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  • Writer's pictureYana Bachynsky

Why I have compassion towards people who make bad choices

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

It’s easy to point to someone who is homeless, a drug addict, or a criminal and judge them for their bad decisions. They must be stupid, or even worse, evil. Just bad people who refuse to think. Yes, this is all too easy. But in the time that I’ve worked as a therapist with youth on probation and in juvenile hall, with prisoners I’ve visited, and with drug abusers I’ve counseled, I’ve gained a different perspective, one of compassion. Therapists call it a trauma-informed approach.

This blog does not excuse bad behavior, but rather invites the reader to holistically consider how circumstances in one’s life can shape a person, and lead them to poor choices.

Lots of these unfortunate people, such as those referenced above, are precisely that: unfortunate. Perhaps they’ve been severely neglected or abused by a parental figure—if they had one at all; or they lived in a high-crime neighborhood where they experimented with drugs at a very young age; some may have lived in poverty and turned to theft to get by. All too often, we blame that person for their choices while losing sight of the traumatic experiences that affected them so adversely.

In working with these groups of individuals, I found parallels in their stories. Most of them had no secure attachments to their parents, no reliable family, and were exposed to trauma and neglected as children. Often as youths they ended up in juvenile hall because the only connection they could find was in a gang, and there they would be exposed to bad peer pressure. The youth that I worked with who struggled with substances also had poor family support, were poorly educated, and were in unhealthy relationships.

All of this begs me to ask: How can we expect people to grow up and be good to others if they did not experience goodness in their own lives? It’s true that many who had adverse experiences turned out well in the end. However, this is often because of the involvement of a grandparent, a big brother or someone else who served as a role model who took the time to really make a positive impact in their young life.

Later in my career I participated as a volunteer in a Christian prison ministry with incarcerated males. In conversations with these men (and I am not speaking for all prisoners, but only those I encountered), I learned that these men were not inherently bad. What got them into jail were poor choices, and they felt sorry for making them.

I personally never ran into a person who was what society calls “bad” without having a traumatic past. In my studies and first hand experience counseling those affected by domestic violence, I learned that early childhood exposure to domestic violence really contributes to people being traumatized, having severe anxiety, and developing codependent relationships as adults.

Every person can take part in the solution by asking: “How can I help someone who has no one in their life who truly cares?” One of the ways is by learning about how mental health is affected by trauma. A more involved approach might include volunteering with trauma-affected populations. If you want to make an impact within your own family, take steps toward healing the wounds of trauma to develop better relationships with those you love.

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, remember that processing it is a good step towards healing. Trauma that remains unaddressed carries over to our intimate relationships, workspace, parenting and other areas of life. In therapy, trauma can be addressed by processing it and working on identifying triggers and developing coping skills to address it. The good thing is that our brains are very resilient and are capable of healing. With proper support there is hope for all of us—even the most unfortunate.

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