Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood

In Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood", Wayne Muller observed that those who suffered in childhood, while baring painful scars, invariably exhibit exceptional strengths including remarkable insight, creativity, and a profound inner wisdom. He challenges those of us who have suffered to not perceive ourselves as broken and damaged, nor to disown those dark and wounded places in ourselves, but instead to work to reawaken that which is wisest, strongest and whole within us.

In working with victims of childhood trauma, Muller noted that while still haunted by the past, many also develop an acute sensitivity to others as well as a tendency to seek beauty, love and peace. He writes, "Seen through this lens, family sorrow is not only a painful wound to be endured, analyzed and treated. It may in fact become a seed that gives birth to our spiritual healing and awakening."

It's been my own experience as a therapist that this is often the case with survivors of childhood trauma. While not all survivors with whom I've worked possess the characteristics that Muller so respectfully describes, I'm almost always touched by their strength and depth. Each person has brought to therapy his or her own unique skills, stories, and beauty - gifts that truly seemed to be forged to a significant degree in the flames of the very pain they now seek to escape.

Muller assures the reader that suffering and pain are not exceptions to the human condition. Instead they are inevitable threads that make up the tapestry of a life. He cautions us to not become entangled in our memories of childhood suffering - to not let our pain resonate throughout the whole of our lives. He also points out that many of us would prefer to explain our hurt rather than to feel it. He advises that we acknowledge our pain, allow ourselves to experience it, and then to look for the lessons it will inevitably teach if we only look and listen, particularly to the wisdom contained within the depths of our very own souls.

While I never, under any circumstances want to minimize or justify the pain of another, nor suggest that anyone be grateful for their suffering, I do try to gently suggest to my clients (when they are ready to consider the suggestion) that even the most painful path can be a pathway to possibilities not yet discovered.

There have been many hurtful experiences in my own life that I would have adamantly refused to face had I been given the choice. I am also aware that to deny the value of the message, in spite of how painful the lesson or unwelcome the messenger, only serves to add insult to injury. If you have no choice for the time being but to travel a difficult path, at the very least, why not claim all possible compensations along the way?

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