“We acquire the strength we have overcome” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Either they will pause, smile, nod and agree because after some reflecting they find that this statement is in fact true, or they will immediately be offended, defensive or sometimes even get angry and start spouting off the 5-10 bad situations that have happened to them that month alone.
A person’s knee-jerk reaction to this statement may signify something much deeper than who sees their glass as half full and who sees it as half empty.
It may be an indicator as to how attached they are to their “story”, their past, or even just negative emotions in general.
When we become so attached to a past trauma, or negativity, that we use it as a part of our identity, we run the risk of becoming addicted and dependent upon the negative emotions to establish our sense of who we are.
“A sense of suffering is a small assignment when compared to the reward. Rather than begrudge your problem, explore it. Ponder it. And most of all, use it.” – Max Lucado
The concept of becoming addicted to negative emotions or suffering may sound absurd at first, because who would choose to become addicted to something that makes them feel bad?
However if you form your identity as “I am the person who many bad things have happened to,” or “I am the person who dealt with this trauma,” or “I am the person who had such and such terrible experience that made me who I am today,” your sense of self starts to depend on the negative story in order to reinforce your sense of self.
When your sense of who you are is formed around a past traumatic experience, you may feel defensive against anything or anyone who threatens to debunk or negate your “story”. In order to protect ourselves from our mind building up a story about a past event, we must first look at how it all happens in the first place.
When something happens to us that we did not plan for, our mind creates a story about the situation through our thoughts. The story we create will determine whether we label the situation as “good” or “bad”. Good situations get filed under the “things that have gone well” file, while perceived bad situations get filed under the “things that have gone badly” file.
However, true wisdom comes from knowing that no one situation is unequivocally good or bad. If you take a moment to think back on any given good or bad situation, it is guaranteed that you can find at least one bad thing that has happened due to a “good” situation, or one good thing that has happened because of a “bad” situation.
This exercise alone proves that the statement is actually true.
Nothing bad has ever happened to you. When we look at situations from a broader perspective we are able to see that there is in fact a silver lining to every cloud. The only thing holding us back from seeing this silver lining is our ego or sense of identity.
How attached we have become to our story will determine how fiercely the ego will hold on to its judgment of a situation.
The stronger the hold the more protective and defensive we get in trying to protect our story and identity at all costs. In order to avoid living in a past reality over and over again in our thoughts, and become who we desire to be in this present moment, we only need to adjust one thing…how we process emotions and feelings.
“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl
Yes it is true that an experience we’ve had may have made us feel hurt, sad, angry, depressed, frustration etc… However, feelings, like situations, come… and they go.
As long as we bring awareness to the feelings, and allow them to process to completion, there is never any reason that we have to live with past hurts over and over and over again by retelling our sad story to ourselves through our thoughts.
Feelings are merely a representation of how our brain has chosen to process a particular event. And though they feel extremely real at the time, feelings and emotions do not equal truth.
Our feelings help reinforce our perspective on an event and can even manifest outward into our physical body, which makes them feel even more real, but a shift in perspective is all a person needs in order to not become attached to a story.
It is important to remember that we shouldn’t judge the feelings themselves, nor should we avoid them and pretend they are not happening, but rather we should feel them completely, and use them constructively.
When we feel the feelings to their completion we are able to move past them. We discover the light at the end of a tunnel and more often than not feel better at the end of a traumatic event rather than worse. It is at this point we are able to rewrite our story.
Instead of letting the bad event define who we are in this present moment, we start seeing ourselves as someone who dealt with a less than desirable situation but was able to take the good from it and move past it. Instead of being a victim, we allow ourselves to be the victor.