Books: Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Gifts of a Painful Childhood
One of the greatest sources of unsober behavior – whether expressed in overt forms such as substance abuse or compulsive spending, or in subtle forms such as drama, manipulation or self-pity – is a sense of victimhood, of life happening TO us. This is especially the case for those who had a painful childhood in some way. Whether we had a wonderful childhood or we grew up with loss, abuse, alcoholism or other dysfunction, unless we were raised by enlightened saints there were probably times where our emotional needs were not met. These circumstances can shape the outlook of a child seeking security and love. We may learn, for example, not to expect someone to understand when we are hurting, or to shut off our emotions, or to act in the way we think will bring us approval. These tendencies, if unacknowledged and unaddressed, continue to play out in our adult life and limit us from being our full and natural selves.
Wayne Muller, a Harvard-educated minister and therapist, suggests in his book “Legacy of the Heart – The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood” that instead of using these painful experiences as a way to play and replay a sense of “why me?”, they can become a tool for healing and spiritual growth. This may be a challenging position for those who feel that their suffering is just too great, their story too complex, their pain exceptional, and that they should not have to find any good in it. Yet this is exactly one of the pitfalls we can fall into on the path of recovering from painful experiences, one to which addicts and borderline addicts of any type are especially prone: that of a certain grandiosity, an attachment to the dramatic idea that we are exceptional whether in talent or in suffering.
Muller addresses this and eleven other manifestations of childhood sorrow and shares how clients have moved through these painful tendencies. He offers guided meditations to help the reader in their own journey through these tendencies into greater self-love and self-awareness. Muller operates with keen and compassionate understanding of the ways we can tie ourselves into knots over painful experiences, and helps to undo them without any sense of pushing or forcing.
“Legacy of the Heart” glows with spiritual understanding and compassion. We highly recommend this book for anyone dealing with painful experiences in their childhood, but especially those who may be working a twelve-step program, on a spiritual path or otherwise committing to greater sobriety in their life. Sitting down with this book and really engaging with its healing process is a great gift to yourself.