Life Lessons: When You Hurt The Most, You Grow The Most All of us have personal experiences of our own, and those shape the unique and personal lens with which we see the world.
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I recently wrote my third book, Mark of a Man, which I built with the desire to create a framework specifically around men and their emotions. While the book isn't exclusively for men, I did want to lift the lid on this topic and open up a dialogue on it, using the outworking of emotions I went through during my divorce to shed some light on the complexities of being a man in today's world.
Men and women are beautifully different. We both have our challenges and limitations, struggles and successes. In my book, I talk a lot about the expectations and responsibilities of a man, and the difference in masculine and feminine energies. Most of all, I talk about the pain that is found in our emotions when things don't go to plan, or when the choices we make or the choices others make that massively impact us leave us in a state of exhaustion, depression, and sorrow.
I believe that it's extremely important that we face and sit with the emotions that rise up inside us. Personally, I often pick up my pen and paper to write down the emotions I am feeling. In doing so, I explore why I am feeling them, and what each emotion represents. And I think that if all of us make it a point to do this simple exercise on a regular basis, it will help us break through some of the fog we find ourselves in when life becomes too much.
I am thankful for all the experiences I have had, even the bad ones, because when I lose or when I hurt, I realize I have a greater sense of self, and a deeper understanding and empathy to not just my own situation, but also the situation of others. When I think about my own development and growth, it has all stemmed from seasons of hurting, pain, and loss. Of course, it isn't fun to lose, it isn't fun to lose something you once had or even once loved. Indeed, I think that society, as a whole, is grieving the things we each once had and no longer possess in our lives.
You would have seen from my other writings and shared thoughts that I place a great emphasis on the way we frame things, and the narrative that plays out in our heads based on our own events and musings through the course of our lives. All of us have personal experiences of our own, and those shape the unique and personal lens with which we see the world. This lens is often formed through our childhood, and the way we have been conditioned in our homes and societies. Sometimes, our circumstances don't change, but the way we frame them does. After all, our thoughts produce feelings and those feelings often dictate our actions and choices.
I often believe we grow most through our relationships with other people. Going through a divorce like I did several years ago certainly stirs the pot of emotion, but it also, for sure, gives a framework for personal growth. Kristina Todorova, founder of Coaching for Transformers, sums it up well, saying, "Pain is a catalyst for personal and spiritual growth. It can be an unbearable emotion to endure, but also one that teaches you to go inward and look for peace, calm, and comfort within, which, in turn, shows you how resilient you truly are; it shows you that you can find calm and strength internally, in the midst of outer chaos and devastation. It is through experiencing pain that we develop greater self-awareness, and become better equipped to handle emotionally challenging situations in the future."
My dear friend and business associate, Ashley Bendiksen, is also very familiar with the heartache of a break-up. As a survivor of abuse, Ashley touts the lessons she gained from being in an unhealthy relationship dynamic. She learned to be resilient, strong, and empowered. She also learned that silver linings can be found in every situation- a mindset she has since applied to countless life moments, from loss, to sudden hardship, and even the ending of a perfectly healthy and loving relationship. According to Ashley, all of it supports us to grow and expand.
Ashley Bendiksen, international speaker, abuse prevention expert, and activist. Source: Ashley Bendiksen
Today, Ashley is an international speaker and activist. She also works one-on-one with individuals as a certified life empowerment coach, cognitive behavioral therapy practitioner, and lifestyle/career design specialist. Here are excerpts from a conversation I had with her:
Ashley, can you briefly describe your story?
As a young adult, I experienced severe domestic and sexual abuse by multiple dating partners. I believed this was either normal, or that I was somehow just destined to struggle. By age 20, I was at rock bottom after a physical attack. I had no idea who I was. I'd thrown away all of my goals. I was homeless, penniless, and a college dropout. Yet, rather than feel even more defeated, for the first time ever, I felt determined to turn my life around. It was a moment that changed my life. I became someone I never dreamed possible. Today, I'm an award-winning activist, speaker, writer, a valedictorian graduate, and self-employed as an expert speaker and consultant on abuse prevention, trauma recovery, and resilience.
Can you explain that painful "rock bottom" moment, and how you transformed it into opportunity?
Near instantly, I learned a powerful lesson that our mindset is everything. I could have viewed my circumstances as more evidence that I was meant to fail. Instead, my entire mindset shifted. I saw my "nothing left" as a blank slate. It was a chance to create and build whatever I wanted. I channeled my pain as fuel. I was determined. I spoke to myself positively, and asked more empowering questions. Instead of saying, "Why me?" to myself, I asked, "What am I gaining from this?" By simply reframing my perspective, my life began to change for the better overnight. I learned to spot opportunities. Further, my pain inspired me to want more for myself and my life. It opened my eyes, and this became a gift. I've never stopped moving forward since.
How have you grown from your greatest moments of hurt?
I am who I am today because of the difficult experiences I've gone through. I've found purpose from my past. I've learned my strength and my unique abilities. It has influenced my work, and my ability to impact the lives of others. Because I've experienced pain and loss, I seek each day to build a beautiful life for myself. I live fuller and with more joy, gratitude, love, and purpose every day. Adversity has been my greatest, most unexpected gift.
How do you continue to navigate moments of pain, heartache, and loss today?
Faith. I'm a staunch believer that our lives unfold exactly as they're supposed to. I have too much proof to not believe this- that everything works out as it should. It's not always easy to maintain this conviction, especially in times of pain, but strength and faith become a product of life experience. You gain the perspective that growth always comes in some form- a lesson, eliminating, clearing space for something better and new, growing more aligned with our worth, remembering what we desire and deserve, reinventing and re-envisioning our lives. Even in the heartache of a healthy and loving relationship, perhaps that person was simply an "expander"- someone meant to teach or show us something for whatever is next. In retrospect, these things do always make sense. We grow when we embrace these difficult moments. We learn lessons, we learn about ourselves, and eventually, growth becomes a beautiful byproduct.