Often enough a client shows up with a major trauma of long duration and intensity – the kind which makes them repeatedly wonder why did this happen to me. They elevate their pain by declaring themselves responsible in part for the trauma, by feeling guilty about it!! In fact, I have such an issue arise about once a week and similar ones are working in the background with many more clients a week. In a way, people who show up for therapy think they have to fix themselves, not that others have to fix themselves. They sometimes come around to the latter view after a while, often quite a while, as a stage in their recovery.

To have hope of recovery from their injuries, the client requires these: their strengths, their useful defence/offence capabilities, and courage.

Client strengths are among the way stations to recovery. The injured often have developed capabilities which make them effective people – “functioning” as psychologists call them. In these capabilities–personal discipline, a developed set of skills, interests, relationships, etc.– are the wherewithal for taking charge of their injured parts(s).

Useful defence/offence capabilities are most important for the client because they provide an envelope of safety and the possibility of extending it further into their worlds. Without a good defence, hurtful historical patterns are recreated in dysfunctional present social, vocational and intimate relationships. To achieve such defensive capabilities often requires placing the bad parts of one’s life aside enough to appreciate the existing positives.

Finally, to make a choice which implements a personal objective appropriate to the requirements of one’s situation often, in turn, requires courage. The courage both pushes back against the lingering forms of the original hurts and counters the fear arising from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.  To resist manipulations, demand consideration, assert preferences–for the injured these may occur in very small steps which require the courage of a fighter. They require moving from being frozen in the light of the danger (the child victim’s position) to an appropriate withdrawal or counter attack (the capable adult’s choices).

Why did this happen to me? Fate and destiny

Part of a recovery process or a life in general, is a sense of its wholeness–a sense which does not come from techniques and skills alone. Wholeness has to do with one’s place in the world, one’s meaning in the world and meaning to the world. I am aware that the terms destiny and fate cover overlapping grounds, often referring to the same aspects of life for many people.

I think of the fated part of ourselves as what we are born with: our internal orientations, temperament, biological potential and so on–our gifts so to speak. Then add the externals we arrive into: our family, social class/status, ethnicity and the general surrounding socio-political-economic conditions. These internals and externals are our givens. We can make no claim for our worthiness arising from our various inheritances, a fact confused by the tendency of others to attribute special virtue to certain givens – money, beauty and connections come easily to mind. What we can claim is that we worked on our inheritance. We tried. This brings us to destiny.

I think of our destiny as what we choose to do with those gifts if we can get a chance to develop them, or how we respond to lack of opportunity to do so. Destiny is the chosen part of our lives, what we can answer for. We can be judged for our destiny, but not our fate. My various inheritances gave me a starting place and certain destinies I have never pursued. Many of those inheritances are absences of discernible capability. Maths comes to mind unless it’s the intuitive kind that’s good for guessing dinner tabs without calculating, but not for building or analysing at all! My brothers got the usable types.

Other inheritances are life opportunities arising from our fate which give us a head start in certain directions which may also be false. It can take quite a while to work out what part(s) of our fate are most important to us. We are often actively discouraged from taking on certain gifts. Especially those in esoteric activities like dance, writing, singing, playing, theatre, and painting are areas with a known likelihood to produce barely sustainable lives of noisy desperation.

That such gifts exist is powerfully attested by the numbers of would-be musicians, painters and writers who persist with their aspirations for love of them. They certainly can’t be doing so for money. These gifts are also where fate and destiny overlap most clearly: not being able to or allowed to pursue one’s calling is experienced as a failed destiny by many; pursuing successes in the forms that are socially rewarded but personally inappropriate may be to accept one’s fate rather than seek one’s destiny.

In the end, from where I am now in my destiny, the question of worth cannot be answered by what good I have done, but how well I tried to do whatever it was I was trying to do. Put differently, being successful comes in many forms, the most important of which are the least visible. It cannot be the case that the basis for self-evaluation is “success” in any of the vaunted senses our commercialised reality daily espouses. Many lives never get a chance to be successful in those terms and so they cannot just be worthless, can they?!