Posted: April 9, 2020 in: Uncategorized, Pain-2-Power, Personal Empowerment


As I have been working with clients lately, I’ve been thinking that the very term setback may be a bit of a misnomer.  The first two definitions of the word, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary are:

  1. A checking of progress
  2. A defeat or reverse

Looking at the thousands of life stories I have, however, I think it’s worth thinking about the fact that, invariably, what seemed like setbacks in people’s lives turned out not to be.  Those “setbacks,” seen from more of a distance, or with greater perspective, or with the passage of time, turned out to be something more like very painful forward momentum.  They certainly felt like defeats to the people who lived through them, but they turned out to be inevitable turns of the labyrinth of life that leads, eventually, without exception, to the center.

I have worked with people who felt shattered by the loss of relationships, but who, in time, came to see that those relationships were based on toxic interpersonal patterns.  Had they continued “forever,” the relationships would have stood in the way of ultimately recognizing the toxicity and choosing more empowering and loving connections.

I have worked with people who grieved the loss of businesses, only to find reservoirs of courage they never knew existed within them, as they rebuilt those businesses or took on jobs to support the families they loved or focused on artistic gifts they would never have, otherwise, developed.

I have even worked with people who have faced illnesses (which no one wants to have to face, of course) and emerged stronger than before, with clarity about what they valued in life and stronger bonds of love with their friends and family members.  I think of Anatole Broyard’s magnificent memoir, Intoxicated by My Illness, in this regard.

I like to think about the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi, as a metaphor, in this regard.  Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing pottery using gold and silver lacquer, understanding that the piece is then more beautiful, for having been broken.

Is it easy to see a setback as forward momentum when it happens?  No.  It is very, very hard.  It requires faith in one’s inner self or in the universe or in God (which, for me, is very much one thing).  That faith can help a person see that each of us is a masterpiece still being created.  Layers of paint get applied, then obscured, then applied, again.  We are all becoming what we were meant to be, from all time.  The becoming is ceaseless.  And while the ultimate creation can be obscure, especially when pain visits, we can, indeed, have faith that positive transformation is underway—always, inexorably.

What does this require from us today, if adversity should be visiting?  It requires keeping our eyes and our hearts open to opportunities to see potential and possibility opening up around us, even as certain doors close.  It requires being the person who sees the earth cleave amidst a quake, but decides to explore the “window” onto the core that is thus created.  It requires patience, too, because transformation takes time.  And, yes, it requires a willingness to feel pain, yet to know that living through that pain with the intention to grow from it is, ultimately, empowering.


Dr. Keith Ablow



  1. Keith Ablow says:

    Thank you for your kind words . . . Keith

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