Do Painful Experiences Paralyze or Propel You? 7 Ways to Pick up the Broken Pieces

By Jennifer Thompson


August 9, 2022

Do painful situations propel or paralyze you? I recall the time an ex broke up with me on my birthday! Yes, I never thought something like that could happen to me, but it did. I recall that painful two-hour drive home.

With this inexplicable adrenalin coursing through my veins, over the next few days, I wrote forty thousand words of my novel and almost finished it. Before this, I had completed twenty thousand words but left it for a few months — totally uninspired to continue. The pain of the breakup propelled me to write with such focus and intensity in a way that I had never experienced before. It brought sheer pleasure and a whole lot of healing.

Does pain paralyze or propel you?

Some of my most incredible moments of inspiration and productivity happen during times of tremendous emotional pain. Pain that appeared excruciating at the time but, in retrospect, seemed so dim in the rear-view mirror I wondered if it ever actually happened.

Pivoting from pain

What makes some people not want to get out of bed, paralyzed by the pain, while pain seems to propel them to discover a new sense of purpose for others?

I have experienced despair that made me wish I was no longer alive. I am thinking of one particular moment when I felt I was tired of trying. As I lay in bed wishing it was all over, I recall it being a fantastic learning time.

How do you develop resiliency?

When life throws curveballs and it takes us down, how do we get up yet again and make sense of it and move on? Better yet, how can we use that pain to propel us to a greater understanding of empowerment?

1. Reframe the event

While we can’t always choose what happens to us, we can choose how we assign meaning to the event. Just because someone breaks up with you doesn’t mean there is something ‘wrong’ with you. Reframe the breakup; maybe, you’re just badly matched.

Replace a disempowering thought with an empowering one. Instead of thinking, “something’s wrong with me” consider, “we’re just not well matched.”

Looking back, I can say unequivocally that the breakup was the best thing to have happened. But realize you’re not everyone’s cup of tea.

2. Don’t ignore the pain

One of the worst things you can do is pretend the event never happened. Because, believe it or not, it will rear its ugly head at another time.

That same partner reached out to me at another time for comfort when they lost a parent. I thought it would have been unkind to ignore them. I let them in and recognized they had never changed.

3. Learn from it

 Tony Robbins said, “there are no mistakes, only lessons.”

I had not learned from the breakup by letting them back in. But it was this time around that I finally learned the lesson. And I walked away. They made numerous attempts to reach out again, but I had learned my lesson and kept that door shut. If we don’t learn the lesson, we are bound to repeat it. And some of us take a little longer to learn those lessons.

4. Focus on your purpose for being alive

The open thing that no event or circumstance can rob you of is your purpose for being alive. You can lose everything, but you can’t lose the essence of who you are — your calling, value, and your future.

5. Take one step forward

When curveballs strike, give yourself time to recover but commit to taking one step forward. You owe this to yourself.

6. Practice self-compassion

No one can step in and take care of you the way you can. Self-compassion is a practice, not a one-off trip to the spa. Yes, go to the spa but self-care also includes how you talk to yourself, the time you take for yourself, and the boundaries you set in your relationships.

7. Reach out

Recognize you need supportive people around you when you are going through a difficult time. For example, I joined a divorce support group when my children were young. It proved to be a source of healing. If the pain you are experiencing persists, seek help from health care professionals.

Bringing it all together

Life has a way of throwing curveballs. Sometimes these can side-swipe us off our feet. Learning to develop resiliency can help us use that pain to propel us forward instead of keeping us stuck.

I recognize some of us are probably born with a greater degree of resiliency than others. And many of us could use professional help.

It takes time to heal but knowing how can help us move forward in the most empowering way we could imagine. After all, we are a product of our experiences — who we become after it is up to us.


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