Strength from pain

I currently am teaching another class of wonderful women who are in the first phase of acquiring professional stature in the field of family therapy. Many of these women have been working informally for years as advisors and counselors and teachers. Many simply have the insight and will to help others.

This week, they completed an assignment I had given them in which they had to assess themselves in terms of what they were bringing of themselves to the therapy relationship. All of them were candid and open to discovering themselves. Virtually all of them understood something that is little understood elsewhere, but should be. They understood that many of their greatest strengths came from the adversity they had suffered. Their ability to withstand the challenges they had been given enabled them to become stronger. Their having lived through adversity enables them to understand others who are enduring or who have endured similar challenges and to be able to understand the complex web of feelings that pain and suffering activate. They understand that one can feel hurt and angry and embarrassed and ashamed and frightened and abandoned and worried– all at the same time. That tangle of emotions is what makes people unable to express themselves because it is all so confusing. My students understand that having gone through such tangles of feelings, they are sensitized to others’ feelings and able to understand them and provide the support that others need.

Many years ago a doctor (who neglected to read an x-ray report that the radiologist had written that identified the pain in my hip as a stress fracture) and had sent me for a bone scan, became convinced that I had a tumor and sent me for a stat CAT scan and an MRI. He explained that if it were a tumor, it would be secondary to cancer somewhere else in my body. I naturally believed at that point that I was looking at the last of my days. I began to see the world differently. I realized how future oriented speech is and how detached I already was becoming from the world of people whose futures stretched out ahead of them. I remembering passing a cemetery where a funeral was taking place in the rain and thinking that soon I would have my day. Somewhere in all of that, I remember thinking that if it turned out that I was OK, then I was having the most unbelievably enriching experience because from then on, I would know what it feels like to think that one’s days were ending.

The results were, of course, good. It was only a couple of years later when I was transferring my records that the original radiologist’s report fell out of the large x-ray envelope and I saw the cause of my pain. However, because of that experience I was able over the years to relate in a more relevant and compassionate way to people who had terminal diagnoses.

One of the paradoxes of life is that adversity can build understanding and compassion and that having suffered pain becomes an asset in terms of bringing caring and kindness to the world.

My students are all lovely women. They will go out into their communities and bring with them not only their enthusiasm and caring, but their deep understanding of others and most important, the knowledge that adversity often builds strength.

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  1. frank spigel says

    your stress fracture of the hip, reminds me of my experience with thyroid cancer. My internist did not think it was thyroid cancer, my brother who is an M.D.
    thought otherwise.As a result I flew to new Mexico,and saw a pathologist who diagnosed it correctly, and on that Friday I had surgery in New Mexico.
    It can be very tricky to find the right doctor.

  2. Tzippy Ben-David says

    Hi! What a lovely thing to say about the women you teach! From your writings I can see we have a lot more to learn from you than just what you teach in class. I truly admire your spirit. Thank you, Tzippy

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