Don’t Underestimate Your Emotional Backstory

Olympic Judo hopeful Kayla Harrison is an incredible athlete. Her strength and skill have propelled her to the top of her sport, and earned her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in London. But according to this NPR segment, she’s sometimes frustrated at the motives behind the bright spotlight:

“Do I wish that everyone would just talk about how, you know, awesome I am — and how I could be America’s first gold medalist? Yes, I wish that,” she says. “But America wants that comeback kid story. They want the person who overcame obstacles to reach their goals. And I fit that bill pretty well.”

I’ll let you read the article to find out the obstacles Kayla is speaking of. If she’d rather have more attention focused on her atheleticism than her emotional backstory, I fully support her. After all, I can somewhat understand how she feels. You want people to recognize your succeses, and see them as purely that, success. Not success despite obstacles, just success.

Kayla’s perspective really has me thinking about my own emotional backstory. It’s a doozy, afterall. While I haven’t exactly hidden my dark experiences (and have been openly sharing them), I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be known for anything else. Am I ok with that?

I’ve been amazed at the stories others have privately shared with me while I’ve been on this journey to unpacking Eric’s story. They share stories of abuse, addiction, dysfunction, mental illness, and many other difficult situations. The one thing that has surprised me the most? How quick people are to say, ‘Well, it’s nothing like what you’ve been through.” They underestimate their own emotional backstories. I truly believe that we’re all dealt a relatively similar amount of trauma throughout our lives, whether it be a deep, narrow wound or a constant scratching of the surface that leaves you in constant discomfort. Which is worse, losing a loved one in a sudden, tragic accident, or spending a lifetime in a loveless, abusive marriage? Both probably bring the same amount of pain, they’re just distributed differently.

Don’t underestimate your pain. Don’t think for a second that what you’ve been through doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. It’s helped make you who you are, for better or worse. Hopefully, you can channel that into something positive, as Kayla has. Just knowing what your story is, and telling it to others walking down the same path can be a tremendous testimony. And if you haven’t found a way to do that yet, you will.

5 responses to “Don’t Underestimate Your Emotional Backstory

  1. So very true. You have either gone through something, are going through something or will go through something that can change your life.

  2. I tried brushing my past off for so long, thinking if I got over it/ignored it I’d be a more likeable person. But when I embraced it and used it to help other people, I really started living.

  3. Our painful “back stories” own us as long as we run from them or ignore them, thinking “It’s no big deal” or “It’s part of the past; it has nothing to do with now.” But those are illusions. You are right – they are part of us. The question is, do they define us, or do they motivate us? That answer is up to us.

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