“When ure heart turns cold, it causes your soul 2 freeze
Spreads throughout your spirit, like a ruthless feeling disease” -2Pac
A purely deterministic worldview supposes that we’re the consequences of various events before us, the sums of the blissful and awful scenarios we just happened to have found ourselves in. Thus, if the timeless adage that trauma begets trauma is true, then, according to determinism, some are doomed to an everlasting servitude, unable to escape the shackles of fate.
Much of the blowback I received recently relates to that belief and its conflict with my perspective, stemming from Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, that humans are capable of reinterpreting, and finding meaning, in their trying circumstances.
The determinists argue that we’re feeding ourselves positive spin in believing that something terrible is actually good. And, a great deal of my therapeutic work involves persuading people that I’m not in the business of positive thinking, selling you a flawed, but soothing, conception of reality. For the most part, I find that these individuals comprise our cynics, people who fail to grasp the complexity of the universe because it affords them the ability to feel less isolated in their grief.
When you’ve been traumatized, the deeply wounded part of you may want others to feel the way you do, which can spawn a pre-programmed recreation of tragedy, with you recast as the villain. Fundamentally, one gets the sense that life happens to them and, specifically, that their actions are the natural outcomes of what was done to them. The hopelessness mixes with rage as your responses automate. And to the determinist, this is the only way forward.
But, as therapists, we’re obligated to search for other ways of coping, which doesn’t necessitate our disassociation from reality. I was also a cynic for the longest time, hoping to make others as miserable as I was. My cycle of loneliness and anger was reinforced by the way I treated people, but I couldn’t envision myself being the source of my sorrow; so, I conveniently blamed them.
Fortunately for me (and all of us, really), Frankl, in his own form of hell, discovered, or rediscovered, a better way to live. He didn’t deny his circumstances, what the existentialists would call his facticity, but simply expanded his vision. While trauma has a way of narrowing our view to only include what was done to us, it also presents us with the opportunity to constructively shape our lives. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, Viktor decided that he was going to remain human; that was his purpose. There were no fireworks, no parade, and no confetti tossed into the wind. It was the simple act of choosing, one that occurred in his silent, but radiant, heart.
And all of us are capable of making that choice; in the silly but poignant phrase from former president George W. Bush, we are the deciders. Frankl realized that it was his duty to treat the other inmates, so he decided to use whatever energy he had leftover from surviving to help sustain others’ lives, sometimes even choosing the latter at the former’s expense. The power of choice can’t, and shouldn’t, be underestimated. Personally, I don’t know if Viktor would rather have not lived in those camps, but I believe that there would have been an otherwise unfillable void if he hadn’t.
The adage that trauma begets trauma isn’t pre-determined. I learned that when I decided to allow good people into my life. The fear of losing them never fully recedes, but I’ve chosen to act in spite of it and haven’t regretted it since. I sometimes think of the life I could have lived but didn’t because of my cynicism. I think of the loves I missed, and the friendships I could have had. On the whole, my life is full of regrets, but as the days pass by, they become ever more distant, superseded by the layers that encompass my current decisions. Some part of me still can’t believe that people could like me, but I can accept it nevertheless. In the awareness of my instinctual, patterned behavior, I took responsibility for pushing people away, realizing that while my past was etched in stone, I was the one who allowed it to taint my present and future.
None of this is easy, and it wasn’t for me. I still question my worth, wondering if I have anything of value to offer. But now, I can at least accept the possibility that others see something in me that I don’t. I frequently turn to Tupac’s poem, The Rose that Grew From Concrete, because of how much it embodies my life. I’ve done the best I could considering my circumstances, and I hope that I’ve helped others overcome their own barriers along the way. Rather than obsessing over veiling the cracks from which I sprouted, I now prefer to place the focus on the person I chose to become.
“The walls that were once down, now stand firm and tall
Safe from hate/love, pain/joy, until you feel nothing at all
When Ure Heart Turns Cold” -2Pac