Personally, I am deeply challenged by a self-help industry that sells the idea that our life experiences make us who we have become because I’m just not convinced it’s true.
Concern Number 1
The first concern I have, is that it sets us up for more pain and suffering. If the way we become nice, caring, and loving is to suffer then we MUST have more suffering to continue to grow into nicer, more caring, and more loving individuals. Or that if we haven’t had some kind of pain, we aren’t the best we can be yet. When it’s said like that, it makes no sense at all, but it is part of our cultural and religious conditioning.
And let’s be realistic, when people say “Yes but look at who you’ve become because of that experience” they aren’t really meaning you are meant to suffer. People just want to focus on the positive outcomes but what it sounds like is we’ve only become who we are because of that experience and that we should be grateful for it.
Concern Number 2
The second concern I have is that we associate our personality with a painful event – we’ve become like this because of that. Our pain becomes our story. There are two parts of this that bothers me. Firstly, that it gives no credit to our personality. It also gives no credit to how we have chosen to deal with that painful event.
The second part is that is doesn’t acknowledge the struggle we went through to end up okay. It doesn’t celebrate our tenacity, our resilience, or our determination to overcome a situation. It denies the spiral down we all go through when hurting before lifting ourselves back up again.
Why the Concerns?
The reason all this concerns me is because it is what real life is about, and by denying it, we are denying sharing, celebrating, and teaching others about reality. This leaves onlookers thinking there must be something special about those who do grow beyond their traumatic events or the reverse, that it is expected that we all miraculously become better people from our pain.
We need to teach the skills of managing life, especially the painful, yucky stuff. Instead, what society does is it plays down positive transformation or locks people into never recovering from negativity.
What I know about myself
Here’s my truth – who I am today is who I have always been. In between I have had Human Seminal Plasma Hypersensitivity. I have lost great love. I’ve been a passionate teacher working in a disadvantage secondary school that simply couldn’t support the changes in the education system that I believed would further disadvantage these children. I left when my forehead was symbolically spilt from hitting it on the brick wall of that system. I spent an even shorter stint working in welfare as they didn’t cope with my commitment to finding solutions and the tendency to do things outside the square.
I have experienced a number of strong bully type personalities that threatened my opportunity to completing my education. I love meeting new people and finding out about their life experiences. I had a special relationship with my Dad which I appreciated every day of the entire 44 years we shared it before he died of cancer.
If I take a dozen of the most significant events, relationships, and experiences of my life and dissect them this is what I will discover – I have always been passionate. I have always loved deeply and honestly. I have always stuck up for the underdog. I have always had a sense of what is fair and just. I have always been able to teach people skills and communicate about emotions with people.
Nothing I experienced made me that way; it’s just how I came.
In fact, because I am the way I am, it has meant that I have managed the hurts, conflicts, challenges, and trauma with my usual honesty, clarity, and sense of reality. I feel my hurts, I cry, I heal, and I grow beyond them. Reading my oldest diaries, I find entries that display how I did this long before I got really sick and officially immersed myself in the personal development world.
Put this to the test in your own life. Think about your most significant events, relationships, and experiences. Write down words that describe your personality, your attitudes, and your beliefs for each of them. What do you find is true about you, that has always been there, and is not a result of those experiences?