As a therapist, I am struck more and more intensely by the importance of personal responsibility. So many clients come in overwhelmed with despair and helplessness. They express deep feelings of having been treated unfairly by the world. One of my jobs is to help them see that the series of choices they have made in their lives has led them to the very place they find themselves—spiritually, if not otherwise.
The late great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl based much of his work on the idea of the victim. He believed that in order to thrive, human beings need to challenge their sense of victimhood, that individuals need to approach life not as victims, but as students. Having survived the Nazi concentration camps, he learned that those who made it through that epic Hell were generally not those who were physically strongest but those who were more positive and resilient. Most importantly, they were the ones who, even in the midst of their own suffering, reached out to support others. In fact, this capacity for empathy—in spite of their own pain—enhanced their resilience. They approached life poised to learn and to give of themselves.
I am coming to the conclusion that we are the product of our choices. We choose how to face up to life. It’s not that everything is under our control, that unforeseen, unfortunate events don’t happen to us. It’s our response to those events, the way we choose to address them, that ultimately matters. And if we can stop focusing on ourselves, and help somebody else, we are transformed. In the words of
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”