Monday, July 25, 2011

Tuesday's Trust - Strength Amidst Suffering??? ~with Viktor Frankl

Tuesday's Trust

Strength Amidst Suffering???

~with Viktor Frankl

A client said something to me this week that absolutely shocked me. She was describing a grandfather (who is now deceased) and mentioned that her grandmother divorced him. Calculating in my head that this occurrence had to have happened many years ago ~ at a time when a woman divorcing a man was fairly rare ~ I asked, "So why did your grandmother divorce him?"

Her reply was,

"...Because he was laid up in bed and couldn't work, so he was absolutely worthless."

I was dumbfounded. How could anyone describe a beloved family member as "absolutely worthless"? The subject gave us quite a bit to talk about in our therapy session!

When I asked her to describe her grandfather in more detail, she admitted he was a creative and a very spiritually-attuned man who had used these gifts as best he could, but he suffered debilitating depression.

"Absolutely worthless?!"
(That does not a worthless man make, we both agreed!)

She conceded later a recognition of her mind's inner workings when she said,

"I guess that tells you how I see myself..."

Ahhh. Now we were getting somewhere...!


We are child-loss grievers. Most of us, if not all, have had the proverbial rug jerked out from under us, our lives turned upside down, often rendering us weak and helpless, fragile and often quite dysfunctional.

Add to that already vulnerable state the sad fact that outside family members can't seem to "get it" when it comes to the degree of our suffering. Many seem to want to cast aspersions at our weakness, and even ~ in their arrogance ~ want to "give us advice."

(As if we could just snap out of it because they speak such "wise" words to us!!!) The height of IGNORANCE A-N-D ARROGANCE!

But what about us? How do we see ourselves?

  • What if we have been rendered so dysfunctional that we can barely eke out a living?
  • What if we have to withdraw from the world to protect our fragile emotions?
  • What if we are transforming into a "weak" person compared to the "strong" person we once were?

(All of this is basically where I am five years into my grief!) So, do we conclude that we are "absolutely worthless"? (Fortunately, I have more compassion for myself than that!)

Maybe it is a temptation to question our "value" at times. We certainly seem a lot different than we were before... weaker in many ways. And yet, our suffering is building inner strengths in us that many will never achieve as it requires dying to self, dying to this world's illusions, dying to the false gods that we know now offer absolutely nothing, dying to any illusions of having control, having power, having all the answers, or even having all our dreams come true...

And who is going to die to all of those illusions without first being thrown down to the bottom of the bucket of helplessness?

So now...

  • We know what's real,
  • We know what suffering does to people; therefore we have a new compassion for others,
  • We know who is authentic,
  • We know what is is to love, and lose a beloved child ~ So we know we have faced the world's hardest-possible loss, and thus far, have survived..., and
  • We know we need God to be able to even make it from one minute to the next...

These are all "treasures" in the darkness that can't be received in the superficial world in which most people live...


Viktor Frankl

After his years of enduring the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, and others during the Holocaust of World War II, psychiatrist and himself a survivor, Viktor Frankl admits,

"The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. We all had once been or had fancied ourselves to be "somebody." Now we were treated like nonentities. Without consciously thinking about it, the average prisoner felt himself utterly degraded."

In such circumstances, there is a great temptation to helplessly react to our circumstances or to give in to abject helplessness.

Frankl wondered,

"(Can) man escape the influences of his surroundings?

Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?"

He concluded:

"(T)here were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom."

He recognized that

"Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress... (Man) may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp... If there is a meaning in life at all, there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-- to add a deeper meaning to his life.

"...Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individually...

"Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross.

  • When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task.
  • He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place.
  • His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.

He and his fellow prisoners talked with one another, consoled one another, and encouraged one another.

"...Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp's tortures by

  • ignoring them or
  • harboring false illusions and
  • entertaining artificial optimism.

Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. We had realized its hidden opportunities for achievement... getting through (the) suffering.

"...Whoever was still alive had reason for hope. Health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society -- all these were things that could be achieved again and restored. After all, we still had our bones intact. Whatever we had gone through --"

Then Viktor quoted to his fellow prisoners from the philosopher Nietzsche,

'Was mich nicht umbringt,

macht mich starker.'"

(That which does not kill me,

makes me stronger.)

Pictures of the concentration camp and surviving prisoners from Auschwitz, Poland, thanks to FotoSearch


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