As I was doing some research the other day and reflecting on it I came to some conclusions based on that research and the concrete evidence I’m privy to thanks to my work with others in counseling. I posted a short blip on my Facebook page, but the thoughts deserve some fleshing out.
I see and hear lots of commentary about how the past doesn’t matter and your parents don’t matter and what really matters are you and your choices. These types of statements are grotesquely over simplified.
The truth is the past absolutely does matter because it shapes you. Science has long attributed our personality development in part to experience. The experiences we gain shape character and our outlook on life. They’re a place from which we approach all other events, places, people, and relationships. The past and all its contents (parents included) often serve to build our resilience or lack thereof.
Resilience is a thing we’re sort of leaving by the wayside. It isn’t as prized as some of our other skills. Really it’s lesser known and even more rarely talked about than juggling or spinning plates.
Instead of encouraging resilience through tough times and experiences we’re seeing a push back at those we feel have wronged us. We’re locking them out and we’re trying to control events – things that science says we simply can’t do. Navigating life and indeed the world without painful experiences and hurt feelings just isn’t possible. We can’t control others or events and what is offensive is subjective enough that no golden rule can be made to protect us from it. Lucky for us, we’re designed to learn from experience how to pick ourselves up, create coping mechanisms, heal, dust off, and redirect. We can’t develop this vital (I daresay lifesaving) skill without experiences in our pasts. So, the past totally still matters.
That said, the past doesn’t get to decide things. Once upon a time the research was “clear” – if you were abused you’d likely remain injured forever or even abuse others yourself; if you were the child of an alcoholic you’d likely marry one or become one yourself. Over time, this research grew thinner. It hasn’t held up as well as it would if it were ultimately and absolutely accurate. The numbers today show that we’re more likely to do life differently than it was dealt to us.
Every day I encounter people committed to exactly that. They are doing life differently than it was dealt them. People survive, cope, and rise from incredible pain every day. This superhuman ability resides within all of us. It involves painful stuff and our willingness not to run but turn and face the past. Some of us have to chip away at it and work with it a little harder than others.
Resilience skills are the ones that set us apart from the crowd. The stories that make “feel good” news, and fill up our social media feeds with people overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles are in fact tales of resilience. We all have the ability to create it.
The truth is that if we can spare some time away from the things we do to cope that are less healthy – our smoking, drinking, drugs, distractions – and sit with our past, create a story with it, hold, accept, and tolerate it and honor what we did to survive our traumas – we are able to move forward. We are able to come into therapy looking forward and think, with the science on our side, “I have a chance at living a better life than the one I began with; I just have to work for it.”
That’s resilience and it makes us super.
Go get it, Superhumans!