Have you been deeply hurt by someone? What did they rob from you — innocence, opportunity, money…reputation? Whether the offense was planned, coincidental, or accidental; feelings of anger and shame can overwhelm a person with despair. But, recovery is possible once you realize you always have a choice in how you respond.
Try a simple exercise. Think about your mood right now. How would you describe your present mental state? Are you feeling — anxious, tired, distracted…curious? Now try to stand outside yourself. Imagine you are looking at yourself in a video as if you are somebody else. What do you see? Is your face relaxed or are you grinding your teeth?
Your ability to complete this simple exercise makes you uniquely human. Animals do not possess such self awareness. As a human being you can think about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It’s the reason humans have dominion over everything in the world. We can learn from our experiences, even hurtful ones, and discover wisdom. We can evaluate, imagine a different life, and then set out to create it. We can even empower others to build on our advances.
A simple acknowledgment of this unique human privilege provides a great starting point for recovering from your pain.
Of course we have no control over many life situations. We cannot change the past, nor can we change how parents conditioned us during early childhood. But we can choose to transcend our condition and our conditioning. Stephen Covey wrote, “Our unique human endowment lifts us above the animal world. The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfill our uniquely human potential. Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
Hope builders take responsibility for how they respond when others hurt them. They accept the uncomfortable truth that often the greatest harm comes not from what happens, but by how they respond to it. Covey notes that the word responsibility combines “response-ability” — the ability to choose a response. If we don’t recognize we have the ability to choose; we will abstain in despair. Surrender your ability to respond differently and you give more power to the one who hurt you in the first place. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Victor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, manifested this power of choice. He was a psychiatrist trained in the school of Freudian determinism and was taught that circumstances outside your control govern life and there is not much that can be done about it. After he lived through the death camps, Frankl rejected this idea and championed personal “response-ability”. Though Frankl lost all his freedoms and suffered unspeakable atrocities, “He began to become aware of what he later called ‘the last of the human freedoms’ — the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away… He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him.” (Stephen Covey).
Victor Frankl, rediscovered the older wisdom of Genesis overlooked by psychiatrists because they based their deterministic ideologies in animal research (Pavlov, Skinner, etc.) His suffering clarified the distinctive capabilities of human beings created in God’s image.
God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [everything]…over all the earth…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
At creation, God elevated us above brute conditioning and gave us the freedom to choose our response and not react like animals. Like God, we can evaluate our thoughts and feelings. God has given us a noble sense of self so we can separate ourselves from the moment and rise above our emotions. We mimic God when we use our imagination and creativity to bring order out of the chaos, and light out of darkness. As we exercise this responsibility, we not only recover our hope and joy; we reflect the image of God.