Everyone experiences hardships in life, and in the wake of a global health crisis, we’re seeing so many people sharing their personal struggles in a vulnerable and authentic way. As an advocate for authenticity, I’m a firm believer that sharing our suffering with others opens the door to receiving the love, support, guidance, and safety we need to help us heal.
I’ve been very open about my personal experiences with stress, mental health challenges, and heartache, and in particular, some really bad breakups — including a particularly nasty one involving an ex-partner’s web of infidelity.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I made it through these horrible situations in one piece. But I’m a firm believer that it’s how we handle life’s challenges that really defines us, and so I look back on my own adversity with gratitude: I survived it all, and I’m still me.
The Power of Choice in Struggle
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl explains his view that, while terrible circumstances can bring out the worst in people, ultimately, “Man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”
Which way we go, he says, comes down to the choices we make when faced with adversity. No matter what life sends our way, says Frankl, we always retain our power of choice. We can decide how we are going to respond, and it’s in these decisions that our character is revealed.
Of his experiences at Auschwitz, Frankl says, “There were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self.”
In facing one of the worst situations imaginable, Frankl still saw how individuals could exercise their free will in incredibly meaningful ways.
We can all take a critical life lesson from Frankl’s observations: no matter our circumstances, we always have control over what we do next — even if that action is in the confines of our minds.
Staying Grounded During Adversity
One of the key things that determine how we respond during times of struggle is knowing who we are and understanding our purpose in life. When we have a strong sense of self and know who we are, we have a firm foundation from which to make decisions about how to handle life’s challenges. Knowing what our authentic self needs and desires, and having a strong grasp of our values, roots our decision-making in something meaningful and unchanging.
Similarly, when we understand our purpose in life, we know what we want to contribute to the world, which will inform every decision we make. Staying grounded in our purpose also helps us to find meaning in whatever situation we are presented with — good or bad.
Frankl says that when we tap into our inner strength, we can even find meaning in our suffering. This allows us to retain our personal power in even the bleakest of circumstances.
Reframing Challenging Situations through Mindfulness
As humans, it’s easy to get caught up in our pain (Dr. Rick Hanson says that our brains are wired to be “like Velcro” for negative experiences). For example, I’ve mentioned my struggle to let go of negative emotions following a tough breakup. Often we feel that what’s happening to us is an injustice, and we actively resist it. But in focusing on the negative, we are cutting off our own potential for growth and learning. Not only that, but railing against our circumstances saps us of our strength and distracts us from making decisions that are in line with our authentic selves.
Mindfulness offers a different path. Rather than dwelling on our suffering (which actually prolongs it and makes the experience worse) we can draw on our inner strength to have a healthier, more positive response to our situation. In using mindfulness, we still acknowledge the shittiness of what we’re going through, but instead of getting stuck in the experience, we can keep our attention on the bigger picture.
Mindfulness is so important when it comes to having a more positive response. In observing our thoughts and reactions non-judgmentally, we can identify where we’re leaning into our pain, and where we might be able to reframe our perspective more positively. We can ask ourselves, “How can I see this experience in a positive light?” Or at the very least, “What can I learn from this situation?”
Often the only way out of a painful circumstance is through it — and in cultivating our inner strength, we can find meaning on the other side.
We’re all facing challenges in our lives right now, but how we respond to those challenges tells the world so much about who we are. And if you’re really struggling, it’s ok. Think about how you can reframe your viewpoint and stay true to your inner self in how you respond to it.
You can get through this by staying connected to your authentic self.
I’m an award-winning life coach, empowerment speaker, author, and inclusion expert dedicated to helping you live your best life.
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