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How to Recover When Life Crushes You

Life provides suffering, healing requires help.

Whether you saw it coming or not, the feeling is the same: You’re devastated. You gasp at your vulnerability and wonder, “Why did this happen?

Life has many hardships: heartbreak, illness, injury, death, and abandonment. Though we may share similar experiences, every hurt is personal. No matter how often well-meaning people say, “We understand,” they don’t. You may even resent them for trying.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve sat with many wounded people. I witness their pain and do my best to make space for it. Even when they cry out, “Why did this happen?” I try not to engage in reactive comforting. When someone is deeply hurt, advice or quick answers always feel false, even insulting.

Suffering as a Teacher

After nearly 25 years of practicing psychotherapy, I’ve learned that when you’re viciously knocked down by life, don’t get right back up. Like tripping and falling, you have the impulse to rise and start moving again. But ignoring a severe injury will make it worse. Pain demands attention and must be acknowledged and embraced before you can move on.

Amanda’s Story

When I met Amanda, she had just suffered one of the worst wounds: the death of her young child. In individual sessions, she sat in silence for weeks, detached and stoic. “Tears won’t bring my daughter back,” she said flatly as she continued working at a finance job that she resented and avoided her grief.

When I asked her to attend one of my adult groups, she scoffed, “Pointless.” But, with a bit of prodding, she agreed. “I’ll do it for you,” she sighed, “But it’s a waste of time.”

When asked why she was in therapy during her first group session, she exhaled and replied, “My daughter….

Suddenly Amanda couldn’t speak. She couldn’t find words. She struggled to swallow her grief and choke down her tears.

It was a mistake to come here. Sorry.

When she stood up and gathered her belongs to leave, an intuitive woman reached out and said warmly,

I lost a child too.

Suddenly Amanda fell back into her seat and let her tears flow. She cried long and hard, gasping for air as the group made room for her pain. In the weeks that followed, she looked forward to group sessions. With the group's help, she slowly realized that the best way to honor her daughter was to find a new way to embrace life.

What to Do After You’ve Been Emotionally Hurt

I count myself among the heartbroken. I have nursed the dying, lost loved ones, and suffered heartbreak. I have cried alone on the street, in my office, sometimes with friends and family, and sometimes with patients. I tried to dodge heartache, but, like everyone, it eventually found me. It’s one of life’s cruel certainties.

How to Support Your Healing Process

1. Honor Your Pain. Avoidance of pain increases it. To heal, you must pass through the doorway of grief. Emotional wounds are beyond “sadness”; they’re felt in the depths of your being. Honor your pain; don’t run from it. Unplug, put time aside to reflect, and permit yourself to grieve. If well-meaning people push you to “Get over it,” ignore them. Time and patience are crucial to recovery. Surround yourself with friends who understand that.

2. Reach Out. Being alone is part of healing, but extended periods of isolation are unhealthy. Deep pain always brings out personal demons, such as blaming yourself, embracing victimhood, or bitterness. Such choices breed entrapment, not freedom. Reach out to friends, find support groups or twelve-step programs, and seek comfort in prayer, meditation, or philosophy—whatever brings you peace of mind. Instead of longing for a miracle, create one.

3. Take a Break. Taking a break from your pain and engaging in healthy compartmentalization is essential. Everyone finds relief in different ways. Some find it creative activities such as writing, reading, music, art, or movies. Others find it in movement such as dance, hiking, long walks, etc. Choose a task that allows you to escape by stepping into another reality, even if only briefly. Don’t fret: Your pain will await you when you return, but you’ll be better fortified, rested, and ready to face it.

4. Learn from It. I’ve heard that the road to wisdom is paved with suffering. Reflecting, exploring, and pondering, without self-attack or blame, opens you up to greater understanding and compassion for yourself and others. An attitude of learning will help you unearth value in the experience. You may also discover a curious new freedom: Recovering from emotional trauma or heartbreak makes you stronger, wiser, and more resilient.

5. Move On. Some people allow suffering to define them, shape them, and ultimately rob them of living. Many years ago, I was invited to a wedding between two widows in their 90s. Every person who attended was deeply moved, not by the service, but by the couple's spirit to keep living. After you give yourself time to grieve and mourn and reach out to others for support and make space for your recovery, you have to decide: Will you allow emotional pain to hold you back, or will you choose to use it to propel you in a new direction?

Years after finishing her group therapy, Amanda phoned to update me on her life. She left her bank job and acquired a degree in early childhood education. She was working at the elementary school that her daughter was to attend before she died. When I asked Amanda how she felt, she replied, “I still miss her. But I have so many children to care for now. I like to imagine that my daughter, wherever she is, is very proud of her mom.

If you would like more, please visit my website.

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