A Square-Peg People Book Review
I Will Not Be Broken
by Jerry White
The title of this book (I Will Not Be Broken*) reminded me of the denial-based "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" voice (not honoring the experience of trauma or grief victims) that I spent years counseling clients not to listen to.
The subtitle, "5 Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis", really clinched it for me. I expected a book that was too pat, too simplistic and too "surface".
This is NOT that book!
(fyi: *The book has been re-published as "Getting Up When Life Knocks You Down: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis")
This book is a surprise. It is directive, yet it honors individuality. The author, Jerry White, states that the 5 steps are incontrovertible, but how you do them is unique to you.
He combines humility and authenticity in a way that is very inviting. He does not buy into victim mentality, but he also does not deny the draw in that - the pull to give up, give in. He does not deny the pain involved in trauma or the hard work involved in working through it.
This book is not theoretical. It is practical! Jerry White had part of his leg blown off by a landmine in 1984, while "on a camping trip in Israel." He has since cofounded Survivor Corps.org, was co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace and is a leader of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. You can't argue with him about what it's like to be a survivor - he's been there.
There are incredible stories in I Will Not Be Broken. Some of them involve famous people Jerry has spent time with - Princess Diana, Queen Noor, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama and others. But most of the stories are those of "regular" people - like you and me - who have been through crisis and survived.
In a chapter called "Everyone Has A Date With Disaster" Jerry tells us: "We hate to call bad news normal, but it is...everyone indeed has or will have a date with destiny, maybe even more than one... All of us will face trauma in our lifetime... It is a given that life will shock us."
He uses hard statistics to support this. But, he offers hope. Jerry's message is: "...with the right support, everyone can recover and thrive. As we overcome hardship, there is laughter and hope and love waiting for each of us. But it is crucial for us to want those things."
He continues: "The main challenge is always inside us. We can't change the facts - I'm sick, I'm betrayed, whatever - but we can change what we think about these facts. But only if we want to."
But only if we want to. If you want to, Jerry has a plan. The first thing to know is you're on your own. BUT, you are not alone! You're on your own in the sense that only YOU can make the decision to thrive. After you make that decision you're connected to a big group: "We are all connected in our sorrows and our joys - in our mutual survivorship on this planet."
I'm not going to get into the 5 steps - the stories and explanations of the steps are too important to condense. But I will tell you that Jerry teaches us new ways to think. He tells us "...survivorship and resilience can be learned." And then he teaches us the specific skills needed to thrive.
One interesting point is how Jerry invites people to talk about "...their experiences... I don't focus so much on plotline and gory details of victimization. Instead, I ask, What made it possible for this person to survive? Where did they find their strength? How on earth did they endure? Searching for the resilience factors helps bring out the inner survivor... I am encouraged by this focus on inner strength and health, rather than on sickness and symptoms."
Besides the 5 steps, the book includes a chapter called "Helping Others Get Through Catastrophe: Or, How to Not Make Things Worse". I love this chapter. Having been "helped" a number of times in ways that were anything but helpful, I appreciate Jerry's thoughtful suggestions.
In the chapter he talks about listening and other gifts. He also tells us: "When you give unsolicited advice, it sends an inadvertent message that you don't really trust the survivor to know or choose the best course of action. By offering instead a listening ear and supportive presence, you communicate respect for the survivor's own inner resources. And by bearing witness to the survivor story, you honor the individual's struggle to find meaning."
Jerry tells us that this is not easy to do: "I never underestimate the discipline and strength required to accompany someone through their darkest hour." Again, as with the 5 steps, he offers specific actions to prepare us for the task.
I Will Not Be Broken is about thriving after crisis. It's practical and loaded with hope. The stories (which it's filled with) are inspirational - and come from all over the world. You cannot read them without being encouraged in your own struggles.
"...to thrive, you must work for it. Surviving is not a passive activity. But, similarly, it takes a certain amount of effort to stay a victim. So where will you put your energy?"
Great question! How about you? How about me?
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