Three Things (Part 1)

Posted on December 9, 2012


I previously served as a counselor at San Diego Hospice.  Working with people at the end of their lives and working with grieving partners and families has a way of putting life in perspective.  I found a few consistent themes that came up and I came up with three ideas that can be difficult to accept, but can be very healing once they are laid hold of.  These apply not only to end of life, but at most every stage of life.

  1. The bad thing that happened to you was not your fault.
  2. The worst thing you did does not define you.
  3. The best you could do was the best you could do.

The bad thing that happened to you was not your fault.  I don’t know what percentage of the adult population experienced sexual abuse as children,[1] but my clinical experience would suggest that it is a surprisingly large percentage.  That would be just a part of the trauma that individuals have endured.  I have had aged dying clients share with me about abuse they suffered as children.  In some instances, they have carried the weight of that all of their lives and have never told a soul.  For victims of abuse or other trauma, there is often shame associated with the experience.  There is a part of us (either conscious or unconscious) that believes we were at fault for the abuse.  Let’s set the record straight: when a child is abused, the child is never at fault.  Whatever it was that was done to you when you were 4 or 7 or 10 or 14, you did not cause it.  It was nothing about you that caused it to happen.  If the trauma happened as an adult, the victim is never at fault.  You are not to blame for the evil that was perpetrated upon you.

The worst thing you did does not define you.  We are fallen human beings.  My assumption is that every one of us has done some despicable things in our life.  I have found that people at all stages of life carry around some deep grief and shame over something that may have happened years before.  Most of my clientele are Christians.  Even Christians who are taught by their faith that their sins have been atoned for by Christ’s sacrifice can carry around for years the self-condemnation for some past act.  The bad things that each of us have done, they were not okay.  But we should not allow them to define our lives.

The best you could do was the best you could do.  Many people carry regrets about some incident or aspect of their lives they wish they had handled differently.  Grieving spouses and families can regret everything from treatment decisions to how they treated that person who died.  Very few people go through life with malevolence, intentionally trying to harm others.  No one intentionally makes bad decisions.  At the same time, each of us will not get through life without making some mistakes or handling some situations poorly.  We are not perfect.  When I work with a client, I generally find that the way an individual reacts to situations makes sense given that person’s life experience.  Perfectionism is a cruel master.  We do the best we can, and then we need to extend ourselves some grace.

Each of these three things can be easier to accept cognitively than it is emotionally.  If reading this stirred up painful memories and you are still experiencing distress when you think about those things, it would be a good idea to talk with someone about it.  Therapy is a good safe place to do this.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).

[1] A web search did not produce the statistics.  Even if there were statistics,  the data might be limited by the percentage who would admit to having been abused.