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Making Sense of a Difficult Situation

‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves’. –

Viktor Frankl

My counselling training supervisors had a profound impact upon me, they were inspiring human beings who could see hope in very challenging situations by reframing. The reading list they provided, encouraged me to read many disciplines to develop a broad view of this world we live in. One of these books was ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl.

Reading the back cover of this book for a brief summary led to many months of avoidance; I came up with excuses such as, ‘this is not an academic book’, ‘It’s going to be too difficult to read, too painful reading a book about surviving a Nazi concentration camp’. I recalled history lessons aged 14, the grim pictures of the holocaust. I told myself, ‘I don’t want to read about the horror of war, extreme prejudice and hatred’,other excuses were ‘this is not an academic book’, ‘I haven’t got the time, it’s not a priority book’.

The guilt of not keeping up with my academic reading, curiosity and colleagues’ advice became a motivator for me to read the book and I couldn’t put it down. Upon finishing the book I had a strong desire to share my thoughts and feelings about a piece of literature that was unforgettable.

It’s a story of how in the darkest of times human beings can find a glimmer of hope, a shard of light.  I had this realisation of what I took for granted, I became aware that amongst the trials and tribulations of life, we are not alone in our suffering. Viktor Frankl was held in a concentration camp, no contact with his family or friends. He was a Neurologist and Psychiatrist who wouldn’t comply with Nazi Germany, surviving everyday, moment by moment in a situation that he would never have envisaged. He realised that during these times we have a choice in how we can respond. 

Frankl wrote that if one had hope, a reason for living, a purpose, a ‘why’, one could endure and get through difficult times. If we can see these situations as temporary we are more likely to maintain a positive attitude. At some point in our lives we all encounter difficult terrain, challenging times, harsh conditions, however, if we can think of a future event that can bring us joy we are more likely to prevail. It doesn’t have to be a future joy; during his time in the concentration camp Frankl reported that one of his fellow inmates burst into the room and beckoned everyone to come quickly outside; he told them they must come outside to see the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen. They all agreed it was, they also realised that despite being imprisoned, their captors could never take that away from them and that they could still find beauty in difficult times.

During this period of uncertainty, it’s important we can recognise the difference between what we can control and what we can’t and invest in what is in our control. So what can we do?

What if we reframed  isolating as ‘retreating’, perhaps we are retreating to reflect, retreating to our loved ones, to learn a new skill, read that book we’ve always wanted to read, watch a movie, watch an inspiring talk, watch a documentary on nature. Perhaps you want to learn a language, learn a musical instrument or learn to make cakes or learn how to paint or sketch. Maybe you want to try mindfulness. Perhaps this could be that one time when you get out your pen and paper and start compiling a list of things you always wanted to do but felt you never had the time to!!

I’m already visualising the things I’m going to do in the future; going walking, going to the seaside, eating out, meeting friends, going to sporting events, gigs and doing lots of things!! Perhaps this period of ‘retreat’ is the gift that will present us with the realisation of what we have, perhaps this is a pause, to stop, take a breathe and reset and look in awe at what is around us.

By Paul Griffiths

Lead Course Practitioner