What Do We Really Do When The Past Is Too Bitter? — Lionesses of Africa

by Elohor Oderowho

Almost every successful person has had pivotal moments in their lives that nearly turned their worlds upside down – there was usually a setback, a traumatic experience or an event so painful that made them for a moment, stop believing.

Just last week, I got connected with an old friend, Kenechi, who struggled almost half her life. Although 7 years older than me, I was an insider and knew almost everything she went through from childhood to adolescence down to adulthood. She lost her parents at the early age of 6 and had to live with a distant relation – whom she shared no strong ties with (for a solid 13 years). Forced to become a housemaid, abused and beaten at the slightest mistake – Kene grew up in mental chaos and frustration. In spite of all these, one thing amazed me about her. She hardly looked like what she was going through. Kene was this church girl, easy-going and open-minded; I recall how often she’d talk about her dreams and ambitions – which truly hardy made sense to me, given her situation at the time.

For a few months we lost contact and I discovered that she got an opportunity to study somewhere in Wales, after she connected with her Uncle – who vowed to show her favour for the sake of his demised brother (her father). Kene now works as a big-time therapist and counsellor in London – beating the imaginations of all who know her history.

Many of these stories often send chills but some of all these experiences are too bizarre to be called a simple coincidence. Oprah Winfrey is one perfect example, she was raped at the age of nine, became pregnant at fourteen and lost the child at infancy. Some people wonder how she possesses such a powerful ability to pierce through the heart of others on television – causing them to unrestrainedly tell their stories. But the truth is that her experiences both as a child and as a teenager caused her to develop empathy, discernment and most of all – the courage to impact others.

While we all have diverse experiences, it’s imperative that we understand the power of the past. To some people, the past is extremely traumatic, mentally debilitating and too painful to even recount. Some grew up in extreme poverty, became orphaned early, experienced grave losses, financial ruin, sexual abuse or something more devastating. But irrespective of these, it’s always easier to ace in spite of demoralizing past experiences and become the top 20% of society with resilience.

Resilience, which is the process of standing strong in the face of misfortune or adversity, is often developed as one progresses through tough times and learning to accept the messiness that comes with being a human – an unavoidable truth creates a stronger adaptability feature.

What makes two people different despite having gone through similar traumatic experiences is the willingness to overcome the struggles whilst determining to thrive. The most successful people had to let go and sometimes took very rare risks to make astonishing changes.

Many people think that forgetting the past is what makes you strong – well, I have a different opinion; it’s rather your ability to carefully integrate your past into your present reality that makes you different. In other words, the power of the past is that you can find purpose in it. You don’t have to run away from these experiences or shun your broken beginnings – rather, develop adaptability, independence and determination to come out of the other side. A very practical example is the purification process of gold. It’s thrown into the fire and beaten until it becomes as gold as it should be.

Looking through another lens is perhaps one of biggest ways to understand that the past is often the fueling agent to big breakthroughs and success. A person who understands what it means to live in extreme poverty will have a stronger determination to practice financial management, take risks and invest. Another person who has gone through the spasms of sexual abuse will find it easier to be revolutionary when dealing with similar cases in people. A therapist who understands what it means to be mentally torn down and broken will develop more practical approaches in the field. Therefore, there is always a solution and a potential to thrive amidst every tinge of pain – that’s if you begin to see it that way.

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