Viktor Frankl: Adversity as a Challenge

Originally posted on August 14, 2017. In a time when society is wrestling with increasing gun violence and a growing divide in how to address it, here is a post from my archives about how to handle adversity.

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?

©2017 Belinda McDanel

2 thoughts on “Viktor Frankl: Adversity as a Challenge

  1. Belinda,
    This is true: “It can be said that they were worthy of their suffering: the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement.” — Viktor Frankl
    Now, back to your reference to the growing gun violence (and the latest school shooting in Florida) the question we have to ask ourselves, keeping the insights and truths spoken by Viktor Frankl about suffering in mind—what to do when the suffering is self-inflicted? The adults (government/Congress/Senators/governors/NRA) are doing nothing tangible—they are spinning their wheels. They offer “thoughts and prayers” and nothing more. The group of Schoolkids in Florida is now launching a campaign to call on government and the NRA to act. (The US forms 4.7% of the world total population but owns 42% of its firearms.)
    I used to live in Africa. I also once owned a firearm.
    Some suffering is unpreventable. (Certain diseases, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, accidents.)
    We have to persevere through it and grow stronger, helping one another in grace.
    Suffering due to people’s inaction or unwillingness to act and change laws cannot be supported. We have to address it—with gun violence: there can be no neutral ground.
    Heads can no longer be in the sand. There are choices.
    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Sometimes we are required to endure suffering. It’s just life. We definitely don’t want to endure it if there is something that we can do to alleviate the suffer for ourselves and others.
      America has an out of control problem with weapons. For sure we need to do something about it. I’m so proud of the teenagers today and the movement they are
      leading. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


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