Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 2: Getting Real
Recently, I started a series of posts about the growth of resilience, which is a very key part of the work of case studies. I’d like to share a personal experience of mine through which I became changed, and, I believe, much more resilient. It’s not that I’m trying to suggest that I’ve “got it all figured out”, or that this set of experiences gave me “the key to life” — mine or anybody else’s. But I do believe that this was an experience that affected me deeply, that it cost me a great deal, and that I genuinely grew through it.
Resilience is directly connected to our convictions at the deepest level about our lives — our basic trust. And sometimes life can shake what we believe about our own individual lives to the very core. I had occasion to learn this in a period between my mid-20s and early 30s.
The Journey to Upside Down
At the time this experience occurred, I was a highly religious person, in a liberal Christian tradition. I had a very clear conception of my life: how things had unfolded according to plan, and how they would continue to do so into the future. I was recently happily married, and my wife and I had a baby on the way.
Then the baby arrived, and we learned that he was born pretty close to about as deaf as a child can be.
Suddenly, everything that I thought I knew about my life was turned upside down. Through this crisis, everything I had hitherto believed about the nature of God, the world, suffering, even evil, and what was meaningful in life was shaken to the core.
Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that having a deaf child is the worst that can happen to a person. Far, far from it. It can get unbelievably more painful and difficult than that, I well know. Nonetheless, when this happened to me, I was completely devastated. I literally did not know which way to turn, and, for a long time, I seriously doubted that I would ever be happy — or even ever smile — again.
I also know that, as the years went by, I was also plunged into a more and more profound crisis of faith and life — an existential crisis, as they say. It was not so much a question of “why me?” With the crisis around my son’s deafness, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes, and I was finally seeing for the first time the depth of the suffering in the world. In fact, I was seeing it very clearly and close up in the very people with whom I was working. It was deeply apparent to me now how many people were struggling with so very much more than they knew how to handle, or felt that they could handle. The question I found myself struggling with on the deepest level was much more, “How can there be a loving God, if this kind of thing happens to any one at all?”
By the time I was 30, I was completely shaken out of the very comfortable life path that I had seen mapped out for me. Nothing was left of it. It was apparent to me that life was never going to be possible with the old outlook I had once had. At about that time, I made some very major changes in virtually every aspect of my life — faith, career, relationships — and moved in a new direction.
Rash, Raw, Risky … Lost
I didn’t know what was waiting for me, and I was making all kinds of rash decisions, without regard for the risks. In many ways I was raw, and I wore my anger, my pain and my sense of betrayal on my sleeve, often for all to see. My despair and cynicism were probably at their height at this point.
What I didn’t know, and couldn’t see, was that something was changing inside myself. At the time, I could not have described to you what this change was, but it was real and it was deep. It would take years for me to even begin to understand what was emerging in my life. In my next blog post, Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 3: A Story of My Own, I’ll attempt to share with you something of what that change really meant.
Have You Had This Kind of Experience?
I am sure that many of my readers have had to confront real adversity or real crisis in their own lives. I would respectfully welcome any of your comments on what it was like to cope with such things. How did such experiences change you? As always, I gratefully welcome any of your reflections.
Wishing you peace and resilience on your personal journey to wholeness,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
© 2010 Brian Collinson