My Psalm 124
Gains & Pains: A Lesson from Agony
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
In his paper entitled “Mythology in Psychotherapy: An Interview with Jonathan Young, Ph.D” published in 2002 in the PsychJournal, Volume III, Dr. Joseph R. Dunn asked about using folklore as analogies for learning resiliency. Dr Young defended this practice: ‘The heroic journey is a description of an initiatory adventure. In many ways, psychotherapy is an initiatory process. People seek help when their coping mechanisms fail. This is the boundary of a new country, a place they have not traveled before. The ancient sagas provide roadmaps for people dealing with anxiety-producing experiences and the mysteries of the unconscious. The tales help with the difficult life situations that most of us don’t have the conscious resources to handle. It is useful that those who came this way before left a record of what they learned in the form of wisdom tales.”
Dr. Young continued: “We stumble into each stretch of the journey without the education to handle the formidable tasks we will confront. We can examine these texts for clues to our specific circumstances. That is how I see the direct application of myth to psychotherapy. “
A more recent news story from this week on ABC television network discussed the connection between most school shooters within the United States and internationally. Many adopted the two young shooters at the 1999 Columbine tragedy as their own personal folk heroes. Almost all left some mention of the two troubled young men and hailed them as heroes, using their response to their own bullying as the only response possible.
The two teens in Columbine had been bullied and ridiculed constantly by their peers. They both were under a doctor’s care for anxiety. They also had a reputation among the school faculty. What is often left out of their story is the term paper and accompanying animated video they prepared as a class project a month earlier. No one discussed the nature of the paper with them; it was merely graded as to whether or not they completed the assignment. The paper outlined their plan. They also stood in the cafeteria for the next four weeks at the exact same spot where they began their tragic journey to death. Ding such violated cafeteria rules but no one wanted to approach the males in Goth-like attire. No one went out of their way to inspire these young men and so they resolved their situation their own way, the way they had foretold in their paper. Because the stopped the bullying by ending their lives, others in similar situations feel that is the only answer. It is not.
Dr. Young discussed another bullied character from folklore. “Cinderella had to go through a long period of loss. Both of her parents died. The tale has a central theme of bereavement. This is evident in the symbolism of the ashes. Cinderella gets her name from her role of hearth-keeper. While taking care of the fireplace, gets soot and cinders all over her. Funeral traditions include “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” So, the ashes in the story reflect death, loss, and grieving. The cinders suggest light and passion. This story suggests that we can get through the trials but the experience will be dreadful. It will feel like an awful cruelty. Cinderella also has to deal with oppression from those with power over her, specifically her stepmother and stepsisters, who do not appreciate her qualities or existence. “
Dr. Young continues: “ Our clients, friends, and colleagues are going through such struggles. It is common for people to seek help for problems just like Cinderella’s. The story tells about a person surviving terrible hardship. Throughout, she holds on to a sense of hope that something good might come of her life. If the therapist mentions this familiar example it can linger in the client’s mind. It can serve as a lasting reminder that others have endured, and so can you. Because the client probably has warm feelings about the tale, it is like a comfortable old friend who is faithful during adversity. In the Cinderella parable, when the time arrives for the great ball at the palace, she is not expected to go. Her sisters make fun of her for wanting to go. She has not given up on herself even though for years her sisters have treated her like a servant. She reaches for the golden moment and good things come of it. The account is full of insights about getting through long ordeals.”
As one young man in the ABC story explains: “I thought violence was my only hope. I was wrong. There are people out there to help.” We tend to not step outside of our own comfort zones to help others, especially those who are frowned upon by society. The truth is that we must offer them the hope we ourselves have. We have to be a beacon of light. If we don’t, who will?
Events like Columbine can be avoided and we must do everything we can to prevent another one from happening. Those of us who have received gains from life must reach out to others who have received pains. Just as Cinderella found the key to rising above her situation, we must reflect the hope of the world so others can overcome and rise to reach their full potential.
My Psalm 124
Help me, O Lord, to stand when I fall.
Give me strength to overcome.
You are my help, O God.
You are the lamp for my path.
Let me hear the voice of angels
When others mock me.
Lead me to hope and joy, dear Creator.
Nothing can bring me down
When you hold me up.
I will rise on your love, Great Spirit.