The great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who survived being imprisoned in a Nazi death camp during the Holocaust, gave the world a gift of insight that has stood the test of time. That insight, which is central to the logotherapy form of healing Frankl developed, is that people can endure a tremendous amount of suffering if they suffer in service to an identified purpose.
Finding purpose in life is like a North Star that shines through any cloud cover, even through hurricanes. Purpose, after all, is what allowed Americans to jump off barges at Normandy and face the very real possibility of death to stop the Nazis from conquering the world.
Every one of us can develop a sense of purpose. One form of purpose, by the way, is the very decision to endure pain without it eclipsing one’s faith that the future can be bright and without it destroying one’s empathy for others. Allowing that there is no way to predict what chapters of our life stories will be written next deprives desperation of its footing in our lives.
Here’s one hint about how to talk yourself through the really rough times: Substitute the silent observation, “Hmmm, interesting,” for “This is a mess,” or any other negative thought. Observe your situation as a third party might. Inspect it for opportunities to demonstrate your strength, optimism, resourcefulness or courage. Then exploit those opportunities.
This isn’t a lot different than martial arts that advise using the weight and momentum of an opponent against him to hurl him to the ground. In order to do this, you need remain observant and aware and have a sense of purpose, even while being attacked. You need to find the opportunity—the opening—to put your power into play.
You need never be without purpose or power. Expressing any form of love is a great focus for both. If you can define your goal as providing an example of courage and grace for someone you love, then you can live through most anything. If you can define your goal as never giving up on the art you love, despite discouragement from so-called “experts,” then you can outlast lots of other artists looking for the same success you are. If you can define your purpose as telling the truth, despite all attempts to choke off your voice, then you will not trade being heard for comfort.
People are stories. We are creatures of meaning. But we can forget to define our own narratives and listen to them, in order to write the next scenes.
So, let’s all remember: Meaning, mission and motivation is the antidote to giving up or giving out.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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