The Blog

How To Bounce Back From A Sucky Situation

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The Vortex, I call it.

Everyone has one in their life (at least one)--a time when you are tested in seemingly insurmountable ways and the weight you're carrying feels as if it's spiraling you continually downward.

Maybe your Vortex was when you were 13 and a parent suddenly died.

Or 24 and you found out your sister had breast cancer and you got fired, both in the same month.

Or 29 and discovering you could not have a child.

Or 42 and going through a divorce.

Or 51 and happily retiring, only to discover playing golf all day was a formula for depression.

My Vortex lasted about a year, during which time so many bad things happened, I kept waiting for a Candid Camera crew to appear from behind the planter in my living room. First, the real estate broker, real estate lawyer, and moving company I hired found sneaky ways to rip me off. Next, a longtime business buddy hired me to package new groovy chocolate bars, then never paid me.

But those were nothing compared to the lowest point in my Vortex: a sexual assault--which came out of nowhere--by someone I knew as an acquaintance.

After my sexual assault, one of the main things keeping me in a negative place was this uncomfortable feeling of "victimhood."

It felt particularly weird to be in a so-called victim position, because I am an optimistic self-help book author, not a helpless little twig being tossed topsy and turvy in the winds of uncontrollable fate.

Is that melodramatic of me to write or what?

But that was how I felt after the assault--out of control. I became anxiously aware that anything could happen to me at any time. And this sense of not being in control over my life created a lot of anxiety.

Later, as I began researching resilience psychology (for myself as well as a book on this subject), I discovered some interesting studies about this subject of "control."

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that the number-one contributor to well-being is not money, good looks, or popularity! No, the biggest life goodie is "autonomy," defined as "the feeling that your life--its activities and habits--are self-chosen and self-endorsed."

Studies at the University of Michigan confirmed that "Having a strong sense of controlling one's life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any other objective conditions of life."

In one famous study, researchers randomly gave mice either cheese or electric shocks. The mice did everything they could to avoid the shocks and get more cheese, but when they figured out that their actions had no effect, they lapsed into a state of passive listlessness. When they were eventually given the choice (autonomy) to avoid the electric shocks or get more cheese, the mice were so bummed out they just lay there, choosing not to do anything at all!

Similarly (but with better results), psychologist Judith Rodin encouraged nursing home patients to exert more control in their lives by motivating them to make a few key changes to their environments (to decide if the air conditioning should be on or off or how furniture should be arranged). Rodin also pushed patients to request changes in various nursing home policies, which they subsequently received. As a result, 93% of these patients became more alert, active, and happy.

It just goes to show that, unlike a mouse, we homosapiens are lucky to have this thing called "consciousness." We know better than to give up, even after our autonomy has been challenged.

Meaning? If right now you're feeling so sideswiped that you're tempted to do nothing but lie around, sleep late, and watch TV--don't! Instead increase your feeling of autonomy by increasing what psychologists call your "internal locus of control," the power you have to make easy, small changes.

Here's how it works: Today create three deadlines for new projects and three exciting events to be shared with loved ones. Mark all 6 of these plans down on your calendar. Then do these things and meet these people in a timely, efficient way. Establishing deadlines--then meeting them--will absolutely help you to start to feel like the feisty, kick-ass dominatrix of your destiny that you know you are!

For more information on bouncing back, visit Karen Salmansohn at and check out The Bounce Back Book.