Does Your Suffering Have Meaning?

Viktor Frankl is my favorite author when it relates to choice, attitude, struggle. In a very small nutshell, he survived 4 concentration/death camps in 3 years during WWII. He lost everything. He lost his job, home, identity, wife, parents and purpose. He regained one of those things, however. His purpose. He found that his purpose was to simply survive by choosing to do so. His writing and sharing his story, I believe, was the catalyst and the root of his survival.

Oftentimes, while imprisoned, he would find himself suffering greatly from despair. He was suffering and didn’t know WHY he was forced to live in that situation and those conditions. He was a kind and educated man. What did he ever do to deserve what he was forced to endure? As the hours, days, months and years slowly moved along, his internal curiosity fueled his desire to live through his current condition. When it was cold and wet and his hole ridden shoes and lack of socks led to frostbite, he forged on. When the Capo would slap him or beat his fellow prisoners he stood and committed to overcoming the moment.

Later in life, post war, when Viktor was at the peak of his career as a psychiatrist leading the way in Logotherapy, he coined and shared many of his views based on his experiences. One of those being “D=S-M”. In this equation he was referring to Despair equals Suffering with no Meaning. He saw that in the eyes of many men he lived with in the huts and the camps over the years. Frankl took it upon himself, mainly because of his psychiatry background, to search for the meaning in his experiences. Through this, he found that Suffering WITH Meaning equals Hope; the opposite of the equation. He found that every set of circumstances he was faced with allowed him the opportunity to choose his own attitude and his own way to overcome that struggle. Having that choice, that no man could take from him, offered him liberation from a long, temporary, imprisonment. He knew the other side of the mountain he was climbing offered much more in life than the previous path he was on. Without his story and his experiences he would not have been able, decades later, to offer that glimmer of hope to millions of people and many generations. Through his own realization of suffering with meaning, he has changed, impacted and saved many lives. That is truly legacy building. He had no idea of the impact he would be leaving on the world. He did not pursue success. He was successful because success followed him due to his aiming at serving others and serving causes bigger than his own. He pursued victory through having gratitude in the large and small things in life. He found that having those deeper relationships with others fueled him and his desire to learn more about others, which fed his personal strength. After the war and his liberation on April 27, 1945, he found a greater understanding for his own existence which sparked his internal fire for purpose and direction. The newly found flame inside opened the way to new possibilities in his life.

What I’ve just shared above can be a powerful reminder of how the decisions we make can influence the trajectory in our own lives. In the last few sentences of the previous paragraph I’ve also shared with you the 5 Domains of Post Traumatic Growth. PTG was founded, primarily, on Frankl’s experiences and is used to guide combat veterans as well as many others who seek to thrive in the aftermath of trauma. The key takeaway from this article is the equation of D=S-M. When you find yourself struggling in life, seek to find the meaning in your suffering. Look for the beauty in the valley. When you find it, you’ll find the light of hope to lead you out of those dark places.

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