I had a pleasant experience this weekend. One of my old clients checked in to tell me how she was doing. She thanked me for my insights, and I, in turn, had to thank her for the insight she gave me into my practice. Namely, emotions are to your health what a snail is to its shell. You cannot separate the two.
What she shared with me, and what many other clients have shared since, is how frustrated they feel when the old issues and pain that they thought they had dealt with come up over and over again as they progress through life. “What am I not getting here, that I can’t let this go?” is a lament I often hear.
That’s not how I see it. I see “damaging” life experiences like a difficult childhood, a controlling relationship, sexual abuse, etc, as being ultimately useful tools for insights. Sadly, this opinion of mine is not always greeted with awed whispers about my brilliance—few people actually call me on it, but you can clearly read their expressions: “How dare you imply that abuse is a good thing?”
I can’t really take that seriously because it’s a visceral reaction that occurs before the brakes of logic are applied. Obviously I’m not saying that abuse is good. I’m saying that, since you’ve experienced it, instead of feeling shame and rage and shoving it under the carpet, you can choose to look at it as a difficult period that, while not pleasant, nevertheless taught you a lot, and made you the person you are today. Emotional bootcamp.
There are experiences in my own life that previous to which I could never have understood, and afterwards can now be a fierce proponents of victims. I have been in a controlling relationship, I have worked in jobs that were toxic and occasionally abusive, I have even been sexually harassed and nearly assaulted by a person in a position of trust over me.
Before these incidents, my reaction to a victim would have been benign, but ultimately superior: Poor thing. Good thing I’m too (smart/confident/in control) to let that happen to me.
After I’d been there (and recovered) it was much easier to understand how “these things happen”. And let me tell you, when someone says in my hearing “If I were him/her, I’d never….”
ExCUSE me. If you were her, with her experience in the world, her beliefs, and had only the tools she had to work with, in her shoes you would be doing EXACTLY what she’s doing.
BUT, if you’re in the place where you look back on your experiences as something to learn from, and you’ve made the choice to move on and grow from there, and you’ve been at it long enough to see that certain incidents keep coming up no matter how often you think you’ve dealt with him, then you’re in the right place for my opinion:
You’re growing like a sweet pea, spiraling towards the sun. As you ascend, you learn many lessons. Some of the experience you’ve had have a lot to teach you, but you can’t learn them all at once. But, like a great book you reread and learn more from every time, these experiences are the same way.
I’ll give you my example. After my harassment, I had to get over the feelings of shame, the idea that I had somehow caused the incident. About three months after that, when I left my job, I had to explore whether I was doing it for my own reasons, or simply to get away from the place where I’d been attacked. The third time it came up was about a year later, when I noticed the parallels between my harasser and another person who had let me down (that is, I was very upset when I discovered that people are not always as good as I assume them to be) The fourth time it came up was right after a service rig blew down and a man was killed. He had abused his position of trust and tried to force his subordinates to perform unsafe work. Luckily they refused, and in performing the work, he himself was killed. His job was to keep his men safe, and he betrayed that trust. The man who harassed me had done the same.
The very interesting thing about this example is the realizations they represent get more sophisticated and more widely drawn as you go along. As I grow, I can draw from these experiences. I don’t have to wish them away from me, or try to shut them out of my life. I can celebrate them as being tightly packed goldmines of experience that I can continue to mine.
Which I think is a much healthier way to think about things
Non illegitimi te carborundum.