Bad Experiences Shape You, They Do Not Define You
This isn’t going to be a feel-good self-help manifesto, telling you that whatever happened to you doesn’t matter, that all that matters is how you think about it. I’m not going to airily tell you to put a positive spin on your rape, on your beating, on your disaster. Your worst experiences matter. If they change the way you feel, live, are, that is completely normal. This isn’t all in your mind. Society sucks, it creates some sucky individuals, and they harm us.
So I’m not just going to tell you get over it.
I am going to tell you that, however it might feel inside, you are more than your worst experience. You are everything that came before, everything that comes after. You are not a rape, a beating, a disaster.
If a person stole your body for a while, they did not steal it for life. You get it back. you get to determine what comes next.
Of course, your worst experiences will condition what comes next. It will add something more that you have to deal with. Undestanding that your pain is a circumstance to be handled is liberating, in the same way as, for the oppressed, understanding the mecanisms of structural violence is empowering.
This is why we look at the effects racism and sexism have on people of colour, women. Not so that we can victimise them, as some would have us believe, but so that we can recognise the forces countering their agency. Because otherwise, we send the oppressed the message that they are responsible for things being so hard. Once we have seen what they are up against, they are better equipped to face it, and don’t turn their blame inwards when they feel the forces of oppression. Self-blame is paralysing.
What is also empowering is to realise that, whatever screwed up chapter someone may have imposed on your life, you write the rest of the book. You may be shaped by what happened to you, but things don’t end there.
Acceptance is a dangerous game. Sometimes it feels better to be in denial, like admitting what did happen will give that bad event more importance, will let it take over entirely. But we do need to accept. We do need to realise what we are working with. We need to do this, because in denial, the bad person will remain, like a shadow. We need to shine a light on our new shape so that shadow disappears into memory, and then we need to carry our new shape forwards, into the thousands of other experienaces which will shape us.
We are more than our worst experiences.