Traumatic experiences should be left in the past

Painful pasts should not inhibit people from living full and happy lives
Friday, April 11, 2008 | 4:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:50 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Dwayne Stone

A man left his abusive father at the early age of 14. He decided that he was no longer going to put up with nor did he deserve the brutal, daily beatings and other abuses he suffered at his father hand. So as a hurt, angry and resentful young man he left and tried to make it on his own. However, the man’s life after his emancipation continued to be turbulent and stressful. His relationships were marked by discord and his business and vocational pursuits were failures. Likewise, his health was often poor.

The same man, at 58 years old, came into my office angry and resentful and dissatisfied with his life. He often would talk about his father’s failings and how that translated into his own failures and struggles. He would recount the loss of opportunity and achievement in his life because of his need to work at an early age and his lack of education while with his father and after he had left. For weeks, he related his anger and resentment towards his father and the burdens his father’s abuse had placed upon him. The client believed that his own low self-esteem and failures were a result of his father’s abuses and disregard. I finally asked him why he had left his father and how long he planned to keep his father’s spirit with him. I asked, “When does it become your life again?”

I have run across people that seem to resent their own lives. They complain and blame things and people around them no matter what they are doing, whom they are with or where they are.

Many adults have suffered a truly difficult childhood or traumatic event in their lives. These circumstances truly cut to the bone of who we are as an individual and beckon us to lose our individuality to the trauma. However, there is another way to be after the trauma we experience.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of us are thin-skinned. We can’t tolerate hearing any criticism of our choices without considering a lawsuit of some kind. Freedom of speech applies to the dynamic of listening as well as speaking. Just as one can choose to speak, one can choose to listen. In fact, I daresay that outside of the common talking to oneself, to be on any kind of soapbox or in any limelight and speak without listeners.

We should tell people when they say things that we don’t like and then we should stop listening to them or buying their products. We should not put them on pedestals. We should ignore them, not give them prime news time or sue them for what they say. That is what thin-skinned people do. They get their feelings hurt and want someone else to take responsibility. I know that some offensive words are rooted in past intolerable injustice. But if you want a better tomorrow you better give up hope for a better yesterday.

Healing from a traumatic event or series of events requires that we remember our life is supposed to be independent from the traumatic events that end up in it. Most of us look for and find ways to defend ourselves from trauma because we know that they are not part of us. We often leave, divorce, disassociate, abuse substances, etc., to separate ourselves from the events or people that hurt or abuse us. However, even after removing ourselves from the abusive circumstances or environments, we still carry with us the spirit of the abuses.

It begs the question, Hey, who’s life is this anyway?

Dwayne Stone of Columbia has worked in the mental health field for more than 18 years in both public and private agencies and private practice as a counselor and life coach. His columns appear periodically in the Weekend Missourian.

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