What To Do When Bad Things Happen


What happens when it seems like things just can’t go right? Or when it feels like the world is piling on? What do you do when you feel attacked, perhaps metaphorically or even literally, by people or events or maybe even an institution? How do you not simply survive these experiences, but convert them and thrive instead? In this discussion Rita discusses what to do when bad things happen and shares her own recent attack. 

You can listen to the full podcast episode here, or continue reading below.

If you talked to me in January, I was smitten with a memoir written by Dr. Edith Eger, The Choice.  I’m inspired by  individuals who transcend some type of personal pain or hurt and are able to not only use it but catapult from it.

Edith Eger is a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor of the Auschwitz camp.  She’s often referred to as the Anne Frank who didn’t die, because both young girls were about the same age when they were deported to the camps. Edith survived and then became a psychologist to help others. In this book she describes her life before, during, and after her experience in the concentration camps.

The part that most intrigued me is what she uncovered on her ongoing road to healing from the atrocities she was exposed to.

Today we’ll discuss how to know when we may unwittingly be playing the role of victim. We’ll also discuss what to do when we know events or people have a hold on us, but don’t know how to extract ourselves from the feelings of victimhood.    

We can’t escape pain, but we can escape long term suffering. Pain happens, suffering is a choice.

Early in the book Edith makes the distinction between victimization and victimhood. She says there’s a choice between the two. Victimization is caused by circumstances, people, or institutions that are outside of us— things over which we have no control. Victimhood happens from the inside.  It occurs when we choose to hold on to our victimization.

We’re all likely to be victimized in some way in the course of our lives.  It can be the bully at school. It can be the raging spouse. It can be the abusive member of the family. It can be the lover who cheats. It can be an accident that happens to us. It can be an attack. These things happen.  It’s called life.

Click to Tweet
No one can make you a victim but you.

But you have a choice of whether or not you are going to be a victim to these  people, experiences, or circumstances.

How do you know you are being a victim? And what to do so you are not held hostage?

One way to help yourself convert bad experiences is to ask the question, What do I need to do to be at  peace if the situation never changes?”  The question beckons us to not rely on fixing the external environment, but instead to shift our internal story or interpretation of it.

At our most organic state, we are peaceful beings. When we leave that state, our job is to consciously break free and return back to that peaceful, centered state—regardless of circumstances.  It is only from that place that we are able to become the people we are here to be.

I have had bad experiences that seemed to happen one after the other of late.  People have asked, “Wow, how can you move through that? How does that happen to just one person? How do you traverse with grace and ease?” One of the most important paradigms of thinking that supports me to navigate when the world is piling on, is to trust that there must be some opportunity before me.  I believe everything is happening to support my evolvement.  These moments don’t always feel good, but there is peace in my faith that I am supported by something larger even in the difficult moments.  

The questions to convert your pain to meaning:

  • How does this struggle have meaning?
  • What is the opportunity, even in the difficulty?
  • How, in a strange way, is this working out perfectly for my well-being?

This past January I was attacked by two men.  One grabbed me from behind and spun me around. It was then that I saw the second man with a face mask and hat.  I can’t tell you all of the details of what they said or did. My body had a very primal, instinctive desire for self-preservation.  I focused all my resources on screaming and being heard. Getting help was my only hope. Fortunately, I was finally heard by a another man who came running. The two attackers took off in a car.  

In the days and weeks since I’ve used these questions to help me heal and re-write what could be a story that could hold me in victimhood.  For example, I could begin making life choices for myself and family based on that singular event. I could tell myself that “my kids could be next.”  “This world is in bad shape.” “I must move from connecting with others to protecting myself from others.”

In my reflection, instead, I’ve found meaning in the chaos and it helps me step up and out. For example, through my own process of healing I am learning the power of the brain and how to re-train it at a deeper level than I have preciously known.  It’s been the catalyst for bolder living, deeper work with my clients and those I lead, as well as solidifying my direction and purpose. Knowing I could die also reminded me how temporary my time is here. I’m more present and give more hugs as a result.

I will not sugar-coat it.  I don’t believe in putting whipped cream on garbage.  The event was not positive nor easy.  I’ve had moments since where I am triggered and sent back to that frightening event.  I’ve screamed anxiously in front of my daughters in Nordstrom’s when a woman opened a bathroom door.  I’ve been startled and, in turn, scared two little old ladies who ‘snuck’ up on me in a parking lot. On more than one occasion I’ve been jolted and terrified by the shadow of my coat when walking alone.  I am still choosing for the event to be meaningful. Painful as it and the events after have been, I am stronger, wiser, and more loving today as a result.

Click to Tweet
You must process your experiences.
You must feel your feelings.
You must never stay a victim.

Here are some things I’ve learned following the experience:

  1. Your body is amazing at being able to protect you. It will send the message when it is compromised:  “ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. Send all of my available resources to get me out of this situation alive.”  If you’ve ever had that dream that nothing comes out of your mouth when you scream, I’m hear to share…it will.
  2. Instead of asking “Why me?” ask “What now?”  We all have stories of victimization.  Ask the better question.
  3. Never diminish or discount your pain. If you’ve ever said, “This isn’t the biggest deal, because another person is going through  something more profound than what I’m experiencing,” you’re still playing the role of a victim.  Never deny your pain.
  4. Witness and feel your feelings.  Talk, write, scream, cry, shake, laugh. In short, practice releasing consistently and with repetition.
  5. Time doesn’t heal;  it’s what you do with the time. Long ago, if there was a painful experience, I’d replay it over and over again in my head thinking that at some point I’d  numb out to it. That eventually it wouldn’t have such an intense feeling in my body. I’ve learned that doesn’t work. It is what we do with the time that matters. It’s how we take responsibility for our next action, healing the pain and re-programming the brain.

How do you know you’re being a victim?

  • You’re focused on other people and what they’ve done wrong. We don’t need to fight our opponents any longer. We don’t need to prove that they are in error. Your attention is better served on creating what it is you DO want.
  • You know you’re being a victim if you’re asking, “Why me?” Rather than, “What now?” What is your next empowered action? That is the opportunity before you.  Look for your options.
  • You’re simply unhappy,  telling yourself it should be another way. Use that feeling of unhappiness as a messenger that it’s time for a new direction or change. In my experience, if something has happened, it was supposed to happen.

How to take back your power:

Declare, “I am taking back my power.”  “I’m in charge.” “I’ve got this.” Anything after “I am” is a powerful conductor and sends the brain a message that it is a new and different day; the vivid consistent repetition of this thought …accepted as already true… will elicit new and different behavior and a new and different outcome.

Bottom line: Do what you need to do and take responsibility for your life.  I invite you to make the choice to be free. The world needs the best you in play.

Click to Tweet
We cannot have a life free of hurt, but we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible.” ~Dr. Edith Eva Eger


Subscribe on iTunes for more tips, tools and inspiration to leading the optimal vision of your life, love and leadership. Remember, a half version of you is not enough. The world needs the fullest version of you at play.

Listen on Apple Podcasts


About Rita Hyland

With over 20 years of experience as an executive and leadership coach, Rita helps leaders — emerging and established — excel in corporate and entrepreneurial environments.

Through her coaching programs, private coaching and masterminds, Rita shows leaders how to win consistently and create the impact and legacy they desire.

Central to Rita’s work is the understanding that you will never outperform your current programming, no matter how strong your willpower.

When you learn to use Rita’s proprietary Neuroleadership Growth Code, a technology which uses the best of neuroscience and transformational psychology to hit the brain’s buttons for change, YOU become both the solution and the strategy.

Rita believes if leaders were more clear about how transformation really works and more intentional about creating what they want, their impact, success and influence in the world would be unstoppable.

Her mission is to end talented, hard-working and self-aware leaders spending another day stuck in self-doubt or confusion and not contributing their brilliant work and talent the world so desperately needs.