How Do We Deal with Setbacks?
Gary Egeberg

(An excerpt from The Pocket Guide to Inner Peace)

The process of resolving an inner or interpersonal conflict or handling an emotion that we have struggled with for many years or decades, such as anger or fear, in a healthy manner is one that frequently entails making progress and suffering setbacks.  We usually feel excited and pleased with ourselves when we make some surprising progress and discouraged and disappointed when we regress or backslide.

When we do suffer a discouraging setback, it tends to feel like we are back at square one, but that is almost always not the case.  The progress we have made prior to the setback is real; it is not to be discounted or negated, though our feelings of disappointment, shame, or remorse and our subsequent loss of perspective may try to convince us otherwise.  One key indicator that we have made and are continuing to make progress is that the setback will not keep us down for very long, not nearly as long as it may have in the past.  Progress is evident after a setback or moment of regression or failure when:

*   We quickly apologize or make amends to the person(s) we may have harmed.

*   We spend less time and energy beating ourselves up and forgive ourselves more quickly.

*   We regain our perspective and see our setback as a setback and nothing more than that, and certainly not as anything that detracts from our value as a human being.

*   We assess what factors were at play in our setback, such as feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, and try to recognize these warning signs in the future.

*   We recall specific times and situations in the past when we had a taste of success in this particular area of struggle or difficulty.

*   We are able to poke a little bit of fun at ourselves and not take our moment of regression with such deathly seriousness.

*   We realize that we are neither alone nor unique in experiencing setbacks, but simply an imperfect and mistake-prone human being like everyone else.

*   We extend the compassion to ourselves that we would to another person if he or she had suffered a similar setback or moment of failure.

For instance, if we have recently lost our composure (which happened to me just the other day when I was discussing religion with someone), we usually feel disappointed with or even ashamed of ourselves (Why did I let that happen?  I should have recognized that our conversation was going nowhere and either agreed to disagree with this person or changed the subject!).  Our inner critical voice may be champing at the bit, as mine always is, to put in his or her two cents worth.

But as is often the case, a setback or regression of some type precedes or paves the way for even greater progress.  For some unknown reason, a setback almost always seems to be necessary at times in order for our next growth spurt to occur.  Perhaps we have another significant lesson to learn.  Or maybe we need to be reminded that whenever we react in familiar counterproductive ways, such as yelling, the silent treatment, blaming, retaliation, and the like, we are setting ourselves up to suffer inevitable feelings of remorse or shame.  A setback, though often painful, is not without potential redeeming value, for it frequently paves the way for a comeback and gives us the momentum to grow more than we would have had we not suffered the setback.  Go figure!  Personally, I would prefer to make significant progress without having to suffer setbacks, but life doesn't usually seem to work that way.


When you get into a tight place and everything goes
against you, till it seems as though you could not
hang on a minute longer, never give up then,
for that is just the place and time
that the tide will turn.

Harriet Beecher Stowe


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