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Finding meaning in life from tragedy

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning came to mind today. Dr. Frankl wrote his book after spending time in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. He lost his wife, his family and most of his friends. His book was not just another list of the atrocities done by the Nazis, but a look at the emotional toll taken by the hopeless situations in the camps and how different people responded differently. I learned a lot from this book, and I highly recommend it for those who have suffered “hopeless” situations.

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Over the past few years, as my age and “decrepitude” creeps up on me and I am no longer able to do the more active things I used to do, sometimes I get so frustrated I could scream! I want to be out galloping across the fields on my horse … I can almost feel the wind in my hair as the horse moves beneath me.

The truth is, though, I’m sitting here with my leg up after surgery to replace my Achilles tendon. Though it is probable that I will be able to walk again, probably with a limp, I am never going to be running freely or galloping my horse across the pasture. I am no longer, as the above quote says, “able to change the situation.” I will continue to get older and less able to do the things I did in my youth. That is just the cycle of life, and no matter how I wish I could be young again, have the young, supple body I did then, those days are gone by.

My son, the psychopath

There are a lot of things in my life that are not what I wish they were. I can’t change these things. They just are what they are. One of my sons is a psychopath who is bent on killing me, or having someone kill me, if he can, and especially before my mother passes away, because that would give him some financial advantages that would not be possible were I to out-live her.

Patrick was one of the brightest, most lovable little boys I ever knew in my life. He loved to fish and fly kites and play with the farm animals and our pets. He was a standout at school, and the teachers and other kids loved him. Plus, he was cute as a doggone button. He was unusually responsible as a pre-teen and I really enjoyed being around him.

When he hit the “terrible teens,” though, I was frustrated beyond belief that I couldn’t get him to continue to be the kind of kid that had charmed his friends and his teachers. It happened suddenly, almost overnight. It seemed that he morphed into this teen-aged monster. Somehow I had to change what was happening to him. I had to save him before he did something that would ruin his bright life of the future. What college would accept him, or give him a scholarship, with a criminal record?

Then the next thing I know he was in prison for a felony. I couldn’t give up though. People had found Jesus in prison, and maybe he could get out and go to college anyway, and “straighten out.” I couldn’t believe it was hopeless.

Accepting the situation

But it was hopeless, because my son, my beloved son, Patrick, is a psychopath. No one can force anyone to change if they don’t want to. That is the hardest thing for the rest of us to accept: There is nothing we can do to help the person we love(d) stop hurting us or others. There is nothing we can do with the situation except accept it, and find meaning in our lives in spite of what it has cost us to be involved with a psychopath.

I also dated a man who I believe is high in psychopathic traits after my husband died. I was extremely needy and vulnerable to someone looking for a new “respectable wife” to cheat on, and I think that was what he had in mind. Breaking up with him was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I cried for months.

Accepting that my son is a psychopath and wants me dead, and accepting that the man I hoped to spend the rest of our lives together with was a cheat, a drunk, and not to be trusted, is all part of what I cannot change any more than I can change that I am 65 years old and not up to, and will never be up to, doing the things I have done in my youth!

Stages of life

Psychologist Erik Erikson’s “stages” of life is one of those interesting concepts that actually is quite simple. I am in the “integrity versus despair” stage of my life. This is the early end of “old age,” in which I, as entering old age, must review my life.

  • This phase occurs during old age and is focused on reflecting back on life.
  • Those who are unsuccessful during this stage will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair.
  • Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.

Now I can’t say that I can look back entirely without some regrets, or without feeling that I might have done some things better, but I have made peace with those regrets. I don’t view every mistake I have made as “worthless,” because I have learned from those mistakes.

Mostly I am accepting me as what I am. I am working on finding that wisdom that Erikson talks about. Working on finding dignity and peace in what is left of my life. Not giving in to despair about things I cannot change. I would change Patrick if I could, but I can’t. That’s just the way things are. I am not going to hold out unreasonable hope and then feel despair because I can’t achieve that unrealistic hope of “escape” from the emotional bondage of loving my son. I have accepted and I have “escaped,” and I will live free from unreasonable expectations.



60 Comments on "Finding meaning in life from tragedy"

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  1. Ox Drover says:

    Dear Chloe,

    You are right, there are many women who are high in psychopathic traits and they end up our bosses….I have worked for, and worked with, and been the boss of just this kind of woman.

    Dr. Hare’s book “Snakes in Suits” addresses this kind of behavior and I suggest that you read it.

    His book doesn’t address female (versus male) specifically but it does address the BEHAVIOR and the way they work.

    There is also a couple of articles here on female sociopaths. Go up to the LF search and do a search on “female sociopaths” and several articles come up that may answer some of your questions.



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  2. bluejay says:

    Chloe,

    In my workplace, I know (for a fact) that I’ve worked with female spaths, in the past and the present. I currently have a co-worker that I’m careful around, having learned that if she thinks that you’ve crossed her (in some way), she gets revenge (I’ve been on the receiving end). This one lies to people. She’s a bland type of spath, having a flat-affect most of the time, not reacting emotionally to things that might arise. I recently discovered that a newer employee is a spath (this discovery took me by surprise, not guessing her to be one) – she charms people and will lie to your face, making up stories to raise your stress level. The two of them have apparently formed “a friendship,” so I’m watching them, trying to stay clear of them, keeping my interactions with them brief. It’s hard to deal with them (they can make the workplace unpleasant, that’s for sure), but I’m thankful that I know the truth (about spaths) because then I can figure out what I need to do to protect myself (to the best of my ability).



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  3. Ox Drover says:

    Blue and Chloe,

    It is not an infrequent thing for psychopaths or people high in P traits to TEAM UP together. Eventually, of course, they get cross wise with each other and one stomps the heck out of the other one, and the one who is the “loser” in the contest presents themselves as a “victim”—-but in fact they are “gasoline and fire” in their relationships.

    It doesn’t matter if it is a romantic relationship or a work or friendship relationship…Bonnie and Clyde….they gang up on others and maybe they both go down in a “blaze of glory” or they turn on each other like Mafia dons.

    Doesn’t matter if it is a male/female or male/male or female/female paring. Psychopathy is psychopathy regardless of gender, though I think the males are more physically violent than the females but that is somewhat changing I think. (look at the rate of increase in female felonies)

    The psychopaths that are “socialized” enough to run for congress or to be elected governors or get the corner offices are not maybe as physically violent, but they are just as “deadly” in that they KILL people’s careers, their lives, their finances, their sanity.



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  4. bluejay says:

    Oxy,

    About four weeks ago, the two of them lied to me, causing me to think that I’d done something (that I knew I hadn’t). I replaid the time period in my mind (driving myself batty) and I finally realize that they lied to me. I talked to a witness who confirmed what I knew to be true, that what they claimed to have discovered was b.s. -the two of them deliberately lying to me, causing me to feel anxious, stressed. When I realized that they both hatched up a story (I already knew about spath 1 being a spath, the discovery of spath 2 surprised me), I realized that there were now two of them in the workplace, teaming up, the newer employee being so friendly, outgoing, a pastor’s wife. I try to avoid them, not working when they’re scheduled to work (for good reason).



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  5. skylar says:

    Bluejay,
    I’m sorry you have to contend with 2 of them in your workplace. At least you know and can take measures to protect yourself. Keep records, have witnesses etc…

    Also never underestimate the ability of a psychopath to lure others into doing evil or becoming malicious, so be careful who you trust.

    You’re lucky you can schedule yourself out of their line of sight. With spaths, I think, if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. Being in their presence is what triggers their envy. And besides, they can’t feed on your emotions if you aren’t there.



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  6. bluejay says:

    skylar,

    I try to stay under their radar, interacting with them as little as possible. It seems to work out better for me that way. Most of my co-workers do not act this way, they’re pleasant, hard-working, never stirring up trouble for others. We will look out for each other, helping each other out if need be. Not these two.



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