Reusing Pain: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
I hate it that I was sexually assaulted and physically beaten as a child. So many times I’ve wished it hadn’t happened. But it did happen.
Despite the fact that I’ve been on the healing path for years, I continue to learn about myself and how my painful childhood has carried into my adult years.
One significant fact has emerged from struggling with my past: I’ve learned to reuse my pain. That may not be a sophisticated way to say it, but it helps me to think of it like that. Recently, people have said many nice things to me about being a good listener, encouraging them, and being compassionate.
For a long time I tried to stop them and say, “That’s not who I am.” I knew my heart and when I thought about qualities such as compassion, I’d grade myself about a C minus. I’m sure that’s because I still struggled with my lack of self-esteem.
Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to the compliments from others—especially when I hear them more than once. For instance, about ten years ago another writer named Rhonda Ray called me sweet. Her words shocked me. Immediately I thought of the unkind, harsh things I’d said about others. I shrugged and reminded myself that Rhonda didn’t know me well.
Shortly after that encounter, a woman who had been a member of a church where I had pastored for ten years said, “You are really a gentle person.”
Gentle? Me? That word just didn’t fit my self-image, because I knew myself too well. Over the next few months, people described me as kind and thoughtful.
One day I asked my wife, “Have I changed drastically within the past few months?” I told her about some of the comments.
Shirley laughed and said, “They’re true. You’re finally learning to believe those things about yourself.”
I’m extremely uncomfortable even now in writing this, but from the compassionate words of others, I’ve learned that some of them know me better than I’ve known myself.
Or the way I think of it, I’ve learned to reuse my pain. That may sound like an odd jump in logic but it works like this. I received little kindness as a child. Or perhaps I hurt so much, I was afraid to believe or trust anyone who showed any kindness.
One day I had one of those moments of enlightenment. I realized that I gave to others what I wanted others to give me. As simple as that sounds, my thinking changed dramatically. How can I do that? How can I embrace others when I can’t embrace myself? And yet that’s what I was already doing.
My biggest moment of insight came when I looked at what I’ve done as a professional writer. My most successful books are those I’ve written about other people.
What I hear from others is that I know how to get into the heart of those about whom I write. That still shocks me because I have no idea how I do that but I assume those who say such kind words mean them.
Thus I’ve reused my pain. As a child, one way I learned to avoid regular beatings from my dad was to become sensitive to his moods. I was probably too young to figure out that Thursday—the day before his payday—was the worst time. My dad was a functional alcoholic. Each day when he came home from work, I could tell just from the way he walked and the expression on his face whether I needed to hide. I couldn’t have put that into words but intuitively I knew. That was part of my coping.
As a collaborator, I’ve often been drawn to the stories of underdogs, of those who shouldn’t have achieved, but they do. As I listen and try to put their emotional responses in print, I sometimes smile and say to myself, I’m reusing my pain to help others.
By Cecil Murphey
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Cecil Murphey wrote, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed with survivor Gary Roe. Murphey is the author or coauthor of more than 130 books including international best-sellers, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story.