Attitude Is (Not) Everything


I know, who am I to disagree with Jack Sparrow? What gives me the right?

Well, for starters, years of experience with having a good attitude and yet ending up on the floor bleeding out.

Yes, that’s an extreme description, but I want folks to understand exactly what happens during the holidays to people who are in abusive families.

See, in abusive relationships, no matter if they are familial, in the form of bullies at school (whether fellow students or actual teachers), or an employment situation, no amount of good attitude is going to improve things. I know, I’ve spent 46 years trying to improve my situation by having a good attitude and looking for a way to work out the problems in the relationships.

To a one, whether my parents and Zelena, my third grade teacher who for some reason thought this other kid, Chris, and I made great verbal punching bags, or my last boss, no amount of good attitude could improve my circumstances.

The only thing a good attitude will get you is through it, and that only barely.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl points out just that. It was attitude that made the difference in behavior and in survival in the concentration camp, a situation from which there was no possibility of escape.

Abusive situations are often trapped situations. We cannot get out either because of social pressure or financial pressure, or just not being able to change schools, in the case of bullying students and teachers. Trapped situations can quickly become hopeless situations.

Frankl saw that the people in the camps who could have some sort of end point, something they could look forward to when they were released, could hold onto the hope that one day they would be released. Those were the people who generally made it through.

So, attitude is important, but it doesn’t change abuse, which, truthfully, is what people who preach the “attitude is everything” mantra are saying.

I think we really need to start considering the meaning behind our words when we repeat these lines we ourselves have been told over and over. We need to examine whether or not it is even true. Is attitude everything?  In a truly hopeless situation, for example, your child dying from cancer, is attitude everything? Or is it just helpful?

I’ll go with “helpful.” It is helpful to have a good attitude. But, and this is what people on the outside of trauma have to understand, it does not diminish the pain and suffering. A smile on a victim’s face doesn’t mean they are better. We all want it to, I’ve learned that in the midst of my current situation. Some people just want me to be over it and go on with my life and have a better attitude. That, though, is just for their own comfort.

So, the next question after “is it true?” is “why am I saying it?” Even if it’s partially true, why am I saying it to this person in this situation? Do I really think it’s helpful? Did it truly help me at some point? Or am I just trying to fix them so I don’t have to hear about their problems any more because it makes me uncomfortable?

From my own experience I have found that I often simply use the words because they were said to me at some point. It’s as if I was programmed to respond with them. There is no real meaning behind them. And, sometimes, I’m sure I said them for the latter reason.

Finally, we need to ask ourselves if the words are even useful and necessary. Are we saying them for the comfort of the afflicted or, as in the last question, our own comfort? Or, are we saying them simply because we need to say something?

I have found there is a comfort in quiet solace. While I am only just learning that it’s OK to be touched by others and not necessary to shut down as a result, I see that a hug and no words are often a million times better than even the right words.

For those of you who are facing this pain at the holidays, who dread people asking you what you are doing, for those who don’t even want to talk about the holidays because they are filled with nothing but pain because your daily sufferings are left open and raw because of the happiness of those around you this season, I pray that God will somehow be your comfort, in whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself to you.

And for those of you who have only known happy holidays, I pray that you will have compassion on those of us who loathe them, understanding that we all wish we could be as happy as you, but our current and past circumstances are just too painful, and may you learn to weep with those who weep.



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