Marie and her twin sister Rose had the same childhood experiences. They went to the same schools, had the same teachers, liked the same activities and enjoyed the same friends. Yet as they got older, Marie excelled in her job, had a sable marriage, and was satisfied with her achievements. Meanwhile, Rose became an alcoholic, had an abusive relationship, and was unable to hold a steady job.
How is it that two people with similar experiences can wind up in such different places? This concept seems to fly in the face of modern philosophy. If you provide your child with what they need and want, they will succeed in life. Oddly enough, future success and happiness is not determined by grade point average, a stable environment, or socioeconomic status. Rather, it is rooted in a person’s belief that they can and will overcome adversity.
Marie and Rose experienced the same difficulties. They were in a car accident that left both of them in the hospital at a young age. Their brother died in a drunk driving accident. They lived through a flood that devastated their home. And their father was an abusive alcoholic. Yet they each walked away from these circumstances with different beliefs about themselves and others.
These five powerful events transformed Marie into a high functioning adult while it left her sister barely surviving. The key lies in what Marie thought, felt, and believed about herself and others. By examining your own experiences and what you take away from the event, you too can transform your life. Let’s look at these events more closely.
- Accidents: It is not the severity of the accident that is the issue. Rather it is how it was handled by others, what a person continues to fear in the future, and what a person gains from the experience. The car accident did not keep Marie from getting her drivers license like it did Rose. Their mother, who caused the accident, rarely drove after the incident. Initially, Marie was afraid to drive as well but she was willing to push past that fear because she wanted the freedom of being independent more. She used her car accident as a constant reminder to be mindful while driving and was generally a cautious driver.
- Deaths: Some deaths are more traumatic than others. The untimely and sudden death of their brother due to his drunk driving was devastating to the entire family. While Marie loved her brother, his impulsive and carefree nature frustrated her. Rose, on the other hand, identified with his personality more and took his death very personally. In an effort to keep him alive in her mind, she refused to grieve and let him go. Marie sought out counseling to ensure that she completed the grieving process. As a result, Marie felt she had closure despite the tragic nature of his death while her sister continued to bury the event as if it never happened.
- Traumas: A traumatic event can be a variety of things such as the loss of a home, divorce, imprisonment, miscarriage, abortion, loss of employment, and abandonment. For Marie and Rose, the loss of their childhood home due to a flood was tragic. Both of them were away at a summer camp when the river near their house swelled the banks and spread rapidly into the neighboring small town. Within hours, their house along with several dozen other homes was completely flooded. Everything in the house was lost. In the past, Marie had been closely attached to her things but she used this event to learn how to let them go and not put her trust in the longevity of her stuff. By contrast, Rose clung even harder to the few things she had left and became a mini hoarder of stuff.
- Abuse: Marie and Rose suffered from emotional, verbal, mental, and sometimes physical abuse from their dad when he was drinking. Both of them learned quickly to avoid and hide when he was drinking so as to minimize any additional abuse. However, Rose took his abuse personally and believed that she was responsible for his behavior. She thought that if she was good, he won’t need to drink. Marie did not share Rose’s perspective and instead developed a strong adversity towards alcohol. She blamed the substance, not herself, as the reason for the problem. As a child, she would even hide the alcohol from her dad, which only aggravated him, to keep him from drinking. Marie was willing to confront the problem by trying to find a solution even if it meant he would be angry.
- Addictions: Watching their dad’s addiction to alcohol was difficult. Even worse, was seeing it manifest in their brother at a young age. Both of them swore that they would never drink as a child. Rose did not mean to fall into the same trap, but as an adult, she had too few coping mechanisms and eventually turned to alcohol. Marie did not. She had developed healthy ways of coping with her stress and never felt the need to drink. She was able to keep up the commitment she made to herself as a child which fed her self-confidence and self-esteem.
These five powerful and painful events shape the character of a person. Everyone experiences some level of difficulty, however it is how it is handled, what a person thinks, how a person feels, and the commitment they make going forward that determines if their character is shaped for the better or worse.