Bad Childhood Doesn’t Guarantee Bad Life
By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP marriageincrisistoday.com
Life just isn’t fair, it really isn’t. There are a lot of kids out there having some rough circumstances. Divorcing parents, abuse, hunger, family drama, living in war zones, having terrible diseases, etc. And there are children living with committed parents, no health problems, and in a safe neighborhood. But does that guarantee how good of a parent they might be in the future? Not necessarily.
When I think of people who’ve suffered and made a good life for themselves, I think of Viktor Frankl. He was a Jewish doctor specializing in the budding field of psychology before World War II. He was captured by the Nazis and spent three years in various concentration camps. His parents and wife were killed, leaving only
him and his sister as survivors in the family.
Frankl had every reason to hate life, resent the Nazis for killing his family, resent his loss of time being a prisoner, and be generally miserable from his experiences. Instead, he found ways to deal with the suffering that gave it meaning. He insisted that the Nazis could do anything horrible to his body, but could do nothing to control his mind.
That would only happen if Frankl allowed it. He adapted by making conscious choices in his mind that kept him living and looking forward. He also helped other prisoners by inviting them to do the same. They held imaginary holiday feasts together, told stories, and he gave lectures about life in the concentration camp to an imaginary audience.
He created a new movement in psychology and wrote a book called “Man’s Search For Meaning”. The German title translated back to English reads “saying yes to life in spite of everything.” I actually like that title better. That seems to be something that nearly anyone could connect with. Say yes to life in spite of your mother being mentally ill and ignoring most of your childhood. Say yes to life in spite of having leukemia as a kid. Say yes to life in spite of your parents divorce.
It’s not a cure-all approach, more like a moment-to-moment approach. You can choose the focus your mind takes, and no one else controls that unless you let them. If you are riddled with inappropriate guilt, beat yourself up when people criticize you (like your dad), or hold back your trust for all women because you couldn’t trust your mom, then you are trapping yourself.
I’m not saying Frankl didn’t sometimes feel sorry for himself or get bothered by it sometimes. He wasn’t perfect so I’m guessing he didn’t have a perfect record refocusing his mind. But he persisted, which is the point. It preserved him somewhat, helped him turn something awful into a launching pad for new and fulfilling chapters of his life. And it’s something you can do, too. If you’ve had a difficult childhood or had trauma in your life, that doesn’t mean you are doomed to be a bad parent or never have stability.
You can, if not overcome, at least move through your times of difficulty with some sense of control. You
can’t really choose emotional reactions because they’re somewhat irrational and impulsive. But you can manage your focus of thought, your decisions, and your actions. Say yes to your life in spite of everything.
— Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska. Visit her site marriageincrisistoday.com to learn more about saving a troubled marriage.