As we walk along the path of life, the question of “what?” or “why did this happen to me?” is not uncommon for those who have or still suffer in silence.
Restoring meaning to our lives is an essential and necessary final stage of trauma healing. Some will choose to explore this immediately either because they have had a religious experience or were led to a spiritual mentor who has guided them. For others, life seems meaningless and even hopeless. Quite understandably, having been betrayed by your caregivers, or by life circumstances, we find our foundation has been shaken enough that believing in something meaningful seems ridiculous. It might even be a set up for further disappointment. For others still, religion was used as a way to control, manipulate, and abuse. God then is correlated with abuse and pain.
What if, however, whether you believe in a god a goddess, or gods, really isn’t as important as understanding what is behind the suffering? What have you learned about yourself through your pain? As a result of your history, who are you today? What have you learned in general? How has your past contributed to your strengths? Are you a different person because you survived the storm? Would the skills and strengths that you gained from the storm still be at your fingertips if you had not gone through the storm? Is who you are today a result of the transformation process? Have you learned anything that you can use to help others? Do you have a higher capacity for empathy? How can you make a difference in your community because of your experiences?
In the book Mans Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl explains;
Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife, who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”
“Oh,” he said, “for her, this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” At which point, I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering – to be sure, at the price that now you have to mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.”
By no means do we need to suffer to find meaning; however, when we understand its meaning, it seems to shift our thinking about it.
*Note that if you have not done therapy or just beginning treatment, please answer these questions when you are coming to the end of your treatment. If you are in distress still or coping with distressing symptoms using compulsive addictive behaviours, you will not be able to answer these questions objectively.*