We don’t have to be “grateful” for the pain that made us who we are.
It’s true that trauma often shapes us— how could it not?
And it’s true that some of the most empathic, loving, service-oriented people have been profoundly shaped by the painful things that have happened to them.
But that doesn’t have to lead to the conclusion that it was somehow a “good” thing that abuse, neglect, or other trauma happened to us.
I don’t know who I would be without the painful things that have happened to me. But I know I probably would’t be a psychologist.
I know I probably would’t be writing these words right now, or the words that I write every day on my social media pages.
I do think— or hope, anyway— that my words are helpful to people. That’s why I write them.
But that doesn’t mean I am “grateful” for the painful experiences that inform what I write.
Many people very much want to find some “good” in painful events. Of course they do.
Some things are so painful that it feels like the fact of them is too much to bear. We feel as if we have to find SOME way of balancing out the sheer enormity of their awfulness.
I imagine everyone reading this can relate to being told some version of “at least they’re at peace now” or “they’re in a better place” after the loss of a person or a pet.
Similarly, if you’ve done any trauma work, and if you’ve been open about doing that work, I’m sure you’ve had at least somebody try to tell you that what you went through made you “stronger.” Or “kinder.” Or that it provided you the opportunity to show the world how “resilient” you were.
Speaking for myself, I could have lived without the opportunity to prove how “resilient” I was.
I’d have lived without being made “stronger” or “kinder.”
I’d have preferred safety and connection.
I once heard addiction referred to as “the sacred disease.” The person who said this was trying to emphasize how battling addiction essentially forces us to develop strength of character we wouldn’t have developed otherwise.
As someone whose character has ostensibly been shaped by “the sacred disease,” I can affirm that I did not ask for or appreciate the “growth opportunities” addiction has afforded me.
My point is that you’re going to feel pressure to find the “upside” of your pain.
At some point someone, probably more than one person, is going to press you to reframe your pain as an opportunity to grow, emotionally or spiritually.
You need to know that you don’t HAVE to feel (or not feel!) any specific way about your pain.
Failing to find the “upside” of trauma or depression doesn’t mean you’re emotionally or spiritually underdeveloped.
You didn’t ask for this pain.
You’re under no obligation to be grateful for the chance at “post traumatic growth.”
Deciding to “forgive” people or institutions who hurt you ISN’T the ultimate or only measure of spiritual growth or maturity.
You don’t have to have positive feelings about situations or people that hurt you.
There are a lot of paths to healing. Some people can and do find growth and solace in learning to appreciate who they’ve become in the wake of what happened to them.
But “getting over it’ such that you can say “thank you” to the universe for that experience is NOT a prerequisite of healing.
You have a right to be exactly as angry and hurt as you are.
You’re under no obligation to reframe your strong negative feelings into anything more gentle or forgiving.
Repairing the damage to our nervous system done by trauma, depression, or addiction requires, above anything else, authenticity.
Being true to ourselves, our experiences, our reactions, and needs.
Successful recovery requires a HELL of a lot of honesty— with ourselves and with the world around us.
And that honesty is more important than “gratitude” or any other positive spin anyone says we “should” put on what happened to us.