November 28, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Finding Something Positive From My Abusive Childhood

Hi all,

I am so pleased to introduce you to Cynthia Krainin, whom I met while serving on the Surviving Spirit board. She is a wonderful and amazing woman and author, and I know you will learn much from her during her guest blogger series. Enjoy!


Recently I learned of the passing of my co-author Nancy Brook. We wrote, Thriving At Work: A Guidebook For Survivors Of Childhood Abuse.  After having a good cry, memories of our countless hours of collaboration started surfacing fast and furiously like a train barreling through a mountain pass.

The train ride through our time together came to a gentle stop and I heard the conductor announce “We have arrived at Chapter 5 – Strengths of Being a Survivor.  All of those departing please be kind to yourself and watch your step exiting the train."

I vividly remember our discussions about the strengths we needed to develop in order to survive our abusive childhoods.  This subject became the fifth chapter of our book.  I wanted the memories to continue so without hesitation, I sprinted off the train onto the platform of Chapter 5.

My gratitude abounds for my collaborator Nancy and the journey we took together.

There is much work that needs to be done to heal from the deep wounding of childhood abuse.  We are all on the healing path together, but we each have our own process and timing in navigating the journey. 

Some of us roar down the road to recovery on a souped-up Harley.  Others love the comfort of driving the old Chevy down familiar roads.  Each passes the tour bus of survivors that stops along the way to take in the sights.  And there are those who choose alternative modes to get to their healing destination.
What works for one person may not be right for someone else.  In hindsight, we understood that writing this book together was our unique mode of healing.  We marveled at the personal and professional strides we had made.

I am deeply grateful to be able to acknowledge how far I have come.

Writing Chapter 5 started with comic relief.  We were both suffering from writer's block and decided to stop for the day.  As we cleaned up, I jokingly said “What does not kill us, makes us stronger.”  Nancy flung back with “Adversity builds character and we both seem to be characters.”  This gave way to many pithy sayings and stopped at “without our abusers, this book would not have been written.”

Even though we were joking, Nancy and I got the profound teaching.  In response to each of our traumatic experiences, we developed a unique set of coping mechanisms that helped us survive.

Our senses were heightened to warn us of imminent danger; we could feel it coming.  We learned to dissociate, to disconnect and mentally cut ourselves off from unbearable experiences.  We all developed our own set of skills, abilities, personality traits, etc., in order to survive.

Here is a tiny list of some of the strengths that Nancy and I rattled off that afternoon…
  • Strength and fortitude     
  • A heightened sense of listening and watching
  • Awareness of nuances, slight shifts and changes
  • The ability to feel compassion and kinship with others who have suffered
  • An ability to take control
  • Courage and perseverance
  • Sensitivity to conflict and danger
  • Attention to details and directions
  • An ability to respond quickly to a crisis
Take a moment to add your own list of personal skills and strengths.  Ask friends to give you their observations.  Keep adding to this list as you identify new strengths. 

I am grateful that out of a very hurtful time in my life,
I developed many strengths that are part of who I am.

All of these strengths can be extremely useful in our personal and professional lives.  Did you realize that each one is very valuable and marketable in today’s job arena?

It did not take me long as a work-life coach to start introducing this concept to my clients with trauma backgrounds.  Here is an example of possibilities that exist for us by identifying our assets and using them to help communicate our value.

Jeff H. was a finalist for an account representative position with an advertising agency.  The job required assessing client needs, communicating the client’s wishes to the Creative Department, presenting ad campaign ideas to the client and negotiating final terms.

Once Jeff got the job, he asked what made him stand out when his competitors had similar degrees and experience.  His new boss was quite candid and said:

 “…All of the other candidates talked about their skills.  You communicated what it was about YOU that would make you successful in this position. You gave examples of how your strengths had helped you achieve desired results in your last job…  You described WHO was going to show up for work and HOW you would handle the job… the others did not.”

*  *  *  *

Sally G. hadn’t slept for days knowing she was having her first job review. She shook terribly knowing what was about to happen.  In childhood, Sally had been beaten for mistakes she didn’t know she had made. Now she would be fired. 

She was shocked to see herself through her boss’s eyes.  He shared his appreciation for how she supported coworkers, her ability to make people feel safe, to listen without judgment and meet people exactly where they are.  Sally couldn’t believe it.  She was being lauded for her survival skills! 

*  *  *  *

My “survival strengths” have helped make me an effective life coach. Here is a chance for you to list three accomplishments and determine which strengths helped make you effective in each example.

One cautionary note: There are many coping mechanisms that helped save our lives during our abuse but are no longer helpful.  They need to be de-commissioned because they backfire when used today.

How dare I look at the “bright side” of abuse!  Personally, I had to find some aspect of my childhood abuse that was not painful.  And it has paid off in spades.

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