Adversity is one of those things in life that befall us every now and then. We all go through hard times, and we get knocked down in the dirt despite our best efforts.
But some of us have had experiences that go beyond merely difficult. I’m talking about the ones who’ve been through significant adversity.
By significant, I’m talking about things like severe health issues, abuse and trauma, the loss of a loved one, natural disasters, wars, and the like. Events that truly test – and at times, even break – the human spirit.
Such struggles may seem unfair – in an ideal world, no one should have to go through such hardships.
But the human spirit is strong. When faced with significant adversity, it develops certain strengths and traits that help us rise above.
If you’ve had such kinds of struggles and overcome them, you probably have these 9 traits:
The first and perhaps the most evident trait is resilience. If you’ve faced significant adversity, you don’t easily crumble under pressure.
You know why? Because you’ve learned how to bend, not break.
One great example of resilience is Malala Yousafzai. Imagine being shot in the head for speaking up for a cause dear to your heart. That would be enough to break anyone’s spirit, right?
I don’t think I could be as resilient as she is. In fact, as much as I hate to admit it, I’d probably shut up after that!
But Malala was thankfully not as easy to fold as I am. After she recovered, she was back at it and continued to speak out for the right to education. And the world is so much better for it.
That’s the kind of bounce-back people like you, who’ve been through tremendous adversity, are capable of.
Obviously, you don’t get to bounce back if you don’t have a certain rubber-like trait to you.
Elasticity. Flexibility. Adaptability.
Remember Bear Grylls? The British adventurer who had a face-off with nature and all its fury in his TV show “Man vs. Wild”?
He famously said, “Survival is about being flexible and adaptable to new situations.” And this: “Adversity is the mother of all adaptation.”
It’s true, isn’t it? When our lives are cushy and comfortable, we don’t really learn how to adapt. And that makes us soft in terms of survival skills.
But if you’ve been through significant adversity, you know just how it feels when life is all kinds of uncomfortable. No, not just uncomfortable but downright excruciatingly painful.
Take losing a loved one, for example. How do you learn to live without someone you loved dearly?
You grieve. You figure out how to live without them. There’s a hole in your heart that may never go away, but you adapt and go on.
That doesn’t mean you simply push your feelings down and soldier on. Just like anyone else, you feel the pain and process it. That’s also why you have this next trait…
Having gone through pain and hardship, the curious thing is that you’re not hard yourself. On the contrary, you’ve developed a deep sense of empathy.
Your struggles have made you able to genuinely understand and feel for others going through hardships because you’ve walked that path yourself.
You feel a kind of kinship with anyone going through a tough time. So, when someone shares their troubles with you, you truly listen and offer support.
That’s because adversity has shaped you to see how we’re all the same, despite our social and cultural differences.
How, at our core, we’re all simply human beings trying to keep our heads above water.
What else has adversity taught you? To be real. Raw. Honest.
When you’ve been through a lot in life, you learn how to drop the mask. You’ve grasped that life is short, life is hard, life is precious.
And so, to live even just one day pretending and playing games…it’s unthinkable. It just doesn’t fit your narrative anymore.
Adversity changes us in ways we would never have thought of. Who has time or energy to put up a front when you’ve just been through something so mind-blowingly difficult?
5) Growth mindset
When you’ve overcome adversity, you also know that knowledge is power. You wouldn’t have pulled through without learning from your mistakes.
And like I said, you figure things out so that you can go on with your life. If you didn’t do this, you’d stay stuck, wallowing in self-pity and perpetually feeling like life is unfair.
(Well, yes, it is, but those who overcome adversity accept it and move on.)
This perspective doesn’t just set you up for success but also creates a life filled with continuous learning and exploration.
In fact, research shows that people become more open to new experiences after going through a major stressful experience.
That’s just one more evidence of how the human mind is so powerful – we can stay positive and open-minded even after going through something terrible!
It’s also proof of this next trait…
Ah, tenacity. It’s what separates the strong from the wallowers.
If you’ve been through significant adversity, you’re the type who can dig your heels in the next time the going gets tough.
Because you’ve learned that you can survive.
That you’ve been through fire and come out the other end, maybe singed, maybe with a few second-degree or even third-degree burns…but still whole and fighting.
You chase your goals with a determination that can only come from having faced and conquered difficult challenges.
In your mind, you think, “Well, what’s this compared to what I’ve been through in my life?”
And you’d be right. Because one precious gift that adversity has given you is perspective – which allows you to be purposeful and persistent in whatever lies ahead.
7) Sound judgment
Speaking of perspective, another trait you have is the ability to use sound judgment.
In short, wisdom.
Your encounters with adversity have taught you valuable lessons:
- You know how to discern between the genuine and the superficial.
- You understand that not everything comes easily or immediately.
- You know how to adapt, like we discussed earlier.
- Your experiences have made you more open-minded.
- You know how to see the good in every situation.
- You’ve developed the capacity for reflection.
All of the mistakes and tough decisions you’ve had to make have honed your judgment skills.
I’m willing to bet that people come to you for advice. Your wisdom shines through, and they know you’ve got insights they need to hear.
It’s precisely why folks like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou became such strong voices in the world. Their trials in life have left them with so much depth and wisdom!
8) Appreciation for the little things
Strangely, an offshoot of having faced down huge, monstrous, life-altering adversity is that you now appreciate the little things.
Or maybe that’s something we should also chalk down to your depth and wisdom.
As I mentioned earlier, going through a terrible event changes your perspective. You see just how the small highs that we normally dismiss can bring us so much joy.
I remember when I was stuck in the hospital for a month for a surgery gone wrong. On top of worries about my health, I was under so much strain from the thought of my mounting medical bills and of losing my job.
But you know what? What surprised me most was that I was thinking about the little things. In fact, I made a list of all the things on my mind that I was missing. To name a few of them:
- Eating brownies and drinking coffee
- Sitting in my garden
- Walking in my neighborhood after dinner
- Holding my kids’ hands
And laughing! I couldn’t laugh because I’d tear my stitches apart and I was in so much pain, and I truly, truly missed it.
So yes, that’s one thing my own adversity taught me – that when the chips are down, the small things feel much sweeter.
And also this – that sometimes, you’ve just got to have…
9) Faith and hope
In the face of adversity, it’s common to question one’s purpose or the meaning behind the suffering.
Faith can provide answers or, at the very least, a perspective.
Whether it’s faith in a higher power, in the goodness of humanity, or in oneself, faith does one important thing: it provides stability. It’s something to hold onto when everything around us is heaving and shaking.
And hope? It keeps our spirits up. Gives us something to look forward to at the end of the tunnel.
If you’ve overcome significant adversity, you know just how important these two traits have been in your journey.
When you’re going through an especially tough time, it may feel like the end of the world. You might even feel like there’s no point in going on.
But I’d like to remind you of the wondrous spirit in you that, if you let it, will grow stronger and more resilient from these challenges. Enough to carry you through the fire.
As good ol’ Rocky Balboa said, “Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”