Is Our Character Made Better by Bad Experiences?
We have all heard the expression that experiences are character building; the implication is that the worse the experience is, the better the character built. The idea seems to have an enduring appeal as a way of hardening us up or showing us the ‘real world'. But is this really the best way?
Stronger and wiser for the experience …
There is no doubt that some people have seemingly been made more capable through the experience of adversity. We all know someone who has been through a bad experience and has come out the other side stronger, wiser and more ‘rounded’. There is even some theoretical support for this, in the understanding we now know about the way brains work. We learn better under a moderate amount of stress; with too little stress, we don’t seem to learn as much, perhaps because there is less motivation.
Moderate stress makes us more alert, more receptive to new data.
… but we are easily overwhelmed
Yet, the evidence is that too much stress makes it impossible for us to learn. This is because our systems become overloaded and all we can do is make short-term survival decisions. These are often at the cost of our long-term best interests because we freeze in a hopeless paralysis. Even though it is a truism that bad experiences are character building, the other side is that that you are likely to hear the stories of burn-out, break down and ‘he was never the same since…’
We don't choose stress to learn
Further, despite our some-time support of stress being character building, we don’t naturally choose stress as a component of a learning environment when we want to try to learn something or teach something. On the contrary, we choose a supportive environment where we have access to patient teachers and good resources. For we also know that support and care are also good environments that we can learn things in, such as the value we have for one another.
Psychotherapy is a learning environment
In many ways, psychotherapy is a process of learning; I think it is important to provide a welcoming environment, comfortable setting and understanding. These are important factors that make it easier for you. Through this environment, your stress levels are reduced down to a level which makes it possible for you to take new information in and start the process of rebuilding.
Tell me what you think in the comments.
– Tim Hill