Life is good! On attributing new meaning to negative experiences.

24 10 2012

 

 

 

Yesterday, during a conversation with a dear friend, I realized that the one thing that has impacted my life most was coming to understand that I have a choice how to view my life.
We were talking about unpleasant experiences in our life that happened outside of our control but that left deep traces. At a certain point, my friend said: but surely you would want to change them to a more pleasant experience if you could. Wouldn’t that be better?

Of course, I know the feeling. I struggled with that too. I remember vividly asking myself the questions: How would my life be different if I had had a better start, if I had not been bullied, if I ….? Just fill in the blank. How would my life would be different if…? This question implies that life would be better if something different had happened. This is a false premise. If things would have been different, they may just as well have been worse. Truth is I don’t know how my life would be if things had been different.

I understand perfectly how alluring this question is, because it allowed me to create a fantasy world in which everything was just perfect. However alluring, this question is completely beside the point, because however much we wish our lives to be different, they aren’t. This question is just another form of fighting reality of not accepting life as it is. Truth is we cannot change our past. What has turned things around for me was realizing that although I cannot change my past, I can change the story I tell myself about my past. By that I don’t mean that I am making up a different past, but I am intent on finding the good in my past and attributing the best possible meaning to it.

Let me show you how this works using an example: I was born three weeks premature in some backward hospital, where they only administered functional care. I lived in an incubator for six weeks. My parents were only allowed to see me from behind a window and I wasn’t hugged or caressed in the first six weeks of my life. This has left deep traces in my brain, body and mind. And it would cost me no difficulty at all to label this event as negative for I know how it has impacted my life and created a long series of events that were extremely unpleasant. Yet I have chosen to find all the good that it has brought me and over time I learned to attribute a different meaning to it.

The doctors and nurses in the hospital gave the best care they were capable of giving. They fed me and cleaned my diapers. They ran tests and temperatured me regularly to make sure that I was doing well. They made sure the conditions in the incubator were just right. I am grateful they took such good care of me.
When my daughter was born, I was able to develop a much deeper appreciation of and connection to my parents and the trauma they went through. Having a daughter, I am very aware of how blessed I am to take care of her myself.
I love cuddling! To this day, cuddling my parents is special to me. I love holding them, feeling their embrace, their skin against mine, their hearts beating, taking in their love.
I am very sensitive to touch, sight and smell. And I have a very well developed sense of what other people’s intentions are; if they are tending to my well-being or not.
The best thing that has come from it is that I was able to heal this trauma; I now know it is possible to heal such early and deep trauma; I am stronger, I know I can overcome anything; I have more compassion because I know how the mind will do anything to help you ‘protect’ yourself; and I am enriched with all the insight it has given me about myself and life.

I don’t deny what has happened, but I counter it with good. And interestingly that leads to full acceptance and peace. I wouldn’t want to change my past, nothing of it, because I am a better person because of it. I celebrate my past, for it has made me who I am today. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I am happy with who I am. I feel pride for what I have accomplished. I feel love for who I was and who I have become. I love my life and I cherish every experience. My life is whole and I wish that for friend and everyone I encounter.

 

photo by Michelle Morales