4 P’s for Finding Your Way Through the Darkest Times
By Harriet Cabelly, LCSW
Dark times are inherent in our lives. They don’t skip over the good guys or the lucky ones. At some point those difficult and blackened times hit us all. We don’t, however, get to choose when or how darkness falls upon us. Just as the earth revolves around the sun, we are put into the sunlight of day and the darkness of night. We obviously don’t control this force of the natural world. We do, however, get to control and choose how we respond to our adverse times and events in our lives.
Here are some ways we can use our inner resources, yes, our choices, in navigating our way through the inevitable dark times that will find us as we circle our globe of life:
1. Permission: We need to allow ourselves to feel all our emotions. Permission to feel is a benevolent act we can gift ourselves. It’s only when we embrace those uncomfortable negative feelings that they begin to lose some of their toxicity and loosen their strangling grip around us. Not heeding their outcry only gives them more power to uproot us later on. So we cry it out in the shower with the hot water pouring down, adding to our stream of tears and eventually washing them away, for now.
2. Patience: Being patient with ourselves is a form of self-compassion. As we know, patience is a virtue; we need to use it with ourselves. The more we push against our difficulty and our uncomfortable feelings, the more it keeps coming at us. Going into the pain of our dark times is what enables us to come through it, as counterintuitive as that may seem. So we need to hold on and be patient with ourselves as we would to another. Self-talk such as, “This is really hard right now but go easy on yourself, be patient and you’ll get through step-by-step.” We normalize, “I just want this to be over, it’s too hard” by saying to ourselves, “Yes, of course, but I can do this one day at a time.”
3. Perseverance: We need to stay the course during our challenging times. As hard as it is, we need to find the hope in the feelings of hopelessness. Winston Churchill’s famous line says it all:”If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And remember, it is a choice here in how we respond. Finding the small bits of joy can keep us afloat. Write a list of things that bring you joy, as small as smelling lavender, and then go and incorporate one or two into your daily life. Watch that movie that makes you laugh; laughing is a good respite that enables us to return to the difficult reality with a bit of added fuel. We look for ways to fill our bucket so we can persevere.
4. Purpose: Our purpose here is what gets us up in the morning, what gets us out of bed. (It’s not the existential purpose of our existence here on earth.) Having this as a guiding light can be a great coping tool because it keeps us connected to something beyond our challenging situation. It provides a function where we can feel useful and productive. When I was ready to prematurely return our foster puppy dog because of his naughty and unruly behavior, I focused on my original purpose in taking on this project to begin with. It was to give back and do something worthwhile for people with disabilities as this was a program that raised and trained service dogs. Reconnecting with that larger purpose and cause strengthened my resolve in resuming the work it took to train our little pup well. When we are clear and focused on our purpose, it can an help us stay afloat through those dark times.
We have what it takes to navigate our challenging times. We may fall for awhile but we don’t have to stay fallen. We can rise up again. We must believe that and hold onto hope for easier and lighter times. A longer scope and a wider perspective are needed. And while we’re mucking through it all, giving ourselves permission to feel lousy, being patient and good to ourselves, persevering and staying connected to a purpose beyond our daily difficulties can carry us through to brighter times.
Harriet Cabelly is a clinical social worker and positive psychology coach. Regaining one’s footing after a critical life situation is a journey Harriet takes with her clients as they cope and grow through their grief and loss, guiding them towards rebuilding their lives with renewed purpose and joy. Visit her website, https://rebuildlifenow.com/ to learn more about her work and to receive some free chapters from her book, Living Well Despite Adversity.