Trauma and Trouble: Is It Always Bad for You?

Having emotional troubles and experiencing breakdowns are traumatic events. And sometimes the trauma and breakdown does not go away but the client must learn to manage their illness, such as in the case of schizophrenia and bipolar, just to name two conditions.

But trauma is not all bad, and many people who have experienced emotional difficulties are enriched by them, despite the enormous pain that accompanies the illness.

This is not to minimize the stigma and despondency and outright soul-wrenching pain that accompanies mental problems, but reminds us that with little adversity or challenge in our lives, we can become stagnant, complacent and self centered.

Let’s look at the case of Helen. Helen has never married or had children. When her parents died, they left her the family home, and her three married siblings had to defend financially on their own.

Helen still lives in the family home at the age of 77. She has never been sick, never been to hospital, never had an operation., She has never experienced the joy and the pain of having children, never lost a child, never sat with a dying child and held them as they passed. With no husband, she has never experienced the joys of marriage, nor has she experienced the pain of infidelity, the worry of a sick spouse, the bedside vigil of a dying partner.

She has never had to buy a house, furniture, worry about her daughter’s unsuitable drug-fueled boyfriends, or comfort her son when his child miscarries. She has not experienced anxiety or depression in any form. In short, some would say she has been lucky. But with what I see of people in therapy, she has not experienced life at all, she has no insight into other people’s problems because she simply has no idea.

A church elder, sometimes members of the congregation approach her for help, but beyond a few platitudes, she is incapable of really relating to others. “Just let it go” is her favorite phrases when she has no real answer to another’s problems. Of course, some problems are not immediately solvable and so the person with no life experience cannot help others.

This is where suffering comes into its own. The fellow sufferer who has walked in the shoes of the present sufferer has a gift: the gift of empathy. So trauma and trouble can bring positive gifts into our lives – and give us the ability to really connect with others.

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