Returning to resilience after emotional pain or being triggered

Life really comes in hard sometimes. Losing people through death or break up, financial anxiety, health problems, conflict and failure can all leave us reeling. Then there’s the cumulative effect of small things seemingly going wrong, one after another, leaving you with a sense of “what’s the point?” or “What am I doing with my life?”


Our reactions are dictated by our inner world - while one person might be upset at failure, the pain is manageable and doesn't feel like suffering, whereas for another it might feel like the end of the world. The difference here is how resilient we are. Not in terms of being able to grit your teeth and get through something or force yourself to ‘bounce back’ quickly. But the resources that you have to make yourself feel safe, accept and understand the impact of your past and find a way forward that works for you.

An example that we can probably all relate to

Let’s take the example of breaking up with a partner. Whether you’re breaking up with someone or being broken up with, it’s never going to be easy. But for some people, this can be a process of time and space, leaning on friends and staying with the hard feelings. For others, it can feel like being thrown off a cliff and continuously falling. Unsafe, terrifying, the end of everything. The difference is (in really simple terms) what’s in your head. 

That could be an abandonment wound from childhood that makes breaking up with an adult partner feel like the destabilising equivalent of being left as a powerless child. It might be the hopelessness of a narrative that says on repeat “I’m too old/ugly/unlovable", "no one ever wants me", and "I’ll be alone forever.”

It could be fuel for a harsh inner critic that uses it as evidence that nothing will ever work out and you should just stop trying. It could be a feeling of desperation because you just don’t have the tools to cope with emotional pain so it doesn’t feel survivable.

Or it might be that the vulnerability of a break-up triggers past PTSD. In this context, two people going through the same break-up can have very different experiences.

Acceptance and clarity to be more resilient

I think it’s easy to be hard on ourselves if we don’t seem to have the coping skills that others have. And the ‘what it takes to be more resilient’ narrative can be used as a false standard that can feel punishing here - as if the aim is to rise above emotion (it's not).

So, the first step when you’re experiencing emotional pain or being triggered is to accept that it’s happening - and allow that to be OK. What I mean by that is to avoid adding a layer of shame on top of what is already a very painful experience by telling yourself that you shouldn’t be having this reaction, that ‘other people’ don’t do this or by comparing yourself to people you know who dealt with it differently (or seemed to).

There is no gold standard for dealing with emotional pain - and once you stop and lovingly accept that it’s the combination of your life experiences so far that are causing your reactions, and not some fault in you, then - and only then - can you actually start to do things differently. Because that is the ultimate aim of acceptance. This is not about surrender.

It’s about using acceptance as the baseline from which you start to make different choices - and to rise.

4 tips to be more resilient 

1. Remember you never stopped being resilient

Sometimes resilience is being able to calmly navigate a difficult situation. Sometimes it’s allowing the messiness of an emotional reaction and being shown what needs healing.

If you want to be more resilient, the goal isn’t to eliminate anything that’s not pretty from your life - or anything you think someone else might judge you for. It’s to have a compassionate, flexible inner world that can help you to remain kind, nurturing and proactive for yourself in any situation. Big, messy reactions are inherent in being human - they can be the consequence of love, hope and taking risks. It’s what you do next that counts. 

2. Forgive yourself for what you did in survival mode

We do what we feel we need to do to survive when our world is being rocked by pain. No one has entirely healthy coping mechanisms and we all do things in these moments that made sense at the time, but may make us uneasy afterwards. Shaming yourself at this point (research shows) makes it harder to recover. It’s easy to get stuck in the idea that you need to punish yourself for something you did to stop you from doing it again. But that’s not how this works.

Multiple studies have found that we are more likely to repeat behaviours where we feel a lot of shame around them (including one study with prisoners who were more likely to re-offend if they felt a lot of shame). Self-compassion and self-forgiveness enable resilience because they are the antidote to shame - and mean you can let go of what happened.

3. If you feel overwhelmed, focus on the next 24 hours

...Or just the next one step. Emotional pain and a triggered response will usually come in waves. It’s not a single, tidy reaction where you can say “OK, I’ve done that and I’m over it now.” You might feel OK and then totally overwhelmed again a few hours later. The key here is not to look for a single, big, feel-good solution. Instead, consistently do small things for yourself that will be helpful, even if they don't feel like they are making a difference at the time.

4. Do the basics

When you’re in pain, it can be easy to get so consumed by it that everything else ceases to matter. Whether that’s eating, looking after your body or connecting with others. Those things can also feel difficult in some situations, depending on how you react to pain - for example, we all tend to isolate ourselves when we feel low and some people may struggle to eat. If you tend towards having a freeze response in times of stress, then you might find that you don’t move your body for long periods of time.

When there is a lot happening emotionally, it’s a good idea to return to the basics physically. Not just because it will help when you are ready to move forward but because these basics can contribute a lot to your brain health - which is often at the heart of what we think of as mental health. Go outside. Exercise. Eat nutritionally dense food. Get hugs. Drink enough water. Talk to someone you trust. Make space for your emotions. Put your phone down.  

Time for change

Holding yourself safely through emotional pain or being triggered is a big part of what it means to be resilient. Evolution is another. Moments like this can be really useful for showing you where you are trapped in a mindset that is making life harder for you. Or where there is still work to do on events from the past. This is a huge opportunity for change - to move from a reality that feels like survival to one where you navigate emotional pain differently and where joy, connection and thriving are really possible.

Resilience coaching will help you with every aspect of this, from grounding tools and practices to navigating the hard moments, to releasing the narratives and habits that are keeping you stuck and unhappy. It can be an emotional experience but it’s also very practical - designed to give you momentum and the chance for real progress when it comes to moving onward and upward in life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP cert coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She works with resilience to help clients build confidence, recover from burnout, be assertive, set boundaries, find joy and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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