A couple of weeks ago I found myself sitting up late one night watching Good Will Hunting, and thinking about abuse survivors. If you’re not familiar with the movie, Matt Damon’s character is a survivor of abuse in a foster home who just happens to also be a mathematical genius. Only he works as a janitor and has never really tried to make a career out of his genius.
Now, that’s hardly the only thing going on in the movie, so if you’ve never seen it, it is pretty good. However, it is the thing that I relate to. No, not because I’m a mathematical prodigy, but because I was one of those young adults, who had spent my childhood surviving, and learning how to protect myself, not how to step out and challenge myself to succeed in life.
You see, life is a bit more like computer troubleshooting than it is a true/false exam question. As a survivor, we tend to think in very black and white terms. Choices are all about avoiding bad consequences, at all costs. Adult life can’t be lived that way, not in any meaningful way. You make a choice, see the results, and adjust from there.
When you have a computer problem, let’s say you can’t print, there are a number of possible answers. The printer might be broken, the computer might not be connected to it properly, the software you’re using may not be configured to print to the correct printer, etc. You don’t walk in knowing exactly what the answer is. You change one variable, say printing from a different computer, and see what results. If you can’t print from another computer, you focus on fixing the printer, if you can, you focus on the computer you can’t print from.
Life is a bit more like that. There’s no one answer that fixes everything. You are faced with multiple decisions on practically a daily basis, and if you live in fear of one of those decisions going bad, you find yourself paralyzed with fear. Far too many survivors live with this every day. Unable to make any choices, take any risks, for fear that one of them will go wrong, as if that wasn’t making a decision in itself. In fact, it’s that decision that is hurting you more than any other choice probably would. Yeah sure, if you step out and take a few chances sometimes things won’t work out the way you want. Just like sometimes you change one thing trying to correct that computer problem, but it doesn’t go away. But you hardly throw up your hands and quit trying to fix it. You learn from what did happen, and adjust your approach. Life decisions will go wrong sometimes, but being healthy means having the strength to accept that and adjust your approach.
Being afraid to make choices might protect you from some harm. It also “protects” you from the good things life has to offer too. Those require taking a few chances, stepping outside the comfort zone every now and then, and having the confidence to know you can always troubleshoot the results.