How Tragedy Can Teach Us

Is there something we need to learn through an experience?

​​Let’s face it, we will all go through difficult periods in our life at one time or another.

I am a Nurse Clinician in psychiatry with a background in Trauma Emergency Medicine. I am also a spiritual life coach outside of my professional life. I have provided care to numerous clients with experiences of tragedy, trauma, illness, and loss. I often wonder why such tragedy occurs and how unfair life can be. I have never had much of an opportunity to follow up afterward with the families and their grieving process.

SEE ALSO: The One Thing You Should Know About Emotional Trauma

On grief

​​A few years back, I had a client outside of my clinical practice who came for guidance. Let’s call her “Daniella”. She was heartbroken and felt this deep loss, since her marriage had broken up ten years ago. She believed she could not move forward. She is a seeker of numerous psychics, in search of the right answer. They told her, “He loves you, and he is miserable and will come back.”

Six years later, he never returned. In fact, he remarried. In the meantime, Daniella passed on potential suitors and continues to be wrapped up in the past with the inability to move forward. She remains sad and bitter.

Dr. Kubler-Ross theory of grief describes 5 stages:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Daniella remains in the depression stage, 16 years after her divorce. There are people who never overcome grief and loss. Unlike those who learn to accept it.

On regrets

Recently I had the privilege to meet a woman, let’s call her “Mina”. She described feeling oppressed and shy as a youth. One day she decided to leave the Muslim faith and married a Christian man. They had four children together. One child named “David” has Down’s syndrome and is now 25 years old. Recently, her husband passed away. She describes her life as a challenge of which she sees as a life lesson to assist in her growth. When she gave birth to David, she asked the nurses to put him in the back of the nursery as she felt ashamed. She feared the Arab culture would judge her, and say, “Because you left your faith, Allah punished you.”

She regrets feeling this way. Since that time she advocates and speaks out on David’s behalf as he cannot communicate. Mina describes many incidents when he was stigmatized and not allowed to socialize with peers or swim at the public pool. Mina views his birth as a blessing. It taught her to be courageous and speak out. She is grateful for this life experience as well as the time she spent with her husband. Mina’s experience demonstrates personal growth, as she developed courage and strength, amidst a challenging period. Mina stated she never revisits the past; as she prefers to find joy within the present. She remains grateful, even though she is not financially stable and has not taken a vacation. She even gives back to oppressed people by cooking and feeding them. Her presence radiates love and kindness. I asked her how she maintained strength. She said her faith was very strong and she knows God watches over her.

Our behavior

Erik Erikson’s 8 Stages of Development shows that as we age we can have positive or negative experiences that shape our belief system. Our beliefs will affect our behavior. Caroline Myss (2001) wrote Sacred Contracts, she defines 4 archetypes that shape our behavior:

The Child, where we go against the rules of adulthood in order to fulfill our needs. The Victim where one feels unjustly hurt and takes on that story throughout our life. The Prostitute, we sell a part of our soul to keep the peace or be happy to satisfy our needs. The Saboteur will take measures to ruin their happiness, out of fear. At any given moment we can go back and forth to each Archetype.

In Daniella’s case, her archetype was the victim, and it became her story. Mina’s case she was the Child, having a desire to go outside of rules imposed on her by her family. When David was born, she chose to not feel like “a victim”, she was not bitter, although it became her story, she was a warrior and took on courage and advocacy. Her story became empowering. Myss (2001) describes another aspect to her theory, that there is always a struggle between the ego and the heart. Where the ego needs to feel empowered and when it feels disempowered, the shadow side comes out in behaviors such as anger, bitterness, resentment, shame, and guilt.

Mina felt empowered and although she imagined judgment, she has enormous faith in God and believes he works through her. She did not allow her ego to take over. She approached this through her heart. Daniella’s case she felt disempowered and her ego manifested in anxiety, resentment, shame, and anger. These are two separate examples of how we choose to learn and accept our life experiences, or we chose to remain in denial and resistance. There are many people who live this way and remain angry throughout life. Let’s face it, we all live through loss and hardship.

How do we grow and move forward?

Some people simply roll with the punches and keep optimistic and move forward. Others remain resistant and cannot accept it. Erikson’s (1964) theory of 8 stages of development: Trust vs mistrust, Autonomy vs Shame, Initiative vs Guilt, Identity vs Role Conflict, Intimacy vs Isolation, Ego Integrity vs Despair. These are the stages of our development, and at any given time, we may have a positive or negative experience that may have an influence on our development and belief system. If we do not deal with negative experiences at the source, there is a potential to accumulate them and store them within the subconscious, until it manifests in our behavior at a later time. Recognizing our thought schema’s, themes, and behavior is vital. As working through self-limiting beliefs and determining the root cause permits the subconscious to become conscious. A few years back, I had a series of incidents that occurred within a five-year span. I went through a divorce, the death of my mother, a traumatic bike accident and a cancer scare.

This accident stopped me right in my path. I believe the universe whispered to me that changes had to be made and that I have no choice but to heal. I recall crying and telling God, I give up. Please help me. A few days later the answer came to me. “Meditate”, then shortly after another answer “Heal your inner child.”​​

I felt like a pathetic wounded child, as I proceeded to meditate; I decided to revisit an early incident in my life where the wounded child came out – “The victim”. I was 9 years old and blamed myself for my parent’s unhappiness. It seemed I internalized this belief which played out as experiencing self-blame and inadequacy. It was my baggage that I carried into my marriage. During that very day, in meditation, I had an epiphany that “it wasn’t my fault”. ” I am not to blame, or responsible for other people’s unhappiness or happiness.” I understood why I was a perfectionist, and a people-pleaser and how I inherited this thought pattern and behavior that were taught to me by my mother.

I decided to take my healing further after my cancer scare. My spiritual friend invited me to a beautiful Sonic healing session with a Shaman. He was the radiated calmness healing and compassion while he walked into the room like he was floating on clouds. His voice was angelic, as the crystal bowls gently vibrated and resonated within every cell of my body. I closed my eyes and began to allow this energy work within. I asked with an intention that it heal something that still resided within my heart. It was like I was slowly transported to a vision that my intuition showed me. It was the side of someone, that I needed to heal and let go of my anger.

The meditation allowed me to see this person as a child with all his difficulties, while he sat alone in the corner of a room, afraid and crying. In that moment I felt connected to the Divine, and it was truly a spiritual experience. I felt saddened and compassionate for him, as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I realized it wasn’t his fault for how he was behaving, he is hurt and broken within. I believe that during that moment, I was blessed with the answer- it is through compassion that we can learn to forgive.

I realize as a healer, at times I have the Savior Complex, as it seems I recycle the same experiences throughout my life. Meditation gave me the ability for self-reflection, and that I am not responsible for the unhappiness, or happiness of others. In giving too much of our selves, we not only compromise but we can also lose ourselves. I believe it’s essential to stay true to oneself, express our needs, and have a healthy balance without sacrificing your own happiness. I learned to have self-compassion, and self respect by setting healthy boundaries. ​​Meditation has definitely helped me reconnect with my soul and to the Divine. I have learned to release my fears, trust, and appreciate the present moment and all the beauty and love that resides within and around me. I now view my experiences as blessings that were lessons to help overcome my insecurity, that gave me courage and strength and taught me how to be true to myself.

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Jennifer Der

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I have many years experience as a Nurse Clinician with a specialty in Emergency Medicine, Traumatology, and Psychiatry as well…

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