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Life Stories
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I have long known someone with a far different life story from mine, rather, an opposite way of interpreting life events. To this person, life is a tale of bad things happening to him, events which contaminated his whole life and which recur in vicious cycles. His mother (now, thankfully, no longer with us) alternated between bullying him and withholding nurturance. His father died when he was young and his stepfather was noted mostly by his absence.

The stories he tells have an event in his life which changed everything. His mother and stepfather refused to lend him money for college, because they were having financial difficulties. To him, this was betrayal of his deepest held dream and he "punished" them by volunteering for Army service and served in Vietnam. It became a blueprint for his life, stuck in the past, unable to move forward to a positive future.

I could give examples of the recurring patterns, but you can guess the rest. At every critical juncture, "they" withheld support and "someone" didn't want him to succeed. His life story is one of plots and betrayals, failure and weakness and self-pity.

As I look back over six decades or so, I think I can see two general types of people. One is like my friend, as described above. As to the other, Dan McAdams in The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, describes them as people who live by and embody their own (and others') redemptive stories.

It is possible to transform pain and loss, failure and negative events, into stories of commitment, making a difference in the world, commuting harm into good, finding inspiration and sustenance in the redemptive stories from the past (Pilgrims, George Washington, escape from slavery) and from the present (Oprah, self-help books, religious and political stories).

People create their redemptive stories out of their own life experiences. I am the heroine in my own childhood story of living with and protecting my schizophrenic mother, and from those dark years learning the lesson: how to combine compassion and a commitment to service with personal identity survival in a chaotic environment. I see myself as a success and a stronger, better person for it. My friend chose the path of failure and self-pity; I chose the other, and that has made all the difference.

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