By: Dr. Adam Cohen
Over and over again the thought repeats itself inside of his mind: “I can’t believe this happened to me. Of all the people in the world why am I the one to suffer? I did nothing wrong!” The truth is most of us have had this thought ruminating in the twirling winds of our thoughts at one point or another. A feeling of being singled out, caught in a situation we did not deserve to be in. But what separates a survivor from a victim than most of us may imagine. At first sight, it seems that some people have a consistent stream of bad luck, and despite their greatest of efforts they cannot escape their fate. Others appear to have unjustifiably good grace in their lives, surrounded by what seems to be a force beyond reason.
While it cannot be said that some situations are not given by chance circumstances and just simple luck, it is more common than not that the greatest distinctions in life between different people and different circumstances is based upon their reaction to the conditions which life present. Life offers a infinite spectrum of unexplainable experiences, some of which are highly pleasurable and others of which create acute suffering. This much is true: life is both beautiful and ugly. However, how we choose to confront the changing atmospheres of life can mean the difference between a hero and a relentless victim. In the end, it all comes down to our mental conditions.
True, there are some people who are just luckier or more grief stricken then others, but the fact of the matter is that we all suffer in life, and when it comes to happiness and grief the experience is always relative to our life. What we make of life’s experiences determines who we are as human beings. A trip to the Congo may be a trill for one person and a highly treacherous danger for another. The difference is not in the Congo but the way in which the Congo is perceived.
Most of us suffer unnecessarily in life because we continuously recycle negative thoughts, reflecting upon past events that have long since lost their physical grip on our world but remain just as strong inside of the mental arena. These negative thoughts about things behind us are, in truth, what sap us from having meaning in life. It is our inability to move past the past that makes life more difficult and painful than it needs to be.
There are two characteristically distinct types of individuals who experience the same problem in life in two different manners. The survivor/hero is one who has experienced a pain or problem and finds resolution either through action or internal council. They undoubtedly suffer, but their suffering does not define who they are. Like a rain drop which lands on a leaf and then rolls off the edge, the survivor/hero feels the weight of the painful circumstances but allows the experience to move on, eventually returning to a homogonous state.
The victim is quite different. He or she may experience the exact same situation as the survivor/hero, but their pain somehow manages to integrate itself into their self definition. They not only experienced suffering but became a sufferer. As such, the victim mentality sets in, and the same rain drop that rolled off with the survivor/hero now sits stagnant on the leaf, growing bacteria which eventually begins to eat away at the wholeness of the leaf and it symmetry.
Most of us who face the ongoing pains from an event long in the past have taken up the victim mentality. Whether we had made an error, or someone had wronged us, or life seemed brutally harsh, these past experiences somehow work their way into how we define ourselves. The experience, which should have been contained in the moment, translates itself into our personality, eventually growing into a self-destructive thought pattern that takes away our happiness, peace, and freedom.
So what can we do if we find ourselves in such a situation? The first step is to acknowledge that whatever happened in the past is part of the past. For some, resolution is needed. If we have wronged another, we may go and ask for forgiveness. If another has wronged us then we may tell them of the pain they have caused us. But sometimes we cannot receive the resolution from the source. In these instances, learning how to proactively alter the affects of the suffering is the first step in find solace. A rape victim, for instance, may work with women’s groups to help open lines of communication or self-defence training. Find power, either physical or mental, can be a great way to resolve situations where we are left feeling weak, impotent, or insecure.
Another option is self-reflective meditation. This meditation must involve a separation between the past you and the present you. The meditation can focus upon all the different aspects of the past you, including looks, environment, behaviour patterns, and others things that are different from the present you. Making a clear distinction between the past and the present can help you in resolving the conflict by recognizing how times are different. In this space you may be able to find new ways of using the things available to you in the present that you’ve might have missed previously.
The same can be said if we need to forgive others, even if forgiveness is needed on a daily basis. Each day presents new opportunities, and the past errors of someone always have a chance at being resolved either through that individual themselves or through other’s assistance. Though we may not be a proactive part of their growth, we can, for our own sake, forgive the other person. In doing so, we remove the negative energy that is ruminating in our minds, allowing for us to feel more free and much less degraded and drained.
Whatever you choose to do, learning how to become a hero/survivor requires a different approach to life in general. This is especially for those challenges we have yet to face. We can either resort back to our old patterns of behaviour which include avoidance, repression, and inhibition or learn to work with the challenge so that it doesn’t integrate itself into our personal definition unless we want it to. This can come from self-observation and other techniques involving being present in the moment, in our body, and in our thoughts so that an effective resolution can be found.
Suffering is a universal part of life. But the way in which we suffer is ultimately left in our hands. If we really want to improve the quality of our lives we must learn how to experience life in a way that in constructive and supportive of the human experience. To be a hero is to be free from unnecessary burden and sorrow; although life will present us with formidable challenges, we know we have the strength to come out stronger and more confident than before.