A Damaged Life Can be Rebuilt Through Meaning

Sometimes life takes a turn in the wrong direction. It can happen quickly or slowly.

When it happens quickly, it is often connected to an accident, death or illness. The health of a person who was previously well can suddenly take a sudden and cruel turn. A person who is experiencing such a life crisis may feel like the ground is shaking. Everything is changing, and things have suddenly become frightening and painful.

When life takes a turn for the worst slowly, there is a process behind which gradually takes us where we do not want to be. It may be mental illness, loneliness or addiction which is the core cause. Maybe you have trouble with relationships, a romantic relationship which is gradually being torn apart, or you notice a growing distance between yourself and friends or family. Or maybe it’s the lack of a relationship that is the problem. Perhaps you discover that you have ended up in a dead end or on the wrong track in relation to your career and work life, and that the dreams that you once had now look unattainable.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to put things right again. Or at least to find a new way of living life, that provide meaning even after things went wrong.

It is necessary to follow two slightly different approaches when dealing with either a fast or a slow break down of your life. But the common road for both is that it starts by regaining some degree of control. If you have experienced a shock you must first and foremost get back on your feet and get an overview of where you are. If the shocking incident happened recently, you must often allow some time to pass before you are able to recover and move on. A sudden death, for example, will cause shock and confusion. Everything becomes a confusing and painful mix of emotions; grief and frustration. If you find yourself there, you must take time to help you to get through the worst and most difficult phase.

A life can take irreparable damage. If you lose someone you love your life will not be quite the same again. In such cases, you need to rebuild your life. Find another way to live it, one which provides a new kind of meaning.

Viktor E. Frankl was an Austrian psychoanalyst who lost his pregnant wife, brother and parents in the Holocaust. He later wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” which is partly a biographical account of life in the concentration camps and partly a presentation on his own direction in psychology; logo therapy. Logo therapy can be broadly described as therapy through meaning, and the central principle of the philosophy is that a man, who has nothing to live for, will come through suffering in an entirely different way than one who does. Frankl goes further and recommends that we find what carries meaning to us.

So how do you go about increasing the meaning of life? Viktor E. Frankl says that a human being finds its meaning either 1) by creating something or doing a deed; 2) from an experience or an encounter with another human being (loving someone deeply is meaningful), or 3) to find meaning in suffering. The latter may sound strange and somewhat circular formulated, but Frankl tells the following story to illustrate the point:

Through his work as a psychologist he met an older gentleman who was deeply depressed because of the loss of his wife whom he had loved very much. Frankl asked him: “If it was your wife who had survived, how would she have taken your loss?” The man replied that it would have been very hard on her. Frankl replied that if that was the case, then he had spared his wife from much suffering by being the one that was left after her death. The man stood up, grabbed Frankl’s hand, thanked him for his help and left.

For my own part, I can find meaning in the suffering I had during the first half of my life because I can use the painful experiences to help others who find themselves in the same situation. Nobody really knows what depression is like if you have not experienced it yourself.

Part of what makes it so much worse when your life that has gone wrong is the illusion that others have it so much better. This is often not true. When you peek behind the facade, behind the shining images on Facebook, you will often find that having a hard time is common. Most people I know have had their struggles, at least at some time or other during their life. And something comforting can be found in this. Not because we wish others ill, but because it’s extra tough to have a hard time if you think you are the only person who is suffering. I wish we could all be better at discussing both sides of life; both the beautiful and the bad. Those who carry the extra pain would then get better.

Acknowledging that things did not go as planned, and where things went wrong can lead to negative emotions such as bitterness and sorrow. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to get back on your feet again. Most posts on kristianhall.com are about these things. Please take a moment to click around and read.

Whatever lies behind you, whatever is broken; you simply need to build your life again. In a new way.

A good life involves a mix of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement (the so-called PERMA model designed by Martin Seligman et al.). To rebuild a life that has gone a little wayward we can focus on these pillars, and start rebuilding stone by stone. This is a book in itself, and one that I might want to write one day – how to deal with these pillars one by one. While rebuilding stone by stone, it can be advantageous to learn to be more grateful for what you have, even if this happens to be something small.

To start with the meaning pillar may be a good strategy, as recommended by the good doctor Frankl. Imagine that you found a cause you could devote yourself to. A cause (or person) important enough that you could ignore your own pain, or tolerate it in a different way. By working on this issue you will be able to meet new people with whom you can build relationships, and you’ll find commitment. That in turn leads to positive feelings. Working with a cause leads to a feeling of mastery and the achievement of goals. Therefore, meaning is perhaps the most important pillar of the five; the main pillar that carries the others.

And no matter where you are right now or how awful an existence you are experiencing, remember that it will get better. We can look to Viktor E. Frankl as an example; despite all the torment he went through, he lived a long, meaningful and eventful life, where he had the opportunity to help countless of others to get that much better.

Get more tips in Rise from Darkness, a self-help book on how to get rid of depression which is packed with techniques you can use to get that much better.