Years ago I wrote a series of six psychological thrillers featuring a very flawed forensic psychiatrist named Frank Clevenger. Clevenger was in deep emotional turmoil, but that was precisely the energy he drew upon to resonate with the suffering of others and render extraordinary and life changing insights—not just as he investigated crimes, but as he explored the underlying pain of many of the characters who populated the novels.
I have thought about Frank Clevenger a good deal, lately, as I have faced very painful events in my own life—untrue accusations that have then been trumpeted by the media and that require me to defend my character. Because I have noticed something about the wounds I have endured: They have made me especially able to identify wounds in others and help transform those wounds into growing places for personal power.
Why is this? By what alchemy does pain not only connect us, one to another, but also fuel spiritual and psychological strategies for survival and growth?
First, I believe that all human beings live behind shields, something I have written extensively about in my self-help book Living the Truth. The shields can include getting lost in computer games, or materialism, or food, or alcohol, or work, or anger, or tumultuous relationships, or any number of other distractions from our true selves. They keep us hidden from one another and from ourselves. When we have to lower these shields, however, due to the force of the trouble in our lives, we can emerge as especially sensitive and connected versions of ourselves, unleashing extraordinary empathy. It may well be that we feel most for one another when we are in touch with how each and every one us can be hurt.
Our resumes don’t create bonds between us. Our successes don’t bind us, one to another. Our metaphorical injuries do.
It is when we (even those of us who coach and counsel and provide therapy) encounter real life challenges that we have the most raw and accurate vision of the profound pain they can bring. This has motivated me to fight harder than ever to restore the clients I work with to well-being and to also set the stage for them to become everything they are destined to be.
Second, I believe that living through adversity can strengthen one’s belief—one’s faith—that difficult chapters of one’s life story are just that—chapters. They don’t constitute the whole of one’s story. This has certainly been the case for me. I am more certain than ever that pain can pave the way for better, truer chapters being “written” by me, in the future. I believe more deeply than ever that adversity can purify, rather than destroy a human being. I believe that pain can be transformed into power. And that belief is setting the stage for actually helping others to “write” (i.e. live) the most powerful parts of their own lives.
Just days ago, I wrote and posted this to Facebook:
Your pain is your invitation to become more powerful. Every challenge and crisis in life is also a calling to become your greater self.
I believe this to the core of my being. I believe it more than ever before, as recent life events have cut me to my core.
Pain is meant to be turned into power. Every time. In my life and in yours. When you’re ready to team up to make that happen for you, so am I. Especially, now.
Dr. Keith Ablow