Tagged: “meaning in suffering”

In your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you talk about finding meaning in suffering. You talk about growing beyond yourself. What does this mean?

When people find meaning in suffering they often develop a deeper sense of what it means to be a person.  You may begin to see, for example, that your suffering has shown you that all people suffer, all people are emotionally wounded to one degree or another.  You begin to realize that your suffering is making you a more sensitive person to other people.  In other words, your world expands as you see humanity more deeply.

For additional information, see Finding Meaning in Suffering.

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You emphasize the idea of finding meaning in the suffering.  What do you mean by the term meaning?

Dr. Viktor Frankl was the first mental health professional who emphasized the term “meaning” in the context of great suffering.  He was imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II.  He observed that when prisoners found no meaning in their suffering within the concentration camp, they died.  Those who found meaning in their suffering lived.  Dr. Frankl found meaning by looking up to the mountains when on a forced march outside the camp. He reveled in the beauty and found meaning in the fact that this is a world filled with beauty despite grave suffering.  He found meaning in being determined to be reunited with his wife.  When people are treated unjustly and then forgive, they often find this meaning: They now are more aware of the suffering in other people and they are motivated to help alleviate that suffering.  This can give determination, energy, and hope to a person and help to re-establish psychological health.

For additional information, see Finding Meaning in Suffering.

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Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find Holocaust survivors found meaning in their sufferingmeaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind To live is to suffer, to survive, is to fin meaning in the suffering. Viktor E. Franklup their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.

Robert

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