A 10-minute read by Mark Manson
Original may be found on Mark’s site HERE.
Marguerite Johnson was born in the late 1920s in Arkansas. A poor black female in the segregated South, Johnson didn’t exactly have a bright future to look forward to. She endured the hardships that virtually all African Americans endured during and beyond segregation—second-class citizen status, economic and social exclusion, living in near-constant fear of physical threats and terror, and so forth.
As if that weren’t enough, the particular events of Johnson’s life wouldn’t make it any easier for her either.
At age 7, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told only her brother about it. A few days later, her attacker was found dead.
She was so traumatized by these events that she didn’t speak a word out loud for another five-and-a-half years. An outcast, both from the outside and from within herself, Johnson was seemingly bound to a hard, lonely life of struggle and isolation.
Marguerite Johnson, however, would later change her name to Maya Angelou and become a dancer, an actress, a screenwriter, a poet, a prominent leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the first black female to write a best-selling nonfiction book, her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She won multiple awards across multiple fields and even gave a presidential inaugural speech in 1993.
And what was perhaps most impressive is that, at one point, Angelou admitted that she didn’t become what she was despite her early trauma, she became what she was because of it. When she wrote, she said she wrote over her scars—scars that only she could see and touch and feel.
Let’s be real: trauma is not a “good” thing in life. All things being equal, none of us should have to experience these horrible things. But all of us do, at some point or another. That’s just a fact of life.
Most of us live through at least five or six traumatic events in our lifetime—we lose someone close to us, get divorced, lose a job, get a scary diagnosis at the doctor’s office, get assaulted and on and on—and more often than not, after one of these events, we’ll come out at least a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser, and a little bit of a better person.
THRIVING IN THE FACE OF TRAUMA
Up until relatively recently, the field of psychology mostly studied the ways in which trauma fucked us up. It makes sense why psychologists thought this for so long.
When starting out 100+ years ago, as a “quack science,” initially it was only the most desperate and disturbed who resorted to seeking psychiatric help. Mainstream people with mainstream problems didn’t go see shrinks because it was still something stigmatized as embarrassing or shameful (and still kind of is).
As a result, the first 50 years or so of psychological/psychiatric practices dealt with the really hard cases. You know, schizophrenics, manic depressives, suicidal people, and so on.
This created a sort of selection bias. Since psychologists were only studying the most extreme mental health cases, and pretty much all of these cases involved the patient experiencing some terrible trauma at some point, early psychologists came to the logical conclusion that trauma leads to mental health issues.
But this, it turns out, is wrong. And, in fact, it’s often the opposite.
It wasn’t until psychology and psychiatry became more mainstream that the field began to realize that trauma is incredibly common. In fact, trauma is actually a fact of life. And not only do most of us not succumb to severe mental breakdowns, but many people end up growing and developing into stronger people due to their past pains. As many as 90% of people who experience a traumatic event also experience at least one form of personal growth in the following months and years.
These people eventually come to feel a greater sense of appreciation in life, their priorities change, their relationships are warmer and more compassionate, they draw from a greater source of personal strength, and they see new possibilities in their lives they never even considered before.
Now, before you go on thinking, “OMG, Mark Manson says all I need to do is experience some of that rip-out-your-heart-and-spit-in-your-face trauma and then my life will finally be the way I want it. Let’s get this trauma started!”
Uhh… No. There’s more to it than that.
THE TRAUMA IS NOT THE END, IT’S THE BEGINNING
It turns out that trauma in our lives, in whatever form it takes, isn’t actually the thing that makes us “stronger” in this case. All those inspirational quotes with cheesy sunsets about enduring adversity and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” they all kind of mislead you into thinking that just enduring some form of hardship is enough to steel yourself against future hardship.
That’s not entirely true.
It’s what comes after the trauma that really matters. It’s not the survival of trauma that makes you stronger, it’s the work you put in as a result of the trauma that makes you stronger.
Traumatic experiences shake us to the core. They make us question our fundamental beliefs about the world and our place in it. They make us question the degree of benevolence and kindness and predictability in the world and of the people around us. Some traumas serve as stark reminders of our mortality, something most of us don’t want to think about.
And then there you are, traumatized and bewildered, lost and questioning everything about your life. At that point, it can basically go one of two ways:
- You fall off the proverbial mental cliff and experience some Real Shit™ that leads to a lot of dysfunction (less common than you think);
- You use this as an opportunity to forge a new set of beliefs and a new worldview that is more resilient and enduring than your previous worldview (a lot more common than you think).
Think of it like an earthquake that rips through a city. Everything is pretty much fucked after the tectonic violence wreaks havoc beneath. But after that, buildings can be rebuilt with new knowledge of structural integrity and people have the opportunity to design more resilient systems to guard against future earthquakes. The city doesn’t just “bounce back” to its previous state—it’s made into a wiser, more resilient city.
And so, when our lives are disrupted by some tectonic-shifting personal shit, we have the opportunity to rebuild ourselves. We’ll carry the memory and the pain of the experience with us no matter what, just as the people of a city carry the memory and loss of a natural disaster like an earthquake.
The question at that point is, how will we rebuild ourselves?
LIFE AFTER TRAUMA
Trauma creates a distinct before and after point in our lives. Trauma creates moments that we’ll likely never forget.
The extent that we can experience personal growth after trauma depends a lot on the narrative we construct around this before and after point.
It’s normal to ruminate about your pain, to question the meaning of it all, and to feel any combination of guilt, shame, fear, and loneliness. This can really suck. You end up playing the trauma over and over again in your head, like a bad movie you’re forced to watch in a theater where you’re strapped to the chair and your eyelids are taped open. It doesn’t feel real. And each replay feels almost as painful as the last. It’s like your brain punching itself over and over again for months, or even years, on end.
But as shitty as this is, it’s actually a crucial step in creating a narrative around your trauma. The narrative you construct will help lead you out of the dark corners of your mind and ultimately to a better place. As humans, we need to make sense of the world around us, and like I said before, trauma rarely makes sense as it’s happening to us.
So what should that narrative look like? Well, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- IT’S NOT ABOUT DESERVING
Our natural inclination when something horrible happens is to ask, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Generally, the younger we are, or the worse the experience, the more we will naturally come to blame ourselves for our pain. We will come to feel that there must be something inherently wrong with us and that we did something to bring the situation upon ourselves.
The most important step in forming the meaning of our pain is understanding that it’s not about deserving. That goes for ourselves, but it also goes for others as well. It’s not about deserving. Pain is not a zero-sum game. If somebody hurts us, hurting them back doesn’t make it better.
In fact, pain is the opposite. Pain is contagious. It’s like a virus. The more we hurt, the more we will feel inclined to hurt ourselves further and to hurt others further. Our own perceived shortcomings will be used to justify further destructive behaviors towards ourselves and towards those around us.
It’s important to recognize this and to stop it before it goes too far. We did nothing to deserve our trauma. Nobody deserves trauma. But deserving is not the point. It’s just something that happens.
- A NEW APPRECIATION FOR LIFE
I remember when a close friend of mine died, it immediately made me aware of my other friendships and how fragile and tenuous they were. I found myself making the point of telling my friends that I cared about them and that they were important to me. This had the effect of actually strengthening some of my relationships, despite the fact that I had just gone through an intense loss.
Because trauma confronts us with the possibility of our own mortality, and with the possibility that most of what we thought was true about the world may not be, it has the interesting side effect of exposing what we’ve been taking for granted for most of our lives.
It’s extreme pain that has an uncanny ability to clarify what actually matters in our lives, and removes any inhibition or doubt as to whether we should take advantage of it or not.
- TALK ABOUT IT
Narratives don’t form in a vacuum, they only exist when they’re communicated to others. Researchers have found, over and over again, that a strong predictor of personal growth following trauma is a willingness to open up about the trauma in the context of a supportive social network.
Find a friend, a family member, a therapist, your pet iguana, and share your experience, your feelings, your doubts, and your fears that surround your trauma. Get out of your own head and share your shame.
Some of the most profound wisdom in your life will come from your trauma, but that wisdom can never be realized if you don’t share it in some form or another.
There’s a stigma in our culture around sharing our pain. Unfortunately, disclosing that we’re hurting runs up against a number of taboos — that we should be positive and pleasant, that our problems are just that, our problems, and that the self-reliance of people means we get what we deserve.
But squelching our trauma only makes it worse. It festers and infects us. And this is perhaps the greatest lesson we get from Maya Angelou. Her ability to transmute her pain into a message of hope and empowerment is what led to her healing, not the other way around.
It’s sharing our own personal pain that allows us to move beyond it. Because it’s one thing to just sit and intellectualize our problems to ourselves. But once we share and mold that meaning out in the world around us, our pain becomes something outside of us. And because it’s now outside of us, we are finally able to live without it.
Don’t mean to sound like an angsty teen, I’m just not feeling the “love”
On a positive note Valentine’s Day Candy and chocolates will be on sale by Wednesday….
Ah, POOP!!! I’m doing Keto! I’ll have to make myself something….meh!!!
Here’s something worth the effort…..Keto Coconut Raspberry Cupcakes
- 1 Cup Coconut Flour
- 1 Cup Almond Milk (Unsweetened)
- 7 Large Eggs
- 1/2 Cup Butter
- 1 Tbsp Baking Powder
- 3 Tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 3/4 Cup Erythritol
- 1/2 Tsp Liquid Stevia
- 16 oz Cream Cheese
- 28 Fresh Raspberries
- 1 Cup Butter
- 1 Tbsp Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1/4 Cup Erythritol
- 1/2 Tsp Liquid Stevia
Note: The frosting recipe makes enough frosting to frost 32 cupcakes so you can always cut it in half if you don’t want to use the rest as a dip.
Instructions For Cake
- Preheat oven to 350
- Powder Erythritol in a food processor
- Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well blended
- Pour into silicon baking cups and bake for 28 – 30 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean)
- For Frosting:
- Melt butter
- Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
Baking Tips: The fat and butter in most keto cupcakes will destroy cupcake wrappers and cause any color in them to bleed all over the place. So I recommend that you forgo the wrappers or use silicone baking cups. Silicone baking cups are great because the food doesn’t stick to them, so it’s easy to make beautiful cupcakes every time. You can still use festive wrappers after they have cooled.
Serving Size: 1 Cupcake (makes 16)
Total Fat: 19g
Carbohydrates: 6g – 3g Fiber = 3 Net Carbs
Dietary Fiber 3g
The HistographerA strong woman doesn’t shy away from love. She feels the magnetic pull towards you and scared as she may be at first, she doesn’t pull away. She meets eyes with you and suddenly finds herself drowning in the depths of your unfathomable eyes. Thrown off-guard, she holds her gaze confidently as through to…
Dicen que ya nadie se enamora. Que el último romántico ha muerto y que las flores ya no saben de floreros. Dicen que los besos a ojos cerrados pasaron de moda, que las cartas a puño son muy lentas, que agarrarse de la mano es cosa de viejos. Dicen que abrirle la puerta a una dama, para qué, si hay igualdad de derechos. Dicen que hay que pretender que uno no siente; que si te llaman bien, y si no, también, y si te he amado no lo recuerdo; ¿cómo te llamabas, que no me acuerdo? Dicen que para todo hay que hacer una cita, consultar el calendario, la fecha, el horario, dos cafés sin azúcar y pagamos a medias. Dicen que no hay diferencia entre el amor y el sexo, y que eso de querer con el alma es puro cuento. Dicen que no aman porque les da miedo el amor, y aunque tengan razón, nunca voy a estar de acuerdo. Porque digan lo que digan, aquí estoy yo, escribiéndole al amor. Queriendo, besando, sufriendo, muriendo y resucitando; solo para amar de nuevo. – Brando
They say that no one falls in love anymore. That the last romantic has died and that flowers don’t know about vases.
They say that kissing with your eyes closed went out of fashion, that handwritten letters are too tedious and that holding hands is for old people.
They say, about opening the door for a Lady, what for if we have equal rights. They say you must pretend not to feel anything; that if they call great and if they don’t that’s fine too. If I have loved you I don’t remember. What was your name? I don’t recall.
They say you must make an appointment for everything, check the calendar, date and time – two coffees, no sugar and we split the bill in half.
They say there’s no difference between love and sex and that loving with your soul is just a story. They say they don’t love because they are afraid of love yet even if they are right I will never agree with them. Because regardless of what they say, here I am, writing for love; loving, kissing, suffering, dying and reviving just to love again.
To My Son’s Father,
While you truly do not deserve an ounce of my energy or a moment of my time, I am writing to you on behalf of our son and his unfulfilled desire to experience some glimmer of a healthy and functional relationship with his father. I use the term “our son” extremely loosely as your contribution to his existence has been minimal, yet this beautiful young man still longs for your love.
I could hear it in his trembling voice this evening as he enumerated all the reasons why he would rather not have you in his life any more. Frankly this has been a long time coming. You’ve missed out on so much: a lot of skinned knees and ear infections, a lot of late nights and early mornings, a bunch of empty pockets and unfulfilled promises. You don’t feed him or clothe him or cuddle with him. You do not help him with his homework. You don’t listen to him, comfort him or respect him as an individual.
It’s pouring here in Houston and it does not seem like summer is as close as it is. But in the meantime I’m going to wear these beautiful pieces from the Chloe+Isabel summer collection and pretend I’m on vacation.