Deborah Russell Coaching

Emotional intelligence, transforming pain to gift

If asked the question, “What was your greatest pain?” or conversely “What was your greatest love?” What would you say?

Both questions could mean the same thing when you are looking at pain positively and as some sort of gift. Have you ever dug deep and asked yourself about your childhood or queried who you are today?

I was born and brought up in the Netherlands where my father was a Lecturer in International Business English. I had a bilingual childhood where I thought and spoke in two languages. My mother never left the house as she suffered agoraphobia. 

School bullying. I was bullied at school for being ‘the English girl’ in my class, until I moved to the UK for a few years, due to my eldest sister needing urgent surgical treatment on her hips. There, I remember being bullied again for no real reason other than I was the stranger, moving back and forth between countries. #storytelling

Family crises. At 13, I learned that my uncle drowned at sea, crushed between a rescue tanker and his sailing boat after losing his boat’s rudder in a storm. My aunt later suffered early and severe dementia from the extreme trauma. 

Just after my 21st birthday, my father died after battling for years with Polycythaemia. Only 6 years later, my 29-year-old sister, who was training to be a midwife, was killed. She was driving home after a night shift, having just delivered a premature 1lb baby. The baby was later buried in the same cemetery, next to her grave. I remember abandoning a training course to go and identify her broken body. 

A few years on, I remember hearing the news of my aunt, a hospital matron in Zimbabwe, who was killed in a fatal car accident that Christmas. Her car was then looted, as was the home she left behind. 

Another dear aunt, devoted to her husband, took her own life by walking into the sea. Her husband was terminally ill in hospital and she knew she did not want to continue life without him.

Today, my mother is battling with Alzheimer and often doesn’t recognise me. 

Why tell this story? Am I in any way the victim of these tragedies?

The answer is, “absolutely not”. 

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I believe, like many, that I have to experience pain to have true empathy for others. If I dig deep and I reflect on these events in my life, I can turn them around to be a gift of empathy for the world; a gift I might never have had otherwise. Though I do NOT suggest that the misfortune of my own family is my gift, I do see however that these events rewired me and that I have been gifted with something unique, even if I didn’t really know what that was until I changed my career.

Recently, I was asked to look at my life in eight-year periods. For each period, I was asked to trace my deepest pain. I was then asked to share what I had gained from it. I was able to do this with every period, until I reached the last one.

Reminiscing my earliest memories, I recalled my mother’s clients visiting her at home. She was a Psychotherapist at the time. I remember their anxieties and their sadness. Some suffered hair loss and smoked like there was no tomorrow. Others did not want to live anymore. I remember learning this reality at such a young age. It would hurt and frighten me just to know that this kind of torment existed. It was easy to see the gift in this as I started to develop my interpersonal sensitivity very early in childhood. 

In the last 8 years however, I felt it too difficult to find a gift – a diamond in the embers of a cruel and painful divorce battle. But when I analysed the growth and learning within that process, I can confirm that it gets easier when you apply this process of reframing pain. #health

“Everything is shiny and good because it is”

I wouldn’t say that I am a ‘super optimist’, but I now have the gift to become one without pretending to believe that ‘everything is shiny and good because it is’, but because I have a genuine belief that whatever happens to me makes me better and I believe this in a true, grounded way. #emotionalintelligence

So, if asked the question, “What was your greatest pain?” or conversely, “What was your greatest love?” Both questions could mean the same thing when you are looking at pain positively and as some sort of gift. 

In a recent podcast between Andy Grammar and Simon Sinek, they talk about the difference between post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic growth. They explain that these are fundamentally the same thing, depending on which way you view the post trauma, whether you view the experience of post-trauma as one of stress, or growth. It brought to mind the following quote from Victor Frankl: 

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” 

So, we cannot control the circumstances around us, but what we can control is how we choose to react to them. We make the choice to come out ‘broken or growing‘. 

My gift to you would be to ask you to carve a little ball of love and meaning during these times.

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If you start to view things and people through different lenses you see things more clearly.  The moment you give service you move the spotlight from yourself and watch humanity, gratitude and purpose evolve. When you see ‘pain as a gift’ you start to use that gift and watch yourself grow!

Do you have your own example where you converted your pain into a gift? What is holding you back from transforming your pains to a gift which will help you grow? #success

Deborah Russell, Professional Certified Coach – Life Transition, PCC, ICF If you’d like to make an appointment for a confidential 15 minute discovery call, please contact me on: or directly here:

#health #emotionalintelligence #positiveintelligence #success #storytelling

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