A response to the theory by Kazimierz Dabrowski.
Before I start, I must state that I have a deep love and affection for the magazine ‘Womankind’ and that the stories I read within this fabulous publication often results in an outpouring of ‘observations from the middle’ (being my observations from my middle aged life).
Recently, in ‘Womankind’ I read an article about Positive Disintegration which explained the theory devised by Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist from the early 20th century, who believed that the personal trauma associated with difficult events in life was not something to be shunned but rather embraced as a pathway to personal growth. My first instinct, as a mother and a teacher, was to scoff at such a notion as we all know that personal trauma, especially PTSD, can have a devastating effect on a person’s psyche and life.
But, then I had a think about my own life.
I had an idyllic childhood and I did not want for much; consequently, I firmly believed that if I wanted anything hard enough, worked hard enough, and fought hard enough, then it would be mine. This attitude encompassed both my working and my personal life and unfortunately, or fortunately rather, I was wrong about such a mindset in both areas of my life.
In my personal life, I worked hard at relationships that were toxic and unrewarding. However, after a time, I discovered that a good relationship, a healthy relationship is one where the couple love and respect each other and neither has the ‘upper hand’ because one ‘wants’ the other so much that they are willing to ‘fight’ away every doubt they have about them, even at the cost of their own mental health.
So, after a handful of disastrous relationships, I forced myself to be single for a longtime and learned to like myself. When I learned to like myself, I learned to to love those who love me and I have been happy ever since. I experienced personal growth and am a better, happier person for it.
Although, it must be said that I have chronic confidence issues in social situations with people I don’t know and I don’t trust. But, that’s another story…
My husband and I lost our first child to trisomy 13 when I was five months pregnant; not genetic just bad luck apparently. And to say that I was traumatised is like saying Boris Johnson needs a hairbrush. However, after some gentle straight-talking from my mother and a very quick conception of our second daughter the minute we were allowed to start trying again meant that I did ‘survive’. Prior to this experience, I had a very laid back attitude to babies and children but I do think that losing my first daughter in such a way makes me appreciate the presence of my two surviving daughters so much that I am actually a better mother, and a better teacher, because I realise how precious life is.
Although, it must be said that around the date of my first daughter leaving me each year I get this overwhelming urge to move, run away as if I am trying to escape the feelings of overwhelming sadness I have. I am pretty sure that my husband has it circled in the calendar so that when I start forwarding realestate announcements or job advertisements to him incessantly he points out what time of year it is, I cry and it’s over… kind of…
In my career, when I was in hospitality, I felt that I should always aim for the next step ‘up’ to prove that I ‘worked’ hard enough. It worked, and at 23 year old I was the manager of the restaurant on the Gold Coast. I hated it. Not only were the hours ridiculous but the owner/chef alternated between trying to get my into bed (unsuccessfully) or publicly belittling me at every possible opportunity. Needless to say, that after a year I left.
I moved on to another restaurant where the 50+ year old owner would try to seduce me with his wife and children in the next room while I politely try to come up with excuses as to why I needed to leave the room (I was always successful). He would make promises of how I would progress to great heights of hospitality management provided I ‘make him happy’.
Uhmmm….. no, I did not make him happy but I made me happy… I left.
I wish I could say in the 1990s that this experience was unusual but it wasn’t. Pretty much every restaurant I worked at there would be some chef, owner, or regular patron who thought I was fair game.
By 1997, I had had enough and I went back to university to the parental cries of ‘but you have a career’ and ‘you don’t have what it takes to succeed at university’ ringing in my ears. But, little did they know that nothing, NOTHING was going to make me go back to working with pigs of men who thought that being friendly meant that I wanted to sleep with them.
So, I ‘worked’ hard, I ‘fought’ hard because I really ‘wanted’ never, ever to go back to hospitality ever again.
And I didn’t.
That being said, I also don’t seek to have a career trajectory because I am so worried that my happiness at work will fall away just like it did in hospitality because someone (man?) in charge will sense my need to ‘succeed’ and try to manipulate me with promises of ‘success’. So, I have remained a happy but ambition-less slob (much harder to manipulate when the subject is content with their lot in life).
So, maybe Dabrowski is right, maybe personal trauma does lead to personal growth. Despite the baggage that I carry from the few traumas I have experienced, I suspect that I am a better, happier person for it today. When I was just emerging my from idyllic, privileged childhood I have to admit that I took a lot of things for granted and I expected everything to just happen for me. However, after my ‘life events’ I have to say that I take nothing for granted and I value my love, my work and more importantly, my life. And when it’s all said and done, that is some pretty decent personal growth.