion is a focus of enjoyment. It makes you smile even when a blur of pain surrounds you. It provides a focus for your brain and meaning for existence. You can share it, but the passion is yours alone.
Does this mean finding a man? No. If your loss is related to a failed relationship, divorce or loss of a loved one through death, it is essential you become “whole” first. Before developing any new relationship, it is essential to recover and experience who you are first. You are not the same person as before the life-changing event. There is a new you, within you, a resilient woman able to succeed without an immediate mate. After an event, you are vulnerable and a target for many men for various reasons. Entering a relationship too soon will leave you muddled and searching.
A word of caution: Internet dating sites are not for everyone. There are many sordid tales of rape, violence and thievery. When you are ready, meeting someone through a group, such as a college class, a writers group or when learning a new skill, provides a start in a safe setting and in a situation where you already share an interest. After a failed marriage, I met my husband when taking sailing lessons. I have a close friend who met a man through a personals column. He was good looking, charming, employed and—a pathological liar. She nearly died at the hands of this violent man who is now in prison. She is very lucky to be alive and is truly a survivor.
Each of us is different. Women who have a passion before a life-changing event occurs find it helps them recover more quickly. If you need a focus, consider using your life skills to help others. You may find a niche volunteering or helping others less fortunate, such as reading to the vision-impaired, helping at a pet shelter, visiting the elderly or delivering Meals-on-Wheels.
Some women helped their recovery by taking a class at the community college to learn something new, like how to make cheese, weave beautiful pine needle baskets, make jewelry, excel in marital arts, or to write a memoir. All things you may not have been interested in previously.
Daily activity is important for mental and physical health. Consider walking or hiking with a group. Try reviving an old interest. It may set you in the direction of finding your passion in a place you least expect.
We all need something to energize daily life. For me, it’s watching the sun rise and looking at an image of my granddaughter’s beautiful face before I start my day of writing. Writing is my passion, but I love walking my dog Valkyrie, reading and learning new skills, such as computer applications like PhotoShop, which feeds my interest in photography.
We can all find strength in the words and life example of Helen Keller, who at 19 months of age, suddenly lost both hearing and vision. With these profound disabilities, she learned to speak, became a prolific writer and graduated with honor from Radcliffe College. Throughout her life, she worked incessantly for the improvement of others and became a symbol of triumph over adversity. She said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Studies show people who socialize, are physically active and engage their brains learning new things every day, live longer happier lives.
Search for your passion.
Lipstick Logic /Betty Kuffel, MD