Tragedies & Triumphs

Paula Kramer endured and triumphed over several life tragedies. She still lives with one life tragedy.


The Tragedies of Paula’s Life

Tragedy #1

Paula’s mother tried to kill Paula first physically, then mentally and emotionally. She would tell Paula she could have or do something she wanted, then take it away so she could watch and listen to Paula cry.


Tragedy #2

A childhood injury to Paula’s spine was misdiagnosed for 33 years, leaving Paula disabled as an adult. Sitting and standing normally became more and more painful. The more Paula stood and sat normally, the more sitting and standing normally became painful. The more painful sitting and standing normally became, the more difficulty Paula had earning money.


Tragedy #3

Paula’s husband killed himself 2 feet away from Paula when their daughter was 8 months old.


Tragedy #4

The death of Paula’s husband left Paula a disabled single parent. She experienced long periods of inadequate medical care. Paula’s daughter did not always have the health care she needed. Paula and her daughter frequently lived without enough food or heat and endured panic when they did not have enough money to pay their bills. As a little girl Paula’s daughter would say, “Of course I can’t have…” and “Of course I can’t do…”


Tragedy #5

Paula’s 5 siblings mostly ignored what she said about herself, discounted what she accomplished, and treated her like a trespasser in their lives. Paula’s siblings ignored all of her daughter’s tears.

Paula’s father loved her, but became an alcoholic so he could endure decades of emotional abuse from Paula’s mother. He was unable to recognize how badly his wife hurt all of their children.


Tragedy #6

Paula has lived with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for decades.


Paula Needs Respect

Paula lists the tragedies of her life only so you can understand her triumphs.

Paula does not talk about her husband’s death. Paula occasionally mentions her husband if something about his life fits a point of conversation. This is not an invitation to ask questions about her husband. Never ask Paula questions about her husband. Never bring up Paula’s husband in conversation. Respect Paula’s need to limit any conversation about her husband.

See the Grief Page for examples of what to say and what not to say to people who are grieving.


Paula’s Triumphs Over Tragedy

Triumph over the cycle of abuse handed down from her maternal grandmother to her mother to herself

Paula had to spend her childhood living with a mother who tried to kill her twice. To survive, Paula separated her memories of being murdered into different physical, mental, and emotional pieces. The continuing effort to keep the memory pieces separate was exhausting. When Paula felt overwhelmed by that effort, she screamed at her daughter. When Paula felt overwhelmed for days or weeks, she screamed at her daughter for days or weeks. Eventually, Paula spent 5 years in therapy with 2 different therapists. She also began talking to friends about her childhood. Although her therapists helped her, Paula’s friends provided insights that her therapists missed.

Tiny Triumphs

Holding her own during therapy by refusing to accept both therapists’ diagnosis that she did not like herself.

Taking what was good from therapy and combining it with the insights of her friends.

Putting together the separate physical, mental, and emotional pieces of her life into a whole that explained everything

After Paula faced the truth that her mother tried to kill her, the overwhelming stress behind her screaming at her daughter mostly disappeared. Paula has screamed only twice in about twenty years, when flashbacks to her childhood brought back the overwhelming stress. Paula is now her daughter’s favorite shopping partner.


Triumph over 25 years of compulsive overeating

Because she feared her feelings might get her killed, Paula began eating compulsively at age 14 to keep her feelings buried. After her husband died and Paula was living on her own, she began writing letters to the editor about poverty and other issues. Paula wrote letters fairly regularly for 9 years. After the first few years, Paula noticed that her compulsion to stuff herself with food had lessened. She knew she was eating less because of the letters, but did not understand why. Before the end of the 9 years, the compulsion to stuff herself had disappeared completely. About a decade later when Paula learned about DISC behavior styles and Spranger values, she realized that writing those letters had satisfied her guiding value passions. By satisfying her needs and passions, Paula opened a door that gave other people opportunities to satisfy her behavior style needs.

Tiny Triumphs

Each letter to the editor

Each positive response to her letters

See the Smiles Spark Success Page for more information about DISC behavior styles and Spranger values.


Triumph over pain in her spine

During her talks and workshops, Paula often tells audiences that her spine was injured when a boy in school pulled her chair out from under her. She asks her audiences to tell any children in their lives to never pull chairs out from under anyone. After a talk to businesswomen, a nurse in the audience came up to Paula. The nurse gave Paula the correct diagnosis for her injury and recommended the correct treatment to end the pain. Paula got the recommended treatment, finally ending 33 years of pain in her spine.

However, because the misdiagnoses went on for decades, other problems developed. Paula is still in pain everyday and still has trouble sitting and standing normally. At times, Paula had to take jobs that made her pain worse. Paula now wears a back brace all day every day.

Tiny Triumphs

Finding ways to do talks in spite of the pain in her spine.

Giving someone else a reason to help her.


Triumph Over Poverty

Before finally getting the correct diagnosis and treatment for her spinal injury, Paula could sit and stand normally only for short periods of time. During the 32nd year of the pain in her spine, Paula began to sit on a low chair at home with her feet on a stool. The only way she could sit without pain was to put her feet at the same level as her head. Away from home, Paula sat on a chair with her back pillow while resting her feet on another chair, or sat on the floor with her back pillow up against a wall.

During the 33rd year of the pain in her spine, Paula began carrying a cane whenever she had to be out in public. She did not need the cane for walking. Instead, she needed the cane to lean on if she had to stand. By then, standing normally for just 2 minutes left Paula in excruciating pain. In stores, Paula could lean on shopping carts and against counters and shelves. She had little to lean against in places like parks. Paula carried the cane with her so she could lean forward on it and reduce the pain she felt from having to stand.

At first, Paula survived on Social Security Survivors Benefits because she was a widow. After her Social Security payments ended, Paula survived financially only because her teenage daughter worked as many hours as she could to support them. Her daughter had started buying food and paying bills with her first babysitting job at the age of 10. Paula filled in financial gaps with credit cards until she could no longer make the payments and had to declare bankruptcy.

After receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment, Paula was able to earn money again, but her choices were still limited. Because the original injury to her spine had gone untreated for 33 years, other problems developed. She still experiences some pain every day. However, Paula eventually found a way to earn money that left her in minimal pain. Paula works on her writing every day, including holidays.

Tiny Triumphs

Paying bills as Paula and her daughter were able to.

Finding ways to stay healthy despite living without any kind of health coverage for almost 20 years.


Triumph over being ignored, discounted, and treated as a trespasser by her siblings

Paula felt like a trespasser in her own family. She was afraid to further the trespasser feeling by sitting differently from her family. She endured the pain of sitting in normal chairs with her feet on the ground because her mother and siblings discounted the pain in her spine. Her back pillow eased the pain somewhat, but not completely. Paula rarely went to public places with her family, because she rarely did anything with them.

Early one holiday season, Paula asked her older sister if she could come for Christmas. After some hemming and hawing, her older sister said she did not have “enough space” for Paula and her daughter. After his first child was born, her first brother did not want Paula and her daughter to visit to meet his new baby. When Paula’s financial difficulties became severe, her second sister refused Paula’s request for a loan, telling Paula she needed to work on “long term solutions” instead. Long term solutions meant Paula should stop exaggerating about her back and go out and get a job. Her second brother ignored every letter or card Paula sent him for about ten years. Her third sister lived in another country for a number of years, but never informed Paula of her return visits to the United States. The siblings based all of their decisions about Paula on the false beliefs behind stereotypes rather than on the details of reality.

Since Paula’s siblings refused to help a trespasser, Paula had to find help elsewhere. She looked for faith in her abilities and support for her efforts from people who ignored stereotypes and looked at the details of reality.

Linda Behling Raap of the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provided Paula with college tuition. John Timcak at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point provided Paula with a chair adapted to reduce her pain. Together they made it possible for Paula to earn a B.A. in Women’s Studies/Writing. Paula went on to earn an M.A. in Communication.

Linda Behling Raap and Julie Jensen of the DVR started Paula on the path that would allow her to make her documentary and publish her books.

Jerry Reckner of Associated Speakers recommended that Paula learn about DISC behavior styles. Paula did so and discovered she had a talent for analyzing both behavior styles and guiding values. She is in the process of writing a book to help people understand how DISC behavior styles and Spranger guiding values affect their success and relationships.

Dozens of ordinary people and a few well known people — many of them strangers — agreed to interviews or use of video footage for her documentary, Renewing Energies: The Ingredients for Spectacular Success, and interviews for her book, From Pyramids To Circles: Shaping Groups To Succeed.

Friends, acquaintances, coworkers, nonprofits, businesses, and strangers too numerous to list provided Paula with emotional, financial, professional, and other types of support through many difficult times.

However, Paula would like to publicly thank Kathleen Hanold. Paula did not have the money to pay for the treatment that ended the pain in her spine. Paula told Kathleen she had finally found a treatment that sounded like it would end the pain in her spine. She told Kathleen she planned to get the treatment after she saved up for it. Kathleen said, “Oh, why don’t I just give the money.”

It is people like Kathleen Hanold who made it possible for Paula to show you how to create tiny triumphs for yourself. Paula expresses her heartfelt thank you to Kathleen and to everyone else who gave her opportunities to create more tiny triumphs that added up to significant successes.

Tiny Triumphs

Presenting herself and her work in ways that proved her abilities

Persevering in spite of frequent difficulties

Using some of the support other people offered in ways that suited her talents rather than their expectations


Triumph over PTSD

After decades of wondering if she would finally be able to feel safe after her mother died, Paula accidentally found her safety experience. Paula writes about this on the Murder Secret Families page.

Tiny Triumphs

Knowing how to wash away the terror.

Feeling safe for at least a few hours everyday.

Giving other PTSD sufferers steps for finding their own safety experiences.


The Tragedy Paula Still Lives With

Paula’s mother and siblings as well as various organizations and professionals refused to believe that Paula was disabled and had difficulty earning money. Paula’s father died before her back problems became seriously disabling. Because few people were willing to help, Paula had to feel the heartbreak of watching her daughter endure hunger, cold, health problems, loneliness, and increasing stress. Paula’s daughter had to start buying food and paying bills when she was 10 years old and got her first babysitting job. At age 16, her daughter got a job at a fast food restaurant so she could earn as much money as possible to keep them from becoming homeless. At age 17, Paula’s daughter said, “I don’t understand. I thought family was supposed to help.”

Her daughter was under so much stress that Paula asked someone she thought was a friend for a loan. Paula wanted to give her daughter a break from working as much as possible for 7 years of her childhood. The friend knew Paula had a serious back problem. Horrified at Paula’s request, the “friend”  told Paula to “Go out and get a job!” Although the “friend” had no children of her own, she assured Paula that her daughter would be fine.

Paula’s daughter has not been “fine” in the way the “friend” assured Paula she would be. Paula’s daughter faced difficulties she would not have faced if other people cared. Because Paula was the only person in the world who cared that her daughter had spent her childhood earning as much money as possible, Paula’s daughter got no break. A continually stressful childhood creates health problems in adulthood. Paula’s daughter has endured one health problem after another as an adult. An early health problem was rare for her gender. A later health problem was rare for her age. Because of untreatable tumors in two of her vertebra, Paula’s daughter now endures such pain that she had to withdraw from college. She has had to change her life plans.

Since Paula’s daughter was lonely for contact from Paula’s family as a child, she has contacted them as an adult. Paula’s mother and siblings are again doing nothing to make her daughter’s difficult life easier. And Paula’s mother and siblings are ignoring the difficulties for a second generation of children growing up with a mother who lives with pain in her spine.



Paula Kramer writes in detail about her family relationships to help other people avoid making the mistake she made. Paula’s mistake was believing she could someday do just the right thing that would please her mother and siblings, convincing them to make Paula feel loved and included.

It was never going to happen.

Paula’s mother and siblings stereotyped Paula negatively. Their negative stereotypes about Paula gave them the ability to create positive stereotypes about themselves. In order for Paula’s mother and siblings to see Paula as she really is, they would also have to see themselves as they really are. They prefer their stereotypes. Paula wasted decades of her life trying to please her mother and siblings when pleasing them was never possible. Paula wants to help other people avoid wasting their lives trying to please people who will never let go of their stereotypes. She uses examples from her family relationships to get people thinking about their own family relationships.

Paula’s mother was callous, cold, and distant all of Paula’s life. Paula witnessed her mother’s repeated callousness towards others, especially her father. Yet Paula wasted four decades of her life trying to please her mother before she finally understood that her mother had never loved her and never would love her, no matter what Paula did.


© Paula M. Kramer, 2010
All rights reserved.
Last updated March 10, 2017