They say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and may produce some useful coping strategies. Nothing may be truer than this when it comes to those of us who have dedicated our lives to the art of hospitality, particularly in the time of COVID.
Hospitality is defined as the activity or business of providing services to guests, but this definition represents just the tip of the iceberg. As an innkeeper who has been doing this for over 15 years, I’ve recognized that my job goes above and beyond simply providing a place to stay or dine. My job more than anything is to make people feel safe, comfortable, wanted and to meet their needs in the most gracious way I can. We become our guests friends and extended family. And now, we are tasked with insuring that they are physically safe from a deadly virus. It’s a huge responsibility and one that I’ve been training for my whole life.
Growing up the parentified only child of a mother who struggled with her mental health and an absentee father, I knew from the time I was little that her well-being and comfort was my responsibility. I tried to fulfill her every need because the alternative meant that I might not survive either. I became expertly attuned to her emotional states and consistently aspired to maintain the status quo so as not to upset her.
This kind of childhood leads to extreme perfectionism, heightened awareness of other people’s behavior and an inherent desire to put everyone else’s needs before your own no matter what. Ones entire identity becomes predicated upon how others around us are feeling and doing. If everyone else is happy, we can relax. If anyone is unhappy, it sends us into hyperarousal and makes us immediately mobilize into action to fix whatever is wrong.
This compulsion to make others happy becomes the basis for our identity and our sense of belonging within the world. It brings us a feeling of security, accomplishment and validation for our very existence. Some would say that this is a heavy cross to bear, but if it is addressed in therapy and directed into a consciously chosen profession by our own volition, it can in fact be a superpower.
I channel my trauma into caring for others, not because I have to but because I want to. It has become my mission to treat others the way I wish I had been treated as a child. I want them to know that they matter, that they are important and that they deserve to have their needs met simply because they are human. In so doing, I’m in a way righting a wrong. Hospitality in this sense becomes a powerful act of healing.
Not everything happens for a reason, and I don’t wish childhood emotional abuse or neglect on anyone, but part of my healing journey has involved discovering who I am outside of my trauma and more importantly in spite of my trauma. I can disown the trauma itself and still recognize how it may have shaped me in potentially positive ways. If I can leave other survivors of this kind of abuse with any words of encouragement or hope it is that you can heal and you can be successful in life. Don’t let your past trauma define you. You are so much more that what happened to you. And your ability to survive your trauma is proof of how strong, creative and resilient you are. Take those amazing traits and use them to your advantage to live the life you always deserved to have.