When Tragedy Strikes: What to do When Your World Has Fallen Apart

Greta W. Crosby

Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives.


This Is Not How Things Were Supposed to be…

I’m assuming you’re here right now reading this because a tragic event has taken place in your life. The world has decided to throw you a curve ball, and it’s hit you hard and fast on the side of the head — knocking you flat on the ground.

You might be thinking that things weren’t supposed to be this way. That this wasn’t meant to happen — that it couldn’t happen to someone like you. It all just seems so unfair. But whether you like it or not, tragedy has paid you a visit.

On the surface, it seems as though there’s very little you can do. I bet you kind of feel helpless and clueless about everything right now. You feel as though you have no control or influence over the situation. In fact, the only reasonable response that makes any sense at all is to suffocate yourself with self-pity.

You wonder how things could have been different if… if only you did this, said that, or didn’t make that unfortunate decision. Or, the events and circumstances you face, possibly have nothing to do with your choices or decisions. They were simply out of your control.

Right now you just feel like curling up in a ball and hiding away from the world. It kind of seems as though the world is coming to an end. There is no future, and there is no hope for a better life. Things can only go downhill from here, right?

During this difficult period, the one thing that might give you a little solace and comfort is the fact that many other people are also dealing with a personal tragedy. Some are even facing similar struggles, while others face even greater tragedy than we could ever imagine.

Millions of people the world over are currently dealing with setbacks, tragedy, divorce, poverty, illness, death, loss, debt, and injury. They are doing their best to overcome these challenges, but of course, it’s never easy. However, there are countless stories of people who have used a tragedy as a catalyst for positive change.


Using Tragedy as a Catalyst for Positive Change

For every 100 stories of defeat, where people have given up all hope, there is a story of someone who has used a tragedy as a catalyst for positive change.

These individuals have used their horrible experience as a tool for personal empowerment — for building their inner strength and character. Moreover, they have used a tragedy to create new opportunities that help them move forward in better ways.

These people have successfully overcome tremendous odds, great suffering, destruction, crime, misfortune, accidents, and Cataclysm. They have overcome worse tragedy than what you’re experiencing right now. Not only did they overcome it, but they also walked away with greater clarity, new perspectives, insights, and a renewed spirit. They turned tragedy into triumph.

These remarkable people have overcome tremendous odds because of their enduring hope, faith, mental toughness, and resilience. They consciously decided that tragedy wasn’t going to get the better of them — that it wasn’t going to take their life away. And so they committed themselves to thinking about their life and circumstances in ways that helped them find their feet again.

This, of course, wasn’t easy. It’s never easy. When the world is falling apart around us, it’s tough to see the ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. However, that’s exactly what we must do if we endeavor to move forward and use a tragedy as a catalyst to make positive changes to our life.

But, how exactly do we do this? How can we develop the mindset required that will help us to overcome any personal tragedy we might face?

Everyone Experiences Tragedy


How We Respond Makes All the Difference

In a 1961 Reader’s Digest article, Charles Edison, the son of Thomas Edison, who is one of the greatest inventors of all time, mentioned a fire that engulfed his father’s plant on December 10th, 1914.

That fateful morning, 10 buildings went up in flames in a chemical-fuelled inferno that destroyed everything that Thomas Edison had been working on for many years.

Charles was in awe of the fire but mentions that his father calmly walked up to him, and in a child-like voice he told his 24-year-old son, Go get your mother and all her friends. They will never see a fire like this again. And when Charles objected, his father told him, It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.

Thomas Edison was later quoted in the New York Times as saying that, Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow. And that’s exactly what he did. He immediately began rebuilding the next morning, without firing a single employee.

What does this teach us? Edison certainly could have responded to this tragedy by yelling and cursing at the world, but would that have helped him in any way? Certainly not. He responded in the only way he could that helped him make the best of a horrible situation.

After surveying the damage, it was estimated that Edison had lost $US23 million dollars in today’s currency. The fire had completely consumed everything he had been working on over a lifetime. All his prototypes and records were burnt to a crisp. The plant’s insurance only covered about a third of the damage.

However, Edison didn’t allow that to phase him. He rallied all his employees and in the following year earned $US10 million in revenue. And it was all because of the mindset he adopted on that fateful morning when his entire business was burning to the ground.

Things certainly would have been very different if he had responded to the circumstances in a negative way. If he had chosen instead to react like most people, he would undoubtedly have fallen into a depressive state. In this scenario, do you think he would have gotten himself back on his feet again so quickly? Probably not. Maybe, not even at all.

How many people have been in a similar situation and failed to respond to it in an optimal way? How many times have you been in a situation where you could have responded like Edison did back in 1914? What then, might have been possible? What could you have accomplished simply because you chose to think about your circumstances a little differently?

Thomas Edison


Let’s Make a Few Assumptions…

It’s clear from Edison’s story, that when experiencing any kind of tragedy, it all comes down to perspective. When we take on the right perspective, it opens up opportunities. On the other hand, when we adopt a limited viewpoint of the situation, we lock ourselves away from using these circumstances as a catalyst for positive change.

With this in mind, let’s make a few assumptions about tragedy…

When tragedy strikes, let’s assume that things are a certain way. Let’s assume that tragedy helps:

  • Test your resolve, creative capacity, and adaptability.
  • Awaken hidden wisdom and the necessary insights and awareness needed to accomplish your life’s purpose.
  • You develop the necessary strength needed to prepare you for the journey ahead.
  • Bring about new perspectives and learning experiences.
  • You connect with people you would never have reached out to.
  • Challenge you to find hidden lessons that can help you move forward in a better way.

Let’s now also assume that tragedy is required:

  • To help build your character.
  • To open doors to unexplored opportunities, new beginnings, and more nurturing and fulfilling paths.
  • To close doors that could lead you down undesirable paths.
  • To help you avoid making future mistakes that could cost you even more than what you appear to be losing right now.

Let’s assume that tragedy occurs for your benefit. In fact, let’s assume that it happens for a good reason. A reason that you might not be aware of right now. However, in the future when you take the time to connect all the dots back to this very moment, you will finally see how all the pieces are intertwined. You will finally make sense of all the adversity you have faced and how that has shaped your life and character in a positive way.

Taking all these assumptions on board will influence your expectations of seemingly undesirable situations. Your expectations will then have a direct impact on your belief systems. And when you start believing that your assumptions are the truth, that is when you will begin adopting the mindset that Thomas Edison brought forth into the tragic events that destroyed his business.

The Value of Experiencing Tragedy


5 Steps for Making the Most of Tragic Circumstances

Here, within this final section, let’s break down a five-step process you can use when tragedy strikes. Use these five steps to help shift how you think so that you can make the most of the circumstances you face.

Step 1: Face the Brutal Truth

Okay, something tragic has unexpectedly happened. Instead of cursing, complaining or indulging in self-pity, make a conscious effort to face the brutal truth of your reality. What has happened, has happened. Resistance at a time like this will not be helpful and might possibly make the situation worse than it is.

You need to accept your predicament wholeheartedly without reacting in anger. Yes, you might not like what has happened. In fact, your life might absolutely suck right now. But it could suck even more if you don’t handle yourself appropriately.

Remember, that no matter what happens you always have a choice in how your respond. You can either react negatively to the situation, or you can detach yourself from these circumstances and observe what happened objectively.

When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in our emotions. When we do, we can quickly fall prey to our addictions. Alcohol consumption, pill popping, or an over-indulgence in food will not help the situation. Yes, it might temporarily mask your pain and help you forget about what just happened. But, how long will that truly last? How long until you have to wake up to the reality of your situation?

Instead of falling into addiction traps, choose to stay level-headed and detached from your circumstances as best you can. From this place of detachment, spend a little time asking yourself the following questions:

What just happened?

What does this mean?

How does this affect me?

How does it affect others?

What are the wider effects?

What are the short and long-term effects?

These questions will help you gain an understanding of the brutal truth of the reality you find yourself in. Possibly things are not as bad as you make them out to be, or maybe they are worse. Either way, it’s important to take stock of where you are and the effect that this has on your current life and circumstances.

Step 2: Take a Moment to Settle Yourself

Asking the previous set of questions probably wasn’t easy. It’s tough to come to terms with a tragic event that has just rocked the foundations of your life. But, it’s moments like these that shape and builds our character.

What you do next, will either make you stronger or take you down a spiral of depression and despair.

In order, to stay level-headed, your first objective is to take a moment to forgive yourself and others. What happened might or might not have been under your control. It might or might not have been the responsibility of others. However, this is no time to blame, to deny what happened, to feel dejected, or to start pointing fingers. Immediately stop yourself when your inner voice goes on a rant…

Life’s just not fair.

I’m just so stupid that I let this happen to me.

I can’t believe this just happened.

This is not my fault. I’m not to blame. Why??? Why me?

I can’t keep going on like this.

My life completely sucks. I suck, and probably completely deserve this.

I don’t understand why this always happens to me.

I always lose the things I care about most.

I’m worthless and undeserving of a better life.

Instead of going on a rant, choose to forgive and take responsibility for the predicament you find yourself in.

Take a moment to separate yourself from the circumstances. Take a moment to be alone with your thoughts to settle your emotions, your anger, disappointment, and frustrations. Now acknowledge:

Okay, what happened, has happened. What’s done, is done. I forgive myself for any mistakes, and I also forgive others. I accept responsibility for what happened, and I will deal with these circumstances in the best way I can.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Things are how they are. Let’s just accept the fact that life is unfair. This, however, doesn’t mean that we give up hope and do nothing that could help us move forward in a better way.

It’s, of course, easy to feel defeated, dejected, and depressed at this very moment. If you feel this way, then you need to immediately gain a fresh perspective by separating yourself from this energy.

To get a fresh perspective, reach out and talk to someone you trust. Ask them to be encouraging and supportive. Ask them to give you hope for a better future. Ask them to provide you with input that will help you feel better about your predicament. This person needs to take you out of your own head and into another space — they need to open your mind to a world of possibilities.

Alternatively, separate yourself from “yourself” by taking a jog, a cycle, or a swim. Just get out of your own space and travel to another place where you have freedom to move and to detach yourself from your own thoughts. Light exercise can help put you in a much better state-of-mind.

To take this a step further, proactively seek out inspiration and guidance within books, blogs, movies and documentaries. Simply taking the time to read some stories or quotes about how people have successfully handled tragedy can immediately help shift how you think about your predicament.

The idea here is to get yourself into a better place emotionally, mentally and physically. Once you are in a better place, you will naturally create the mental space you need to think things through in a rational and objective manner.

A Process for Dealing with Tragedy

Step 3: Gain Proper Perspective of the Situation

Now, that you have settled yourself and created the space you need to see things with a little more clarity, it’s time to start gaining a proper perspective of the situation.

One of the best ways to do this is to view your tragedy as an obstacle that needs to be overcome. See it as a challenge that has been put before you that tests your resolve and helps strengthen your character. The stronger your character, the greater your level of resilience when facing adversity.

However, to truly gain a proper perspective on the situation, you need to start thinking things through in an objective and rational manner. To do this, ask yourself one single question:

What is this tragedy trying to teach me?

Possibly, you have a lack of experience or knowledge to fully understand the predicament you find yourself in. Maybe you need to be more adaptable to the changes in your life. Or perhaps, you need to prepare in some way to help you better deal with these circumstances.

Just maybe, this tragedy is a wake-up call. It might very well reveal that help is required, or that you need to work on developing your inner resilience and strength. Or maybe, you just need to start taking better care of yourself. Sometimes, all it is — is becoming aware of things we need to let go of, such as unhelpful thoughts, habits, and beliefs.

Whatever it is for you, take the time to listen deep within yourself for the answers that can help you gain the clarity-of-mind you need to move onward from this tragedy.

Now, that you are in a more receptive state-of-mind, ask yourself some additional questions that build upon the question you asked above:

What’s the true value of this tragedy? What’s the silver-lining I hadn’t noticed?

What are the hidden lessons that I must become aware of?

What is this tragedy forcing me to do that I have been avoiding?

Who can I now help as a result of this tragic experience?

What does this tragedy help me see that needs changing?

How could this tragedy potentially become a catalyst for positive change?

What can I learn from this that can help me create a better future?

It’s important to keep asking these questions until you reach a point where you start getting a sense that this isn’t the end, but rather the start of something different, and potentially better. You simply need to choose to start walking down this new path.

Step 4: Know Your Intentions and Options

Now that you have opened the door to future possibilities, it’s time to gain some clarity about your intentions and options for moving forward and creating a better life for yourself and others.

It’s important that at this stage you stay focused on moving forward. No longer should you spend time on looking back at your past. What’s done is done. The past is no longer something we can control. However, the one thing we do control is what we do at this very moment. And that should be your primary area of focus.

The key to making this step work for you is to start cultivating a little curiosity. Actually get curious about future possibilities, then spontaneously take small actions in that direction. Follow your gut and see where it takes you. However, be very careful not to make huge life altering decisions just yet. Be patient with yourself and take small steps that can help you move forward in a better way.

To help you think this through, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I want to make of this whole situation?

How can I make the best of this situation?

How must I adapt moving forward?

What kind of future would I like to build for myself?

What opportunities, options, and possibilities might this future hold for me?

How exactly do I envision that future coming about?

How do I see myself being and living in that future reality?

What key decisions will I need to make right now to start bringing that future to reality?

Remember, that your future is what you make of it today. It all starts at this very moment. The decisions you make right now shape the life you will live one day, one week, one month, and many years from now.

Step 5: Take Proactive Action

The final step of this process is to take immediately proactive action to bring your future to reality.

Within the previous step, you took the time to design a better future for yourself. You are now using this tragic event as a catalyst for positive change and transformation. It’s therefore now time to take consistent, proactive action that can help move you in that direction.

Moving on from a tragedy, of course, isn’t easy. But if you commit yourself to taking small daily steps — commit yourself to making small daily improvements — you will eventually build the momentum you need to carry you forward to a better place. A place where you will find the space needed to live life in more optimal ways.

Guidelines for Overcoming Tragedy


Concluding Thoughts About Tragedy

We all know that life is unpredictable and uncertain. What we have today, can be taken away the very next day. How we expect things to be today, may not be how they are tomorrow. Life served us well yesterday, but may not favor us in the future. Life is a cocktail of unexpected adventures. It’s a roller-coaster ride that unexpectedly turns and twists when we least expect it.

Sometimes tragedy will strike and turn our world upside down, but the very next day it could turn into a blessing in disguise.

In the 1994 film titled Forest Gump, the title character said that:

“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The book, Norwegian Wood, by Hauki Murakami (1989) expands on this idea in the following way:

“You know, they’ve got these chocolate assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don’t like as much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. ‘Now I just have to polish these off, and everything’ll be OK.’ Life is a box of chocolates.”

Now imagine that life is that box of chocolates. There will be chocolates you like and don’t like. But to live a full life, you will need to eat the full box of chocolates.

Some of these chocolates will be painfully disgusting and will undoubtedly make you sick. But this pain is only temporary. Just reach out and choose another chocolate — reach out for another experience. That is a choice you are always free to make.

And so, my parting question for you is:

What type of chocolate will you choose to eat today?


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

When Tragedy Strikes

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.