Viktor Frankl: Adversity as a Challenge

Adversity is like an open door; a challenge to overcome. I learned this from Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Viktor Frankl is one of my heroes because he survived Nazi concentration camps. He was a young psychiatrist. He analyzed psychologically what was happening at the camp and wrote about it. He described his fellow prisoners as being in shock at the horrors. After a time, they developed defense mechanisms to cope with these horrors. A numbness came over them that helped them endure daily beatings or witnessing people who were beaten. He talked about the psychological effects of freedom when liberated and the adjustments that took place.

What do you do with suffering? Our best and worst comes out in adversity. We see that after every natural disaster, some people are pillaging while others are bandaging.

We who live in concentration camps can remember the man who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. — Viktor Frankl

Adversity gives us an opportunity to choose our own way through it. Two and half years after I returned from El Salvador I sat in a college psychology class where we read Viktor Frankl. It was the perfect reading material for me because I was trying to figure out what I had just lived through; in El Salvador I watched terrorist groups and the government military killing each other.

Viktor Frankl talked about finding meaning in suffering. If you can find meaning in your suffering, you have greater a capacity to endure and survive. Meaningless suffering wears away at you. If you can’t find meaning in suffering, you won’t survive.

Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence.
— Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl is one of my heroes because he wrestled with difficult and painful topics including how to find meaning in suffering. There are no easy answers. Yet suffering is part of everybody’s life at one point or another. Do we rise and take it as a test of inner strength or do we shrink back?


Change the way you look at adversity. The simple challenge is to take adversity as a test of inner strength. In adversity, you stand. You rise to the occasion.

What if you gained something from adversity? Would that change how you feel about it? Think about it, what if in exchange for adversity you gained:

  • Personal growth
  • Perspective
  • Gratitude – joy
  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Confidence

Whatever life throws my way, I hope to take advantage of every adversity and like Frankl says, “be worthy of suffering.”

It can be said that they were worthy of their suffering: the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. — Viktor Frankl

What is your achievement regarding suffering? Some people suffer and come out better on the other side. Others don’t seem to make it to other side. It’s an invitation. How will you choose your own way?

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