The Importance of Negative Experiences

Today I was talking with a friend. He was saying how many of his childrens’ early life experiences he had missed because he had had to work away from home for much of the time. Now he is a self-employed photographer. He produces stunning shots, especially of children and family groups. He often moves people to tears because of his ability to really capture the essence of his subjects. I suggested to him that this is in part due to his appreciation of the importance of his pictures to the families he is photographing. He knows how special those images are.

As a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist I have had clients who have had cossetted childhoods, where everything was perfect. There was no disharmony at home, school was wonderful with many friends and good academic results. Everything was great until they got their first serious rejection from an important relationship or there was conflict in a work environment or somebody was especially awful to them. These people had to seek out help because they were under-resourced. They had no skills to handle negative experiences and found it hard to cope.

The truth is, life is not always fair and we have to learn to take that in our stride and find ways to protect ourselves and recover. At some point we will all get rejected, disappointed, let down. Sometimes we will work really hard and yet still fail to achieve our goal. There are no guarantees about winning. The skill is in not necessarily taking it personally. That and learning to adapt, adjust, regroup and start again, having learned what does not work and appreciating the experience of trying.

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Negative experiences teach us that everything in life is not always about us. Other people form part of the equation. We need to learn to see things from the other persons’ point of view and appreciate that their perspective may not be the same as ours, sometimes for reasons that we do not understand. Accommodating and tolerating that viewpoint is something that is learnt over time.

Empathy is also about being able to appreciate how someone else feels about a situation, even when we have not had exactly the same experience ourselves. So we may not have experienced death, divorce, redundancy in the same way that our friend has, but we can relate to their sense of loss and grief because we have felt that way in another type of situation. We recognise their emotions and can support them through their difficult times. This helps us in becoming more rounded as a human being.

Perspective and positive attitude are the two main strategies for a healthy recovery. The darkest experiences can ultimately teach us about valuing what is good, about making the most of everyday, about seizing the good opportunities and chances that come our way. Sometimes we may have to take time out to lick our wounds for a while, but then the time comes to resume telling ourselves that life is for living and that once again we should pick ourselves up and start taking some steps in life.

Tough times teach us so much. We often find hidden strengths that we never even suspected we had. They will often introduce us to new friends and allies: we learn how caring many people can be; we learn to open ourselves up to other people and trust again, because often we may well have had a need for their help, support or counsel; and we learn to really appreciate the good things in life that ‘cossetted’ people may well take for granted.

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Susan Leigh, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist

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  • angie , March 1, 2010

    I know that some of the worst experiences in my life have been the ones where I've learned the most and become stronger as a result.

    Excellent article!

  • sunnymama , March 5, 2010

    Such an interesting article.

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