Relationships > Families > Surviving a Situation You Can’t Change

Surviving a Situation You Can’t Change

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

Blossom Tips How to Survive a Situation You Can't Change
Surviving a Situation You Can’t Change

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.


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6 thoughts on “Surviving a Situation You Can’t Change”

  1. Thank you for offering hope and advice to people you do not know or work with. I am a social worker and am not dependent on my partner for income. I was in my 30’s,when I met my partner and I liked him very much, but never fell in love. I got pregnant only 4 months into our relationship. My mother was dying at the same time and 9/11 happened. I did not have a desire to get married, but my mother made a point about family and asked me to do so. Sixteen years and another wonderful child later and I am still with a partner whom I have never been in love with. I guess, for me, it was the commitment to family. I am not a traditional Christian, but I rely on prayer. I love my children and as a family, for the most part, we (my partner and I) enjoy each other’s company. I have experienced being in love and I am very aware of the difference. I pray daily and my sense is that for now, it is best that I keep our family intact. I still have a younger child and one who will be out of high school in two years. I feel that I have been in holding pattern and almost like the sacrificial lamb for my children. My husband once came at me in an aggressive manner about 9 years ago. I knew after that day, vulnerability with this person was not an option…he claims he does not recall the incident. I documented it in my journal and two phone calls – my best friend and my father. So, here I am, a strong educated woman who plays the role of the committed wife. I know in my heart that I will never become vulnerable again with this man. He is not an evil person, just not the man that would soften my heart in a loving relationship whom I would be safe with. I am not harsh with my partner, I do not withhold intimacy and we share humor…I just know, that he will never be trusted again with my heart. Please keep my email protected.
    Thoughts? Advice?
    Thank you and god bless –

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Ann. It sounds like you’ve sacrificed a lot for your children; you love them and want the best for them! You want them to grow up with an intact family, stable home life, and two loving parents. That’s wonderful, and I have a feeling they’ll appreciate it more than ever when they have their own spouses and kids.

      What sort of advice are you looking for? It sounds like you have it all sorted out: you’ll stay married at least until the kids are on their own, you pray regularly so you have a sense of God’s will for your life, and you are aware of how you’ve decided to live at least for the next few years.

      One of my favorite “memories” of Jesus — one thing I loved that He said in the Bible — is “What do you want Me to do for you?” I often imagine God asking me that. And, I just as often have no idea!

      So, picture yourself sitting quietly with Jesus Christ. Invite the Holy Spirit to join you, to enter your heart and mind and soul. Take a few slow deep breaths. Be still for at least 15 minutes. Jesus is asking you, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

      What will you say?

      With His love,

  2. Makesyouwonder,

    “repent for having tried to be in charge of my life, and ask Him to take over, ” This is interesting. The thought of letting go, and letting things run their course, mindfully, its interesting. I dont belief in the christian god, or that Jesus saved us from god’s wrath or anything like that, or that there is a hell and unbaptized babies are damned, but still, that sounds somehow, interesting. I wouldn’t call it repenting, but realizing what is useless effort/struggle, or skillful effort.

  3. Thank you for your comments! Readers like you make my day, because I feel like someone out there actually reads and understands.

    I’m a Christian, and take your words to heart, makesmewonder. The pain and suffering in this world can be bitter, but the beauty and wonder is sweet. Life is bittersweet – but it’s easier if we find ways to survive situations we can’t change. For many people, this means spirituality. It works for me!


  4. I think that accepting the situation that you are dealt with and looking at it as an opportunity rather than something that you have to overcome is the key. Every hand that you are dealt in life is and opportunity for something great!

  5. When circumstances can’t or won’t change in our lives I think the number one thing we need to do is cry out to Jesus Christ for help. The One who made us and is in total control is the only One who can give us the grace we need to take one step at a time. I’m not saying this as if I’ve never been through anything–it comes from realizing that I will never be able to figure out the ‘why’ of the evil of this life–but I can turn in humility to my God, repent for having tried to be in charge of my life, and ask Him to take over, giving me a new heart because of what Jesus did for me on the cross by bearing the penalty for my sin and then rising from the dead for me to have eternal life with Him if I believe it did it for me.

    The pain of this world never stops till He returns and we need one another for encouragement. The one thing that gives me hope in the midst of grave injustice is that I know that I know that one day Almighty God will make things right, heal every heart who belongs to him and those who never made things right here will be be dealt with in pure justice.

    How my heart does hurt for these teens, as well for all who suffer unspeakable abuse. Thank you for your website and the time and heart you put into it.