While professional success is a blessing, enduring serious illness, that of three out of four family members, ain’t no walk in the park. But don’t worry about Psychologist and Author Jordan Peterson. He’s got the secret sauce. He actually shares it with you.
“He who has the right why to live can bear almost any how,” said Nietzsche. Peterson has been the spokesman – and poster boy – for this concept, explaining the importance of cultivating an accurate and meaningful worldview as a way to properly orient to the life task. Peterson has given over his worldview, one that helps people inoculate themselves so they can face the challenges ahead while also giving them a lens to interpret challenges located in the past. In his videos, books, and articles, Peterson puts forward that worldview
, his secret sauce, and any people inspired by his work, first taste, then use that frame to reinvent themselves.
I’ve been documenting the impact of Peterson’s ideas. To me it’s remarkable the degree of influence he has had on people he has never directly spoken with. I’ve been publishing comments that appear under his lectures but the truth is, to really represent this phenomenon, it takes a person who is willing to share a personal story.
Recently Charlie, (not his real name), volunteered. Charlie offered me access to the journal that he had prepared, loosely following the format of Peterson’s Self-Authoring Suite
. I detail his story with alterations to ensure his anonymity. The gist of this story, though, remains unaltered and, I would suggest, is representative of the challenges that people have been able to conquer using Peterson’s frame of reference.
When Charlie was born something irregular happened which would perhaps foreshadow another trauma he would face soon enough. He was born healthy. Three days later he was rushed back to the hospital and had to undergo a full blood transfusion. Complications for newborns are certainly not irregular. The fact that the transfusion was administered with an infected needle, causing a serious infection, was an early brush with poison. Yet he came through unscathed.
Three years later he was not so lucky. His mother put an overdose of sleeping medication in yogurt, in an attempt to kill her two children and herself. After administering the poisonous concoction, she immediately called emergency services. She claimed she had suffered from psychosis. Against all odds, she retained custody of her children. Charlie reflects, “back then it was the philosophy that the mother-child relationship was paramount for a child and that this [relationship] had to be reestablished at all costs.”
The family narrative around this event was premised on mother’s report that the event, performed in a fit of insanity, was not premeditated. Charlie learned more recently that this account was a fairytale. His mother had written a farewell letter in which she described how and why she was taking her own and her children’s lives and had given the letter to her sister, instructing her not to open it. Much later, his aunt found the envelope. Charlie realized that his mother had been lying to judges, healthcare practitioners and family members and would have been rightly prosecuted for attempted homicide and perjury.
Subsequent to the poisoning, he, his mother, and his sister were hospitalized. Charlie incurred irreparable brain damage. One year later, he experienced epileptic symptoms. Learning and memory problems followed. He transitioned to a special needs school, owing to many challenges.
Living with his mother, he was rarely allowed to have friends over or permitted to go on play dates. Charlie had difficulty with social skills and now surmises that part of the cause relates to his social isolation. His mother broke off contact with her family because they maintained contact with her ex. She was critical and unkind to her ex, suing him with frequency and alienating the children from their father.
At age 13, Charlie expressed the wish to live with his father. Mother went ballistic. He was dragged to psychologists to assess his mental state and his efforts to relocate were squashed until he finally fled, one year later. He lived with his father for the next 10 years. Charlie went on to graduate from high school and college.
A person does not emerge from this sort of history unscathed. Charlie suffered from chronic depressions and youth traumas, some of which he managed to process through psychomotor therapy, group sessions that he had during the time he was in college. Charlie now realizes that he used his illness and difficult family history,
as an excuse to justify immature and irresponsible behaviour for a very long time, almost 17 years I have played the victim. This escalated from my 18th year onward into total profligacy and frequent idleness. In this period until my 30th year I have drunk way too much alcohol and frequently used drugs which have contributed to strong mood swings.
His drug and alcohol use caused further neurological damage. His father tried desperately to get the message through. Charlie reflects that, back then, he was in denial about addiction and its consequences.
It’s been difficult having a mother who creates narratives to suit her purposes. When he moved to live with his father, mother accused father of kidnapping and Charlie had to testify in court that he left of his own free will. Her style has been to market a narrative that suits her purposes and as a result it’s been difficult to achieve clarity about reality and history.
When Charlie became aware of the letter that she had written describing her violent plan, it provoked “a critical personality re-evaluation” and an identity crisis. Everything he thought he knew about the past had to be revisited. He was extremely disoriented. He coped by using relaxation techniques and discipline, managing “to remain standing without slipping back into a black abyss of stress, depressions, bitterness and nihilism.”
A crucial question emerged: “who am I really without the illusions about my own past and the incorrect information that I have believed in for years?” The group therapy had provided support and helped him orient to social connecting. But around the time he learned of the letter and so lost his map of life, he needed to knit together a new way of understanding his history. He had the good fortune to come upon Peterson’s personality lecture series. He watched. He then worked with Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos.
According to Charlie, Peterson’s materials have helped him immensely and allowed him to understand his own responsibility for “structuring and shaping my life.” These ideas, he explains, have
transformed my bitterness towards the unfairness of life into the idea the past is not all-determining for my present and future, which, in large part, lies in my own hands. My nihilism has made place for ambitions and goals which has provided me with a feeling of well-being, confidence in the future; which I engage with both hands.
When I quote Charlie, I do so from his document which he wrote for his own purposes, with no intention to share with a journalist, by the way. I have to admit after I read the first few pages of his very difficult and painful childhood history, I had to email him, expressing my regret that he had gone through this. I was unprepared for Charlie’s response:
Thank you for those kind words. The sobering fact however is that we are all shaped by nature and nurture in some shape or form. We all have our own crosses to bear as forthrightly as possible. It does not help to dwell on what could’ve been and if only’s . . . I try to make the best of the hand that I’ve been dealt. I think that is the only proper course of action.
Charlie is talking the talk and walking the walk.
I’ve been a psychotherapist for 27 years. I wish I could tell you that every client graduates from a psychotherapy process with that resolve, with that clarity, with that determination and, especially, with that narrative. I wish I could tell you that I always bear my personal burdens with that degree of grit and grace.
Charlie is moving forward with his goals. He reflects,
the psychological past is not a solid entity engraved in granite, but more like water which can be solid in the form of glacial ice; and then all of a sudden it starts to move in a cataclysmic event and rips away the foundation underneath everything that seems solid and stable. What remains are the waves that slowly recede and that which was solid is transformed into a liquid goo or completely dissolved into water vapour, never to return to its old “solid” state.
Charlie notes the image above is drawn from a dream he had while processing the above-mentioned issues. He adds, “During the beginning period of transformation I had a lot of strange dreams and I started to pay more attention to my dreams.” He started reading The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. Next he will read Man and His Symbols from Carl Jung. After that, Peterson’s Maps of Meaning.
Charlie is clarifying his career objectives, lining up further education, taking steps to improve his social skills and intent to build and maintain new relationships including a stable intimate relationship. His document architects his way forward. It also testifies to the character, intelligence and wisdom of the writer.
We can tip our hat to Charlie and everything he has accomplished and be excited about what, no doubt, he will achieve, moving forward. Let’s not forget that the linchpin was a worldview fleshed out by Dr. Jordan Peterson, one that Charlie will be using to see his way forward, probably for the rest of his life.