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A personal development message for your students from Viktor Frankl

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

There is always suffering in life – without it there would be no meaning.

Portrait of Viktor Frankl, psychologist and holocaust survivor

Learning to accept that suffering is part of life is a key lesson in the personal development for any student. It is a helpful skill to learn and one which will allow you and your students to cope in difficult times, such as now during the current pandemic.

Accepting suffering when its avoidable is not what Viktor Frankl is advocating, instead his personal development message is about learning that our life experience should be seen as a spectrum of the emotions over a period of time, rather than a light switch with it being either on or off. Going through periods of hardship in life where levels of positive emotion will be limited are completely normal and as the well-known Psychotherapist, Phillips Perry notes ‘it’s impossible to feel continuous happiness’ as to be happy we need to have other emotional states to compare it to.

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” Viktor Frankl

Unfortunately, knowing when and how to accept suffering is not an easy personal development skill to learn as suffering is not something a human being should gravitate towards. It needs us to use our awareness of the circumstances and for us to be able to reflect upon it and ultimately make good decisions for the future. When we look at the current situation within the pandemic, we don’t have much of choice to change our circumstances and we are restricted in what we can do.

So what is the personal development lesson we can learn from Viktor to give our students to help them through the pandemic?

A signpost pointing in different directions, shadowed by a sunset sky. A quotation from psychologist Viktor Frankl reads 'When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.'

In the concentration camps, Viktor Frankl learnt to accept that he was unable to see his family, he would not have enough food, would be beaten and would live in utter squalor. He never enjoyed the beatings and he never accepted his treatment was fair, but he learnt to accept that the suffering was unavoidable and would be part of his life journey.

The pandemic is now part of all our journeys and we can’t change it, however long it lasts – instead we use this journey as part of our own personal development, by sticking to our values and focusing on what we can do. This is the perfect time to set some short term positive goals on what you can do. The quicker we accept that there is hardship and focus our attention on the positives we can learn to accept this suffering as part of life.

Viktor never gave up hope he would become free at some point. He learnt to change himself to accept the horrors he was facing, while staying true to his values.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor Frankl

One of the final personal development lessons we can learn from Victor Frankl in this section is that suffering can bread positive changes within ourselves. Suffering gives us the opportunity to learn new skills and learn to appreciate what is good in our life. The suffering he went through gave him inner strength and perspective when he came out the other side, which is what will be true when we come out the other side of this pandemic. We will cherish the contact with our friends and family, socialising and being together. Much like Viktor did when he left his concentration camp.

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