How to Cope with Tough Times When You Don’t Feel You Can Cope

22 May 2020

How do you cope with tough times when you don’t feel that you can cope? That is a problem that all survivors of an abusive relationship have to face – individually.  Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, it is an issue that we all have to face both individually and collectively.  This week, I want to look at how you cope with a situation when you don’t feel you can cope – but you know you have to damned well cope anyway.

That feeling of being stretched to breaking point

Relatively speaking, my pandemic situation has been pretty good. I hope yours has, also. Nevertheless, like most people, at times  I have felt as if all my emotional resources were stretched to breaking point.

That feeling of being on the brink of tipping over into complete and utter panic took me right back to the bad old days of my marriage. Right back to those days when, relatively speaking, there should have been so little to worry about and yet “my” Narcissist always managed to create the proverbial storm in a teacup.

What strikes me is that, no matter how different the true  order of  magnitude of these different traumas, the same principles apply in coping with the overwhelm of seriously tough times.

So what can you do to cope when you feel like you can’t cope?

1) Break the stranglehold of overwhelm.

The first thing that you need to do is break the stranglehold of overwhelm inside your own head.

Any major distress will overwhelm you and trigger an isolation narrative inside your own head. That makes things even more unbearable than they need to be.

Fortunately, since we are all more or less in a pandemic boat right now (if not the pandemic boat) we can, legitimately share a part of our feelings with others. That should help lighten the load somewhat – unless you are speaking with a Doom & Gloom monger. (If you are dealing with a Doom & Gloom monger, you owe it to yourself to terminate the conversation at the first chance you have to get a word in edgeways.)

If you don’t have people that you can share your personal abuse-related distress with, I would urge you to find supportive pages on social media, particularly Instagram.  While I NEVER thought that I would say this, I am amazed and moved by the level of mutual support that I see on my page. 9I say, “my page” simply because that is the page that I know best.) People who have never met but had similar experiences are touchingly validating and supportive of each other. That, for me, is the redeeming side of social media.

Obviously, connecting with likeminded survivors on social media is not the answer to all your needs – but sometimes just taking the edge off those with someone who can relate can be enough to break the stranglehold of overwhelm. That alone can give you a much needed chance to “reset”.

2) Challenge your own thinking.

Abuse left you facing a personal disaster of unprecedented proportions.  The pandemic has done something similar – only on a global, stratospheric scale.

How  are we ordinary, humble mortals meant to deal with monumental  disasters that remind us of our own insignificance?

Those who have been through abuse, are all too aware of our smallness in the great scheme of things.

When we abuse survivors look at major challenges, we can easily become paralysed by the thought of our own smallness. We tell ourselves a story about powerlessness. We fall into a pattern of thinking that unless our response is of the same order of magnitude as the challenge we face, it will change nothing.

It’s not a size issue

Happily, as I see it, the reality is quite different. This is one of those occasions when size doesn’t matter.  Yes, we are beings who live in a small level. However, we only have to effect small change on our own small level to enjoy a sense of agency. That sense of agency can be quite enough to lift our mood.

I believe that holds true for the tragedy of the Coronavirus as much as for the personal trauma of abuse. We cope and keep ourselves afloat by exerting some control over our personal life.

Plus, we manage to enjoy whatever satisfactions we can, even when the big picture breaks our heart. We live as well as we possibly can in whatever small corner we can.

Find your small corner

Where can you find the small corner that gives you satisfaction?

For myself, as the pandemic goes on and I mourn the loss of the world we all knew, I derive delight from making sourdough bread. My little sourdough space is somewhere absorbing and interesting – and it offers a great pay-off.

Any small space where you can feel like you, momentarily free from all the usual carking cares does wonders for your emotional health. Plus, it gives you a springboard that you can use to achieve more than you think you are capable of. Feeling good acts like wind beneath your wings.

Don’t listen to your negative thinking.  Find that small corner where you can feel like you on a good day and really inhabit it.

3) The 30,000 feet perspective.

A wise mentor of mine swears by the 30,000 feet perspective.

Mostly, we humans do this thing of zooming right in on our problems. The trouble with that is that w  lose all perspective. All we can see is the problem – or even just one aspect of the problem.

Because we are up so close, the problem assumes terrifyingly large proportions. Plus, we can’t see beyond it or around it.  That problem totally fills our field of vision.

Zooming out to 30,000 feet, on the other hand, allows you to put the problem into the overall context where it rightfully belongs.  The overall context is, of course, your life.

From 30,000 feet, you can ask yourself the really important questions like,

  • “What do I really want to achieve?” Because much as you want to resolve the problem that you started with, you want to do so in order to having something bigger and better – as in, Q. “Why is it so important to me to get closure from a toxic (ex)partner? What do I really want to achieve?” A.“So, I can finally let go, feel good about myself and get on and have a life worth living.” From 30,000 feet, it’s not hard to see that the key thing that you really want is a life worth living. The idea is that you can then shift your focus from the closure that you may never get to the truly important thing which is a life worth living.
  • What do I really have to do to achieve X, Y, or Z?” When you zoom in too close, you start to fixate on, “I kinda think I want this. But in order to get it, do I do X or Y first? And maybe I am just not able to do it anyway? And what if I fail? And… But from 30,000 feet, the question becomes, “Q. Is this thing itself that is so important to me?  What will it really give me? Or would something else work better for me?”

How the 30,000 feet perspective works

Susie is a client of mine who had to ask herself those questions to get clear about what really mattered to her.  She married too young to get much of an education. She had her children young and lost her abusive husband, young, to another woman. She told me that she wanted to be a carpenter.

Susie explained that she was practical and liked working with her hands. But when we zoomed out to 30,000 feet, it didn’t really make sense. What was pushing her was what she thought she couldn’t be and couldn’t do.  What she really wanted was a sense of meaning and fulfilment, plus security for herself and her family.

Once you know what you truly want, it becomes a whole lot easier to achieve it.

Susie went back to school, and trained as a counsellor. In addition to the security that she longed for, she created the sense of meaning and fulfilment she desired – and, somewhere along the way, found a wonderful partner who adores her.

The power of the 30,000 feet perspective is that it enables you to focus on what you really want rather than what you think you should want.

So, if you are struggling to cope in these tough times, make it as easy for yourself as you possibly can.  Break the stranglehold of overwhelm,  challenge your own thinking, zoom out to 30,000 feet – and give it time. Your life can always change quite miraculously.  But miracles can be a slow burn. They can happen overnight.  However, mostly, they happen after an irritatingly long gestation.

And if you need coaching to get through the overwhelm and  the glitches in your own thinking, get in touch.

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Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.