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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thoughtful Tuesdays: Note 2 Younger Self Part II: What Makes One Person Survive and Thrive & Another Bend & Surrender?

Thought for the Day: Yesterday, I  began sharing the results from my mini research project. I am excited to let you know that people have already written responses to some of the questions I posed. By doing so, I hope that the posts will become even richer. Thank you in advance for your thoughtful comments. Today, I want to address another type of two word notes of advice to your younger selves which reflects a group of inspirational people, I called “survivors.”  This group is in many ways the one we can all learn the most from since they have learned from and overcome painful life experiences. Even without knowing the stories behind their two word advice my heart could feel that there lives had not been easy. They learned their lessons from the school of hard knocks. They reach out to their younger selves with messages like:
      "So Sorry, Tell Someone, Set Boundaries, Grow Anyway, Waste Your Youth, Why God?, Don’t Worry, Behave Yourself. Quit Drinking, Stop Crying, Choose Happiness, You’re Not to Blame, Endure.

A few of these brave survivors shared their stories. I will cautiously tell you about their journeys without giving details that could identify them. There were thirteen people from the 72 in the study whose responses seemed to fit this category. One person explained, "because I am not where I want to be in life. I could never have imagined that my life would turn out like it has. Essentially, I feel drained, beaten, and slighted by fate. I turn to God and ask why.” They went on to say that they chose a question for their younger self which they could interpret on their own. It had taken ten years, but somehow they trusted that their younger self would find the answers. 

Another person from this group who is only in their twenties would advise their teenage self "not to worry." They had learned that worrying made it harder to cope with raising three young children. Becoming a parent may be a fast track to wisdom beyond your years. 

It was interesting to learn that many of the survivors in this study were in their teens when they broke away from a painful life experience. Literally, some “burned” their path to freedom when they stopped trying to fit into someone else’s expectations or were forced to build boundaries between themselves and someone who was abusive to them. One of these “survivors" took only 90 minutes to escape, moved away, started a business and made a “fresh start” when she had barely entered adulthood. 

For others the journey would take much longer with the issues coming back to haunt them after 40 years. Some found their strength through therapy, others through volunteer work with young adults coping with similar difficulties. For some the death of the person who abused or the loss of a loved one reopened wounds that they had considered buried and resolved.

The conclusion to “Choose Happiness" came to one of the members of this group after “spending a lot of (their) life letting clinical depression get the better of (them) and taking a long time to realize that (they) had to decide to get the better of it.” 

Only one woman (now just in her early 20’s) from all the participants in the study had different messages for herself at different ages. Her progression and development were reflected in the shift in the advice she would give to her younger selves. Although she did not say what led to her tears and fears, her first comment to her 18 - 20 year old self, "stop crying.” would place her in the survivors group.  As she matured and found more strength, her self talk would bring her into one of the other groups with words of self encouragement: “Go On” and finally to the recognition of “You’re right.” 

This young woman’s journey is similar to others in the survivor’s group. They needed to learn that they were not to blame for things that happened to them or those they loved. One participant’s touching powerful words would be applicable to many of the others in this group,  "I was reminded that.... I needed to forgive myself. Not because I thought I could have done something differently, but because I kept blaming myself for what others had done to me. This left me consumed with rage and anger and as a result, I was NOT living life to the fullest." 

Although the survivors have suffered and made mistakes, they, unlike those who surrender, seem to intuitively have gained wisdom and found resilient ways to overcome adversity. What gives these people the strength and wisdom to break away and save themselves from the tenuous situations even when they are barely adults? One of the threads that they seem to have in common is that they were forced into roles of responsibility in order to survive and stepped up to the plate. Some had to fend for themselves at a young age. Others became young parents. It could be that being forced to learn to parent yourself at a young age, even if your parents were neglectful, acts as a catalyst for growth, self awareness and wisdom. One of my readers, +Sidra Luna,  sent me a link to an article on the positive aspects of the twentysomething brain. When tragedy befalls someone at a young age, their developing brain may have some unique qualities which are advantageous and help them cope. For some of these young survivors, their youthful passion, fearlessness in the face of risk and curiosity about human nature, may help them discover solutions to their dilemmas.

I have worked with people who are survivors throughout my career and am always impressed by their strength, wisdom and bravery. My guess is that somewhere along the way there was someone, a parent, grandparent or teacher who loved them and helped them know they were worthy of having a better life. What do you think? What allows one person to survive and thrive when another bends and surrenders?

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