H is for Using Your Own Hurt To Help Other People

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Everybody has setbacks. Everybody has pain. Each person can then ask:

How do I want to use my experience? Do I want to use it to help people or hurt people?

During my early career I visited many therapeutic communities that helped troubled youngsters to answer these questions. One therapist explained their community’s approach in the following way.

People can get their highs by helping others or hurting others. This has consequences for both themselves and other people.

People who came to the community had been hurt in the family and institutions. The danger was that they would take revenge by hurting others. This could prove expensive for both themselves and society.

People who came to the community were provided with a caring environment. They had the opportunity to learn how to be healthy and happy by helping themselves and others. This would benefit both themselves and society.

During that period I also went to a seminar given by Viktor Frankl. author of Man’s Search For Meaning. A survivor of the Holocaust, he explained how we could use our own experiences to help others. He said:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.

They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Human beings long for a sense of purpose, said Frankl. He believed there were three ways to create meaning in life:

By doing a deed or creating a work.

By appreciating the experience of someone or something.

By choosing our attitude towards suffering.

Different people choose different paths to use their hurt. Nelson Mandela put imprisonment behind him to forgive his guards. Maya Angelou overcame sexual abuse, rape and falling mute to become a writer who gave hope to other people.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a person you have known or heard about who used their hurt to help people rather than hurt people.

Describe the specific things they did to help other people.

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Different people learn different ways of dealing with hurt. Some develop resilience early in life, but even they can be debilitated by physical or psychological wounds.

Professor Gordon Turnbull has helped many people to recover from trauma. He has worked with survivors of battle zones, sexual abuse, Lockerbie rescue workers and returning hostages, such as John McCarthy and Terry Waite.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be a perfectly normal way of coping with traumatic events, says Gordon. The symptoms may be expressed in different ways. These include flashbacks, nightmares, self harm, illnesses, addictions and hurting others.


Gordon believes in creating a space where a person with PTSD can feel safe. Every person is different and moves through the recovery process at their own speed.

Gordon enables the person to build up a picture of what happened to them and their reaction to these events. He asks the person to explore the following questions.

What happened to you?

How did you feel about what happened to you?

The second aspect is crucial, says Gordon. Explaining their emotional reaction to what happened can help a person to work through the feelings and begin to recover.

Does it work? The vast majority of PTSD sufferers that Gordon and his colleagues work with resume relatively normal lives.

Different people have different reactions to hurt. Al Siebert, who studied survivors of traumatic events, says that some people recover and go on to ask the following question.

How can I use what happened to me?

Some return to encouraging the key people in their lives. Some create support groups for those who go through similar experiences.

Some work to help victims of abuse, torture and atrocities. Some focus on prevention. They try to improve methods of childcare, education and other aspects of society.

Looking at your own life, are there any ways you might be able to use one of your painful experiences? If so, how could you use this to help other people? You may, of course, be doing this already.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific experience of hurt that you may be able to use to help other people.

Describe the specific things you can do to help other people.

Describe the specific benefits of doing these things to help other people.

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