I was talking with a friend not too long ago who was going through a pretty rough time. Its hard to come up with the ‘right’ thing to say to ease the suffering when one is deep in the thick of it. So between tears, I threw a curve ball at her: “Someday, you’re going to be thankful that you’ve gone through this!” If the look on her face were to spell out any acronym, it would be “WTF”?!
My point was that we are all ‘gifted’ with the opportunity to grow and become better from adversity – whether its hardship or regrettable experiences that you wish you could just go back in time and ‘fix’! I have a boatload of such experiences – experiences in my life I am not particularly proud of because of what I did, or because I hurt someone by my words or actions. Indeed, the ghost of guilt still knocks on my door from time to time, there to remind me just how terrible of a person I was because of it. And though it happened in the past, I feel the associated painful emotions in the present everytime I play the event reel in my head.
Well, at least I used to. Now, I embrace these memories and although still regrettable, I am thankful for them. Because had I not, I would have deprived myself of the invaluable life lessons that these experiences afforded me. I wouldn’t have been able to leverage the deep, painful emotions that these experience produced. In other words, my actions made me feel so guilty, so ashamed, that I made the resolve to NEVER, EVER want to feel this way again should a similar circumstance ever present itself. I had conviction: I’m going to be better!
I talk about this very concept in my book, about discovering value or purpose in suffering. Further, I illustrate this ideal in a separate post. However, for my friend in need, I shared the followoing story to illustrate my point:
I had a conversation with my mother some time ago, not long after I was diagnosed with depression. She shared some painful childhood memories about her father, my late grandfather – a man I greatly admired growing up. I was quite surprised to hear of the strained relationship that existed between the two of them. My mother went as far to say that she hated him for so many years and I realized, that even in her late sixties, she remains haunted by these painful memories, so much so, that it still reduced her to tears.
While processing what I was hearing, something occured to me, and I said the following:
“There was never a time in my life when I ever said ‘I hate my mother.’”
“I should hope not!” She snapped back, “I did everything I could to make sure you and your sister had a better life than I did.”
So I challenged her:
“Do you see what happened here? You learned in your suffering that you would never treat your children the way you were treated. In other words, you learned how to be a better parent than your father was to you. You purposely raised your children differently than you were raised – and in a way that prevented your kids from learning to hate their mother. You should realize that these regretful experiences gifted you with an opportunity to learn and become better. And you chose to be better – to provide a better home-life and develop better relationships with your children, compared to the cards you were dealt.”
“As regrettable as these experiences are for you”, I continued, “you shouldn’t permit them to hurt you anymore. Rather, you should view them with honor and dignity because you’ve triumphed. Your hurting made you stronger. And how do I know this? Because your children love you!”
My mother was speechless. After a long pause, lost in her own contemplation, she told me that she had never thought about it that way before. After we hung up, I felt that she was able to truly find value in her suffering and this tweak in how she was perceiving painful memories eased the deeply emotional grip it had on her for so many years.
So to my friend, I assured her that although its hard to think this way while in the moment, hurting, there will come a time when she’ll look back on this (either in her own contemplation or when helping a friend going through something similar), and truly embrace the value that suffering has gifted her.