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.