Sometimes you can get a new job, leave a bad relationship, or even move to a new place. But how do you survive a situation you can’t change? These tips won’t make your problems disappear, but you’ll see you’re not alone. And you may find some strength and hope for your journey forward.
On 7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents a She Blossoms reader said she hates her life but can’t change her family situation. Here’s part of her comment:
“Sometimes people have to endure the pain and just go through life because the situation can’t change. I can’t get help and there’s no solution. I hate that I have to be with my mom every day. I’m sorry if this sounds like a rant. I feel like when I write to someone, I feel better. No one can ever know at school or in my family that we have problems at home. I always want to be seen as someone who has everything together. I like it that way. Anyways, I bet your tips can really help others. I feel helpless and stuck here, and could use some ideas on how to survive a situation that won’t ever change.”
She’s right: sometimes you just have to learn how to make the best of a situation – survive – because you’re unable or unwilling to make serious changes. Maybe you can’t change your life because your children, pets, elderly parents or even a group of people is depending on you.
Even though you can’t change your situation, you can learn how to survive. You might even find ways to see through the struggle, pain and grief to a bigger purpose in your life. Maybe surviving an unchangeable situation is about digging deeper into who you are and why God created you, instead of changing your external circumstances. Or, maybe you have to prepare to survive a season of sadness after breaking up, or move through grief after someone you love dies.
How to Survive a Situation You Can’t Change
There are no survival tips that work for everyone; our situations are different, unique, and complex. So are our personalities, lifestyles, choices, dreams and future plans! And what may have helped you survive a situation you couldn’t change last year or ten years ago may not help you through today.
To truly be a survivor, you need to explore different ideas and possibilities until you find what works for you. Your situation may never change – or it may change in a few weeks, months or even years. How will you survive? It depends on how curious you are about your own life!
Know you are not alone
In Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, popular advice columnist and bestselling author Cheryl Strayed describes her past job as a youth advocate for teenagers. She worked with abused, neglected girls; her job was to help them not get pregnant, not get locked up before they graduate, and get a permanent job at Taco Bell or WalMart.
In her book Strayed described the “ghastly, horrible, shocking, sad, merciless things” her girls repeatedly experienced. One girl’s grandpa molested her every weekend. Another girl’s mom’s boyfriend held her face under ice-cold running water outside in the back yard in November, and locked her out of the house for hours. Yet another teenage girl slept outside in a falling-down woodshed in the alley while her mother drank and raged all night long.
“I called the state’s Child Protection Services every day, and no one did one thing,” writes Strayed. “Not one person. Not one thing. Ever.”
So, Strayed tried something different:
“I told her it was not okay, that it was unacceptable, that it was illegal and that I would call and report this latest horrible thing. But I did not tell her it would stop. I did not promise that anyone would intervene. I told her that the situation would likely go on and she’d have to survive it. That she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like f*ck away from every bad thing.”
Learn the art of bouncing back (resilience!)
Strayed realized she couldn’t change the girls’ external environments. So, she tried to teach the girls resilience. She decided to help them learn how to survive situations they couldn’t change. She stopped trying to change the system, stopped calling Child Protective Services, stopped fighting what could not be changed. She started trying to help the girls build resilience and internal resources so they could survive their childhoods.
Sometimes we can’t change our family, our friends, the environment, or the community. Sometimes the only thing we can change is ourselves. Even if we have to survive life with an angry man because we can’t leave, we can learn different ways to fight for ourselves.
Let yourself be vulnerable
Most of us want to appear strong, capable, even perfect. We care what others think and we want them to believe we have it all together. Remember my She Blossoms reader’s comment at the beginning of this article? She likes people to think she has no problems. She refused to tell anyone how hard it was for her to survive her home situation. I understand and respect her feelings…but the older I get the more I learn how important it is to reveal our true feelings, thoughts, situations and lives.
Reaching out to others and letting them see us for who we are is the only way to truly come alive. Being known and vulnerable isn’t won’t just help you survive an unchangeable situation, it’ll unite you with others in stronger, deeper ways.
Taking risks and being curious are two ways I survive situations I can’t change. How about you? How have you survived past situations that you had no control over?
For more ideas, read Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken.