I once counseled a young wife who had been sexually attacked when she was a young girl. I could see by the expression on her face that she was still discouraged and distressed about the incident and embarrassed to talk about it. Feeling she had been cheated in life, she was somewhat resentful that God had allowed such a horrible thing to happen. Still unable to eliminate her deep feeling of shame over the situation, she began to discuss how she felt about it now as an adult.
I began by telling her she would never be free from the resentment, shame, and negative attitude resulting from her experience unless she could first see the benefits which resulted from the attack. She looked at me like I was crazy and she asked, "What benefits?"
"I'm going to ask you a very difficult question based on two Scriptures—1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Romans 8:28. Do you think that right now you could thank God that this happened to you?
"You've got to be kidding me," she said. "I could never thank God. The only thing I could ever by thankful for is that I didn't become mentally ill because of the attack. I'm thankful for that."
"I'm not asking you to be 'thankful' that it was a terrible experience. I'm just asking you to be willing to say, 'Thank you, God, for that attack because I know You can turn it into good. I just can't see the good now'" (Isaiah 61:3; Rom. 8:28).
She didn't think she could do that, which was understandable. However, I told her she could work through her feelings, and then I asked her if she would like my help. She responded, "By all means."
"First, let's look at your dating life before you got married. Did you ever let anyone take advantage of you sexually when you were dating?"
She replied, "Absolutely not! When that man did that to me, I said no other man would ever take advantage of me again."
"So in other words, because that happened to you as a child, you never got involved in any immorality in high school or college. Consequently, you have been spared the hurts that can come from an illicit relationship. It may have even saved you from the consequences of pregnancy before marriage. In essence, the man gave you a vaccination that may have saved you from worse problems," I said.
"Yeah, I never though of it like that, but that's exactly what happened," she replied.
"Now I'm going to show you the most important thing of all. You received a gift at the very time the attack took place. Do you know what I'm referring to?"
"No, what is it?"
"You received a priceless quality that will enable you to better love others in a genuine way. That is, greater sensitivity. How alert are you to your children's needs and your husband's needs?"
"I can believe that. It's only naturally that when something terrible happens to us, we become even more aware of and sensitive to the sufferings of those around us. Awareness and sensitivity then become the basis of genuine love—being able to detect another person's need and having the motivation to meet that need in an effective way"
I continued by asking what kind of man she had married. Was he calloused or gentle? She said her husband was a very loving, tender, gentle man. She considered him a wonderful husband. It became increasingly obvious to both of us that because she had been abused by a man, she had become more aware of her need for a gentle and compassionate husband. She realized how the experience had "sensitized" her to the type of husband she really needed.
By the time she left my office, she had all the reasons she needed to thank God for her past. After being in bondage to negative feelings for years, she was set free simply by thinking through the positive factors involved.
The first step to gaining a positive attitude is to discover the benefits of the negative situations. (Incidentally, I haven't heard of a situation yet that lacked positive benefits.) It often seems that more tragic the situation, the greater the positive consequences. I am not saying that as we recognize the positive side of a negative situation, we can be liberated from the chains that tie us to guilt, resentment, despair, and any other negative feeling which has held us captive.
With this principle, I must include two cautions: First, I am not providing an excuse to do something wrong, with the rationalization that something good will come of it. I believe that such reasoning is shallow and perverted in that the wrongdoer is always the loser (Luke 17:1-2). Second, people who are suffering from tragedy don't need a flippant statements such as, "I know you can find some good in this if you really try." So first be sensitive to their emotions and their immediate needs for comfort. When the time is right, after empathic comfort has been extended graciously and gently, then you can begin to help them see the benefits of their problems.
The more you discover the inherent benefits of your own problems, the more positive your attitude will become.
Copyright (c) 2005 Smalley Relationship Center.