A young boy came across a butterfly cocoon and brought it into his house. He watched for hours, as the butterfly struggled to break free from its encasement. It managed to create a small hole in the cocoon, but its body was too large to emerge. It tired and became still.
Wanting to help the butterfly, the boy snipped a slit in the cocoon with a pair of scissors. But the butterfly was small, weak, and its wings crumpled. The boy expected the insect to take flight, but instead, it could only drag its undeveloped body along the ground. It was incapable of flying and soon died.
In his eagerness to help the butterfly, the boy stunted its development. He did not know that the butterfly needed to go through the process of struggling to gain strength and fill its wings with blood. It was the struggle that made it strong enough to fly.
You may have heard a variation of this story before. The story above is an adaptation from Frank Dupree's book called Metamorphosis. The story reminds us that even if it's hard to cope during the struggle, we need to remember that it’s a necessary evil to grow stronger and build up our wings to take flight eventually. It becomes even more complicated when we have to witness someone we love facing adversity and resist the temptation to make it stop. Just remember the poor butterfly that never got to fly.
We all have our bad habits or reptilian brain responses of fight or flight, or some are experts at ignoring the struggle or becoming paralyzed. Whatever your "favorite coping mechanism" is, remember that no matter how familiar it is to you, it is robbing you of the chance to develop your superpower. And if you recall from a previous article (“Unleash your Superpower”), your superpowers are your gifts and knowledge that are unique in all the world. Our best course of action is to find a way to endure and eventually flourish and, like the butterfly, let the process unfold on its own terms and timeline.
Author Robert Tew said it beautifully when he said, "The struggle you're in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don't give up."
Adversity comes in many forms
Physical Adversity -- a physical disability or injury making you come face-to-face with the frailty of your body.
Mental Adversity -- a mental challenge, mental illness or chemical imbalance impacting mental health can be severely limiting and carry a societal stigma that makes it difficult to get help.
Emotional Adversity-- this stems from things that have happened -- real or perceived, creating a lack of self-confidence and self-doubt. If we become a slave to “thinking traps” that mainly exist only in our heads, we can be emotionally crippled.
Social Adversity -- debilitating social interactions can leave us scarred and unwilling to engage or connect.
Spiritual Adversity -- when someone has lost all hope or faith in the belief that life is good (hence the T-Shirts and mugs that read “Life is Good).
Financial Adversity-- one of the most visible adversities, especially when it causes loss of food stability, eviction or homelessness.
So how do you overcome adversity? I started working this summer as a mental health coach for Lyra Health and witnessed first-hand how critical it is to control how individuals frame things that happen. When faced with a crisis, it can seem impossible, at the moment, to imagine the experience will lead to growth and wings.
But adversity forces us to reach out for help, create social connections, and realize that we do not need to overcome our struggles on our own. Adversity also can help us take a step back and positively reframe the problem, which can significantly impact our ability to overcome a negative situation. Catching negative self-talk and replacing it with your highest values can help guide you through the hardship and move you toward your goal rather than undermine it.
Enter resilience, stage right
And one of the most important outcomes of overcoming adversity is resilience. Resiliency can make us feel we have a little more mastery in life. Resilience is a person's ability to bounce back from adversity and grow from the challenge. Research now shows that overcoming past adversity can help you persevere in the face of everyday stress.
The definition of resilience is a successful adaptation and recovery following exposure to stressful or potentially traumatic life events or life circumstances. Thus, it involves both the capacity to maintain a healthy outcome following exposure to adversity and the ability to rebound after a negative experience.
Tips for overcoming adversity
Here are key tips for overcoming adversity to get to resiliency sooner, learned from my counseling:
Make friends with your sense of humor. Good belly laughs release endorphins and dopamine, nature's feel-good chemical. I often say that if I don't laugh, I will probably cry, so laughing makes me feel better.
Know that adversity offers valuable insights because it’s a great teacher. When you have a growth mindset – you see fear, uncertainty and doubt as indicators that growth can be right around the corner. When you believe that growth is available, you can look forward to getting to the other side of any adversity.
Name it – studies have shown that naming your emotions can reduce their intensity by 50%. Naming our emotions can be most powerful when used in conjunction with making peace or embracing them (see next tip on the list).
Make peace with the situation and embrace your emotions. Use all your energy to propel yourself forward, not blaming, shaming or denigrating. Being focused on the wrong things like fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Live on purpose. Find and know your values because they are key to your superpowers in how they are unique to you. Values act as your inner compass and bring back the meaning of your life that frequently gets lost in your emotional response to adversity. Values help you identify what's important and act on it so you can move away from simply reacting to thoughts and emotions. They also sustain and motivate you when doing something challenging, such as experiencing a difficult emotion or being uncomfortable learning a new behavior.
Believe in your abilities to overcome. If you believe, then it will surely come. Walt Disney was fired from his first job for lack of creativity. He never stopped believing in himself or his dreams. In Roy Disney’s own words, "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
Adversity always comes bearing gifts
So, when you do finally overcome adversity, there are significant payoffs or benefits as a reward for your bravery and courage, including:
Increased empathy and a deepening of relationships
More overall growth itself – providing hope and faith in the wonder of life can trigger post-traumatic growth instead of being trapped in PTSD
More gratefulness -- it helps you realize and appreciate more of the good in your life
New skills to reframe stress at any moment, increasing overall happiness from better coping with all levels of stress
Awareness of new paths never known or considered
I want to end with words from author and poet Maya Angelou. "We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat so that we can know who we are."