How To Deal With Negative Experiences In 2 Steps

How To Deal With Negative Experiences In 2 Steps


16 May 2015


Have you ever had a wonderful day abruptly cut short by a negative situation? Or maybe you’re stuck in a funk because you can’t let go of something that happened a few months ago? While it is impossible to erase undesirable situations from our past nor prevent them from occurring in the future, we do have the power to control how they affect us. Today I'd like to share one tool that I’ve personally used to turn negative situations into positive ones and take back control of my emotions.

"Is the glass half empty or half full?"

We’ve all heard this saying but it still rings true. Let's imagine that two people lose their jobs.  Person A could see this as a devastating blow to their career. On the other hand, Person B could see this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves and pursue the passions that they had bottled up for years.

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It's your choice

As you can see, both Person A and B experienced the same situation but drew different conclusions. What does this tell us? The first is that every experience we go through does not actually have meaning. The only meaning that they have is the one that we attach to it. While these meanings are shaped by our beliefs, values and past experiences, we can actively manipulate them to produce more positive conclusions.

I for one, would rather see opportunity, even in the most unsettling of days, rather than despair, as it is more constructive to living a happy life. And we all want to be happy, right? So that brings me to the next question - how do we make that choice? How do we actively turn negative experiences into positive ones?

Reframe the situation

  1. Think of a negative experience that happened in your past
  2. What good came out of it?

Write it all out and take a few minutes to think about it.

In my case, I looked back at all of my past relationship failures. The weeks after were always miserable. Even if the sun was shining brightly outside, life felt as bleak as a winter’s night. Eventually I decided to reflect upon what had happened. By asking myself about what good things had come out of the break ups, I realised that they had given me the opportunity to learn about myself - both the good and the bad - along with a lot of great memories that I could reflect upon in my later days. This helped me to grow into a more mature individual who could make better decisions in future.

If you have trouble identifying a good point, have a think about what you learnt from the negative experience. More often than not, they are nature’s way of teaching us a life lesson that we can use to overcome future challenges.\

An example from Viktor Frankl

Now you could argue that losing your job or breaking up with a partner is child’s play in comparison to some of the truly sad stories out there. However, Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote the iconic book, Man's Search for Meaning, was successful in applying reframing techniques to his patients in even the most extreme of circumstances.

Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?:”

“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”

Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering – to be sure at the price that you have now to survive and mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.


Viktor Frankl, 1946, Man's Search for Meaning