“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it,” Helen Keller
What is the meaning of our suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? What is the difference in the person who encounters disability or illness and accomplishes great things versus the one who becomes angry and despondent after adversity?
In this entry, I examine the importance of finding meaning in our challenges, the role of psychological resilience in dealing with our problems, and using suffering to learn and grow.
Finding Meaning —
Existential therapy can be viewed as a process in which the individual focuses on finding meaning in life. Victor Frankl, the founder of this form of therapy, believed that people have problems when they lack meaning for their present situation. Using this therapy, I guide the individual in making choices to find this meaning. Additionally, I encourage autonomy and positive choices. I empower the client to make choices to reach the goal that the individual feels leads to purpose and meaning in his or her life.
For example, what if Bob has lost his job and now is questioning his career? I would assist Bob in exploring the big picture, such as what can he do to be happier and more successful in his career? So, what if Bob decides that he wasn’t meant to be a teacher and this really didn’t fulfill his purpose? He had always wanted to be a nurse, but his mother had pushed him to enter the teaching field. The discovered meaning ofhis job loss was to lead him to his life purpose of becoming a nurse.
* Anxiety results from a lack of control and personal responsibility for life’s choices.
* Person is the author of his or her own life.
* Goal — Individual makes positive choices to reach goals and create meaning
Next, we consider the topic of resilience. According to dictionary.com, this is defined as:
1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like.
Resilience is characterized by the personal traits that allow the individual to overcome life’s hardships and to bounce back after going through problems. What are these traits? According to Hara Estroff Marano of Psychology Today, these individuals possess a strong personal identity and positive attitude and a flexible psyche that allows them to be optimistic and to plan for emotional hardships. They find meaning in adversity but don’t let their problems define their lives. People who practice resilience surround themselves with other positive people and gain strength from these individuals.
They also implement coping strategies and know when to seek help from others, including professional interventions.
Characteristics of the resilient overcoming Self:
* Positive attitude with a positive outlook on the future
* Positive choices lead to the pursuit of personal goals.
World view of the resilient individual:
* Life not defined by problems
* Problems are viewed as temporary
* Believe things will get better
* Believe problems have meaning or serve a greater purpose
Relationships with others for improved resilience:
* Surrounded by positive, supportive friends
* Implement coping skills that include advice of professionals
* Look to trusted mentors for direction
Sue lost her leg in an automobile accident. Everyone notices that she is always smiling and has a wonderful outlook on life. Sue loves swimming as an athlete with a disability. She gains strength and encouragement through her activities with other teammates with disabilities. Sue experiences pain in her muscles related to her accident, but she has learned to cope with this effectively by using pain management techniques taught to her by her therapist.
The Law of Use —
Finally, we examine the Law of Use. “Just as we develop our physical muscles by overcoming opposition, -such as lifting weights- we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity,” –Stephen Covey– Now consider the role of experience in our personal growth. We can maintain that challenge and adversity leads to growth and strength as we learn specific skills to handle these events. This is the law of use; a principle that represents the phenomenon of increase that occurs as we put stress on a skill or muscle, or the decrease that occurs if we neglect a part of our body or a practiced skill. Whether we experience job loss, physical illness or disability, every experience brings with it a unique set of interpersonal skills and new dimensions of character development. As we grow and age, we develop wisdom about life and learn strategies to handle more and more problems. The psychologically healthy person views life’s challenges as a learning opportunity and works to master these challenges with grace and ease.
* Develop new coping mechanisms
* Greater character and emotional strength
Experience of adversity, hardship, disability or illness leads to growth and new interpersonal skills –
Albert has been in the army since finishing high school. He attended basic training where he learned amazing inner control and emotional fortitude. Although things were difficult in the beginning, Albert felt much more prepared and able to handle the many responsibilities of his position when he was sent to Afghanistan a few years later. Albert received medals for his skill and decision making on the battlefield when he returned home from his last deployment.
In sum, the existential therapist works with the client to promote autonomy and personal growth by encouraging the individual to find meaning in his or her life. Resilience can be described as a flexible, optimistic and well-prepared outlook on life with a hope that problems are temporary and are destined to get better. Resilient individuals surround themselves with other positive influences and know when to seek help from professionals or other mentors. The final approach follows the law of use; this means the victorious individual uses his or her abilities and tools to improve during adversity, by growing, learning and becoming stronger by constantly moving towards their highest potential.