Negative Turns and Redemptive Explanations

6

May 9, 2012 by Danielle Harris

Donald derived much of his Storyline material from the ideas of Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, introduced in his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, where he outlines how his theories helped him to survive his Holocaustexperience and develop his ideas about meaning.

Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E Frankl

Frankl posits one aspect of experiencing meaning is to have redemptive explanations for our suffering. These ideas began before the Holocaust, but Frankl further developed his theory while in a concentration camp. Having lost his parents and his wife, he certainly had to test his own theories. He speaks, not from the comfort of his office, but from the very limits of human suffering.

Negative turns happen in every story and in every life.

Finding a redemptive explanation does NOT change a negative turn into a positive. It does not mean putting a positive face on everything, ignoring your grief, stuffing your feelings, or in any way being fake. A negative turn will always be a negative turn. We must grieve each negative turn.

While the suffering is painful, it should not paralyze us or keep us suspended in pain. We must search for a meaning to it. Finding a redemptive perspective is a hallmark of a great soul.

Some of my negative turns and their corresponding redemptive perspectives:

– Getting heavily involved in high school with a wild boyfriend. The affair was time-consuming, all-consuming. It totally distracted from who I was and who I wanted to be. I learned I can’t change people, even if I love them. Some people won’t accept love, wisdom, or help. People have a free-will and they are free to use it. I am free as well. Eventually, a relationship with an unhealthy person just becomes enabling.

– My crisis of faith was an extremely emotional tumultuous time. The experience turned me inside out. I realized the spiritual ramifications of my actions. When I viewed them from this new perspective, I experienced shock, sorrow, fear — even terror, and total subjection. Still, I wonder if I should see this as a negative turn because the redemptive meaning far outweighed the negative experience. It was a death and resurrection, a baptism. I became a new person after that. I accepted a new view on everything. I had new eyes. A new body. A new mind. The transformation, though painful, was so worth it. To me, all redemption stories (including my own) are foreshadowing or echoes of the Christ story — death and resurrection. I’m unsure of how to place this turning point. It was negative and positive … a paradox.

– Getting my M.A.T.  I see this as a definite negative turn. Frustrated and impatient because writing didn’t pay well, I quit my job and went to school. The editors used me as cheap labor as an intern and they wouldn’t take me seriously when openings came up (could it be because I rode my bike, worked odd hours, and dressed like a college student?) I dropped my dream so quickly, so easily. I listened to those voices that said “Do something practical”, sacrificing a great hope.  It would take me years to come back to writing. It would take Paul and I years to pay back the debt (still paying). Turned out to be one of the longest and most painful lessons ever. Being a certified teacher and a home educator has given me a unique perspective on education. People cannot dismiss my point of view as unqualified. Also, I am able to encourage other parents who wish to home educate. I can say with confidence that I had to un-educate myself from the system in order to educate my children. Parents who have not attended a teacher program actually start ahead of someone immersed in the public school system.

Moving to Texas. Paul and I took jobs as home-care counselors for state-placed kids. Elsa was two. Greta was 6 months. I didn’t realize how time-consuming the job was. I worked so hard. Greta developed health problems and stopped gaining weight. We put her through terrible tests because the doctors thought something was seriously wrong (she had a high metabolism coupled with an extremely easy-going personality. The girl just wouldn’t eat!) The emotional draw upon our family was heavy. A redemptive part of this process was that we were able to support my sister during a separation from her (now) ex-husband. Sometimes our negative turns can be a positive for someone else. It’s important to remember that life isn’t always about us. We’re all part of a greater story. We are a gestalt. 

– We left Central Oregon for a job in my home-town. I was pregnant with Ingrid. Home just wasn’t what I had expected. Isolated and alone, I saw my parents less than when I lived in Central Oregon. I liked being near my sister, but she was busy building a house and lived far enough away to make it inconvenient. The entire school year depressed me. Paul hated his job. We were miserable. This caused Paul to seek a job back in Central Oregon. It led us to eight wonderful years living in a cabin in the Ochoco Mountains. They were golden, delightful years. I formed my homeschooling philosophy. Every night we watched the stars from a hot tub. We snowshoed in the moonlight. We went on forest walks and the girls played in the creek. It was a restful, peaceful, healing time after all the moves and turmoil.

– After building our log home, I decided to work full-time to pay for it. Hindsight is 20/20. I can’t speak for Paul, but the building of our home distracted me from what I really wanted to do. At the time, on the surface of my being, I wanted a home designed for function and beauty. But I was ignoring a deeper part of myself and chasing a wish that was not true to who I am. For Paul, he may have truly wanted to build something. I think the building of a home is closer to his heart. But had I not interfered and, instead, followed my course, he would have built something completely different … more affordable, more reasonable, more his dream. His dream would not have my interference and would probably not be so blighted. We really wanted to build something unique and we did it (I say “we” as the flea said to the elephant). We designed the house. Paul general contracted the house and did most of the actual building of it. Even though we eventually lost the house, we have a confidence that we can do BIG things.

– I went to work full-time to pay for a house that was an escape from my path. I heard rumors of teacher cuts. I decided to work with a good friend and we created teaching jobs for us based on the best educational methods. We founded a school. Perhaps it was self-sabotage. Perhaps, subconsciously, I knew I should write and not teach. Perhaps I was afraid of myself. I don’t know. But (against my poor friend’s better judgment), I tossed the administration job to someone who operated from a controlling, fear-based perspective and the vision was lost. The school collapsed. Again, I learned about what I/we can do. Things are not impossible. I learned to trust my gut about people and to listen to other people’s gut feelings. Hunches should be attended to. If you spend a lot of time in your head justifying people’s actions and words, then it’s probably not a great relationship for either side. It should be severed. Also, you can’t hand off a vision. Visions can only be carried by you. Hand-offs are dangerous, messy affairs.

– We struggled through two years of unemployment. We fed our family by subbing, writing, illustrating, tutoring, temp jobs, art classes, commercial fishing, construction, and odd jobs. Paul and I spent months apart with him trying to work in distant places. During this time, I spent a great deal alone, which allowed me to reduce my many interests into a few. I was once told, “Most people can only do one thing really well.” I decided to focus intently on writing and allow minimal interruptions to it. I’m going on two years of steady effort.

–  We lost the house in the end. To make matters worse, we borrowed money to save it. Finally, when it went into foreclosure, we were in far more debt than when we began. Never, never, never borrow! Never! I guess I learned my lesson. We’re free from the house, at least. Somehow, not being tethered to it makes me feel hopeful — like maybe we have bigger plans. I’m unsure if it’s true, but the hope is the thing.

– Paul got a tempting job offer which was nothing. One of the most difficult days of my life. I can’t remember crying that hard. It was worse than losing the house. These negative turns culminated. Had it happened in isolation, I would have been fine. It had the humiliating effect of reaching for an offered delicacy while starving only to have it withdrawn quickly as you reach. It came after years of struggle and loss and disappointment. That horrible day I wallowed in self-pity and pointless anger. A definite low-point. We had wandered in the desert, thirsty, and saw water ahead. When we arrived, there was only the sand blowing in our faces. Those months, we despaired. Somehow, hard experiences, if you get through them, gives you a clear perspective. I know what I want. I’ll be fiercer about allowing things to interfere. I feel like a survivor. I feel wary and shrewd — like no one can take my hopes without a fight. I know who I am and I know what I want, more than ever before.

Listing the negative turns in my life reveals some patterns. Some of them, like the economy, were unavoidable. But, leaving Central Oregon, my working outside the home, my doing something else besides homeschooling and writing, my efforts at “productive stalling” (doing good things that aren’t the right things), all seem to send us into a downward spiral. The next post will list my positive and negative turns in chronological order and I’ll rate how positive or how negative they were. Then, I’ll transfer them to a timeline and search for a theme.

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6 thoughts on “Negative Turns and Redemptive Explanations

  1. robin says:

    Love the term productive stalling….very insightful. Enjoyed reading this post.

  2. [...] Oregon Pilgrim The Quest for a Timeful Life HomeAbout Danielle Harris ← Negative Turns and Redemptive Explanations [...]

  3. keeks says:

    Your story is exquisitely amazing! How does it feel to be naming areas of your life as positive and negative terms? Is walking through the StoryLine material – easy, frustrating, exciting? I’m curious. It is nice to map things out and see where we’ve been and where we’re heading.

    • It’s actually kind of painful in a good way. Like picking off a scab. I’m somewhat annoyed with self-reflection (I’ve been doing it too long), but since I went to the Storyline conference, I’ve been enjoying it. Thank you for reading.

      • keeks says:

        I LOVE what you are doing here – just utterly fantastic! I’m not very comfortable with self-reflection – I appreciate you being so candid about this process.

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