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When Adversity Strikes – Use It for Growth

By Harriet Cabelly November 18, 2023 Mindset

Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Let’s not just get through the difficulties of our challenges and our adversities, let’s grow through them. Otherwise, what a waste to have them!

The old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is one of the wisest truisms to live well by. Once we unfortunately get them, let’s use them towards enhancement. We can look to turn pain into new purpose and meaning so that our challenges don’t make us smaller; so that we don’t succumb to them but rather we expand around them.

When life throws us an out-of-left field curve ball, we are knocked over in disbelief and shock. Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, we stumble and flop down and wobble our way to eventual standing. Unlike Mr. Scarecrow, who gets restuffed and then is good as new, we have to cope and work at it before we regain some sort of footing.

A Life-Long Child Issue

When I found out that my middle daughter would have life-long neurological issues, intense bitterness, anger, and a brick of sadness that sat crushing my heart brought me bumbling into a therapist’s office. ‘Why me?’ was my embittered rumination. ‘Why bad things happen to good people?’ became my existential perennial question.

I was stuck in the muck of profound grief; grief over the loss of the normal, healthy baby that is naturally every mommy’s dream and expectation. When that bubble is popped with a diagnosis that would entail a very different type of parental roadmap and a different type of child, adjusting to a new reality becomes a work in progress.

Another Health Crisis

Fast forward to a more recent adversity in my life: being told I had a large mass sitting on three organs. And I had gone to the emergency room thinking I was dehydrated and simply needed fluids. The unexpected diagnosis had me in stupor.

Once I started treatment for a ‘better’ cancer than was originally thought, I went along more like the Tin Man, without much feeling. That’s what shock can do sometimes, numbing one’s heart. My guidepost here, much like a horse with blinders, was putting one step in front of the other, looking straight ahead to what’s right in front of me and doing what I had to do without much thinking or feeling.

No turning to Google to look up side effects and end up with all of them, or statistics to compute my case, or anything else. Just keeping on keeping on.

Post Traumatic Growth

In the middle part of my life between these two major challenges, I studied positive psychology where I learned the concept of post traumatic growth: change and growth that can be experienced after a life crisis. It’s important to know that this is possible. It is then something to go after which is life-enhancing.

I always had a proclivity towards the idea that I have to do something with what I’ve been given; that the way to live well despite our challenges is through growth.

Picking up the pieces and resuming never sat well with me. Something good must come out of the bad. All living things have a natural inclination towards growth, but when something terrible happens that brings us to a halt where coping is our main task, what we must do to keep afloat, the idea of growth is out of our purview…. for the time being.

It’s when we settle into our situation, when the acute critical period is over, that we can look to reflect and evaluate. New terrain, new landscape requires new seedlings, new plantings, new growth.

There are actually five areas of growth that have been determined to be indicative of post traumatic growth:

Greater Appreciation of Life

Do you appreciate life in a new way? Feeling more gratitude? Reveling in the ordinary? Deciding to live more fully engaged?

Improved Relationships with Others

Have your relationships deepened? Are you seeing more of the good in others? Are you looking to spend more time with loved ones and prioritizing relationships?

New Possibilities in Life

Are you looking to do different things or opening up to new ideas? Are you seeking new opportunities to enrich your life? Are you daring to step out of your comfort zone?

Personal Strength

Do you recognize your strength in how you went through the difficulty? Do you feel a sense of self-pride? Are you more willing to tackle difficult things knowing you’ve done it before?

Spiritual Change

Are you examining your beliefs and values about things? Do you feel a greater connection to something beyond the self? Are you questioning your place here in this life – your purpose, your existence, the meaning?

These are some signs that growth is happening.

What I Learned

Through these two major life crises, I have to say my life has become much richer. I have taken on life with a greater sense of urgency, am more intentional of living into my values and what’s important to me, have a much greater zest and enthusiasm for life and oh so much more.

I used to want something big and concrete to show for my trials and tribulations, like starting an organization or foundation. But what I’ve come to see is that my growth has been more internal in the way I live my life. Now that I learned this model, I see so clearly my growth in all of the five areas.

My learning has skyrocketed as I wish I had five lives to live and learn and do all that I’d like. My new work is now on my inner world, doing a deeper dive into myself (with an amazing Jungian therapist), getting at those old cobwebs of past hurts, disappointments and resentments, and replacing them with newfound inner healing.


Let’s Have a Conversation:

What life trials have you faced? Are any of the recent? Have you tried to pick up the pieces – or to grow from each adversity? What strategies have you tried that worked for you?

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Thank you!!! I love this attitude and your way of using problems to grow.

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Nancy, Thank you for sharing your complementary words here. Glad you like.

Fern Goodman

Curve ball thrown at me, crushing my beliefs. I always believed the mind was the most powerful organ and that my parents are together in the cosmos and would never allow anything bad to happen to me. Lived in gratitude everyday and spread humor to everyone.
THEN I had spinal surgery four weeks ago and had a rare complication-bladder and bowel incontinence. My mind never held a shred of a negative outcome, maybe my parents prevented something worse from happening, but I don’t know how to navigate through this.
My surgeon doesn’t think it’s permanent, says 6 months to a year for nerves to heal, but he doesn’t know.
Everyday there are more complications from the complication. My husband of one year is not the caregiver type and I have no close family support.
I’m grateful that I’m mobile, but there doesn’t feel like a glimmer at the end of this tunnel. No treatment, just daily tribulations.

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Fern, Boy, this is a real curve ball out of the furthest left field; the one that really knocks you for a loop. For now, it’s one day at a time, one step at a time. Try to focus on the day at hand and how you can make it bearable for yourself; what small bits of pleasure can you incorporate into your day. Thinking too far ahead can feel overwhelming and anxiety- producing. And look for the smallest sliver of goodness each day. Wishing you to cope well. Once you come through this, your real growth work will begin. And you will be a better version of yourself.

Fern Goodman

thank you for your response. I appreciate you.

Harriet Cabelly

Fern, You are most welcome.

The Author

Harriet Cabelly is a clinical social worker and positive psychology coach. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through their critical life-changing circumstances, guiding them towards rebuilding their lives with renewed meaning and purpose. Visit her website, and sign up to get free chapters from her book, Living Well Despite Adversity.

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