Almost overnight, my sweet elementary school friends became the “baddest” girl gang at Pioneer Middle School. For no apparent reason, at least that I could see, I was their lone target. They cornered me between classes and after school. They mocked me and left cruel notes in my locker. For months, my muscles were tense, my stomach hurt and tears surfaced without warning. I lashed out at my family for dumb things and blamed God for letting me suffer.
Maybe you can relate. You probably have your own sad story. A crush rejected you. You didn’t make the team. Your friends posted selfies at a party where you weren’t invited. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with the emotions these situations trigger.
It’s OK to feel negative emotions like anger, grief, disappointment and discouragement, but it’s not healthy to dwell on them. Not dealing with these and other feelings may cause you to believe lies about yourself. On the following pages you’ll find some proven methods to develop resilience, move past defeats, dilemmas and disappointments—and coming back emotionally healthier.
Hurt or harm?
When you’re physically injured, your doctor diagnoses the problem and sets up a treatment plan to help you regain your health. In the same way, when you experience a distressing situation, you might need a diagnosis of your emotional wounds and a plan for leaving the anguish behind.
Counselor and author Tim Sanford says that most emotional pain fits into one of two categories: harm or hurt. Harm describes a major event with long-lasting or even permanent damage, such as a severe emotional trauma or a significant loss. Hurt, on the other hand, is a smaller event or problem that is painful for a time but usually doesn’t cause lasting damage. If you’re unsure whether your pain fits in the harm or hurt category, the best step is to talk with your parents or a trusted adult. They can help you decide whether professional assistance is needed for you to heal.
Most struggles—like breakups, friend problems or disappointing tryouts—fall into the hurt category. You may feel crushed, but the experience doesn’t disable you emotionally or cause permanent harm. Chances are, you won’t feel upset about it in five years—or maybe even a few weeks from now.
But if hurts are “smaller” problems, why do they feel so devastating and overwhelming? Tim suggests that we may blow problems out of proportion because we’ve developed unrealistic expectations about life. After all, our culture tells us we deserve safety, comfort and freedom. We need instant food and instant messages. And we should pursue fun, happy and pain-free lives at all costs.
These messages encourage us to place our hope in flawed ideas that give us a false sense of our worth. When they fail, we feel blindsided and lost. We may even feel that God has abandoned us. But what we’re believing isn’t the truth. So first we need to understand what the truth really is.
Jesus warned His followers not to “store up . . . treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19, NIV) because these things can vanish. Friends, possessions and popularity will all eventually disappoint us and can never satisfy us. If we want to overcome disappointments and avoid misery, we must learn to trust God’s big picture—His plan—rather than our short-term desires. Our identity will then rest in Jesus’ love for us and His plan for our lives.
Winning the mind game
In the depths of disappointment, it’s easy to replay toxic thoughts about ourselves and others. It takes discipline to listen to God and let Him renew our minds with His truth. The Bible contains so many verses about how much He loves us.
The Psalms are all about trusting God through hard times. Try praying through them. You can even personalize them. If you’re reading Psalm 23, you might say to God, “Thank You for being my Shepherd. Help me trust in Your goodness and mercy.”
Sometimes our thoughts get so jumbled we can’t explain what we feel. That’s what Casey experienced after her boyfriend dumped her. Thankfully, a teacher showed her a feelings-wheel chart, which helped her identify her emotions by name. When Casey started to verbalize them to her family and friends, they gladly came alongside her to support her. She no longer felt alone in her struggle.
Besides talking to God and the people who love you, focus on what you can control. You can’t change other people’s behaviors or make them like you—but you aren’t powerless. You can control how you respond to your circumstances, how you express your feelings and how you treat others—develop resilience. No one else’s opinion changes who you are in Jesus or how much God loves you.
Ever wonder why some people get trapped in their pain and misery, while others bounce back? Tim says the key to recovering emotionally from the setbacks we experience in life is developing a resilient mindset.
“Resilience isn’t about denying the depth of pain and its ongoing impact,” he writes. “Instead, it’s about learning from and growing through adversity—about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Take Liz, a freshman who didn’t make the soccer team. She was disappointed and shed some tears. But after assessing the situation, she set a goal to drill three times a week for the next year. Liz impressed the coach and made the team as a sophomore.
Resilience doesn’t always come naturally. You train yourself to think positive, truthful thoughts. You repeatedly challenge yourself by doing hard things and you preplan how you’ll respond to setbacks. Sometimes you need to take deep breaths to clear your mind and then give yourself lots of grace. Bouncing back from heartache is done one step at a time.
When life catches you off guard, assess the situation, verbalize your feelings, focus on what you can control and lean on your Father’s love for you. By adopting a resilient mindset, you can put your hurts behind you and continue growing stronger as you press on toward the goal God has set for you (Philippians 3:13-14).
The best is yet to come, my friend. Jesus says so in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Ask for help
If you or someone you know is dealing with a tough situation, Focus on the Family is here to help. We invite you to reach out to one of our licensed or pastoral care counselors. Call 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mountain time or go to FocusOnTheFamily.com/GetHelp. Telling us you’re a Brio reader will help us connect you with the best person to assist you.