How to Deal with Adversity
At times, we all struggle with how to deal with adversity. What can help us get through fundamentally difficult situations in life?
Adversity can take many different forms, that vary a lot depending on people’s age, life situation and particular life experiences. I’ve previously written about emotional pain, which certainly can be a very great source of adversity, but it’s far from being the only kind.
The Many Faces of Adversity
Adversity is something that can come in many shapes and sizes. Starting from relatively early ages, often in our early teens, humans become aware of adversity in the lives of people close to themselves, and often in their own lives.
Teens begin to realize that people face adversity in very different ways. As they mature, they discern that sometimes people face and grow through adversity, even when it’s incredibly severe. They also realize that sometimes individuals can be devastated by their adversity.
The question of how to deal with adversity becomes very real for them. Like all of us, they start to develop their own approaches to dealing with life’s most difficult situations, on both a conscious and an unconscious level.
How Adversity Can Take Us Down
The adverse situations in life can have a very negative effect on us. They can play a major role in addiction, self-harm, helplessness, and many other types of difficulties.
As Jungian analyst Gary Trosclair describes, we often have a response to adverse situations in our lives on two levels. He describes how the initial reaction to emotional and adverse situations is a primary emotion like anger, sadness or anxiety. What can then make things a great deal worse is a secondary reaction that can involve a strong, tense reaction that takes us to a place of defensive body postures, secretion of harmful amounts of cortisol, and generally giving way to the feeling that we’re confronting absolute disaster.
However, as Trosclair tells us, and University of Pennsylvania’s Prof. Scott Barry Kaufman affirms, we don’t have to just sit in this destructive, corrosive place. There are creative alternatives.
Creative Responses to Adversity
One possible response to the question “How to deal with adversity?” is through exploration of the creative dimensions of the Self.
Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear prominent Jungian analyst Kathrin Asper lecture on the life and work of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who used her creativity to help her deal with adversity. Kahlo suffered numerous highly adverse experiences, including polio in her childhood, a nearly fatal accident, intense chronic pain and an extremely difficult marriage. Kahlo explored these experiences through her art, and was courageous enough to let her deepest pain be the foundation of her creative work. Through her art, she was able to find meaning in her most deeply painful experiences.
It’s striking that, in his book Wired to Create, Prof. Kaufman also sees the life of Frida Kahlo as illustrating the role of creativity in dealing with adversity. As they state:
Art born of adversity is an almost universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds…. Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, and the paintings we look at—among other forms of art—are attempts to find meaning in human suffering. Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies.
Nor is it just artists who respond creatively to suffering. We can see much the same in the vast creativity of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in response to the adversity of ALS, and in C.G. Jung’s Red Book, which is a response to a harrowing psychological crisis he experienced in midlife transition.
I can’t speak for you, but I’m no Kahlo or Hawking or Jung. But each of us can still use our creative capacity as a means of answering the question of how to deal with adversity. Instead of just succumbing to the type of secondary reaction Trosclair describes, I can make the choice of searching for a creative response to my adversity. I can get very curious about my reaction to the problems in my life, and I seek different ways to respond to those situations. I can also find ways to express what I’m feeling through writing, drawing, painting, or other forms of self-expression.
Depth case studies can often greatly assist the individual in responding to the adverse experiences of life in creative, meaningful and life-giving ways.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst
© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)