7 Ways To Move Through Grief: Future Focus

Article #6 in a series of 7

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and founder of a form of psychotherapy called logotherapy. While being held prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Frankl helped his fellow inmates by urging them to accept the situation while forming a solid future goal, something that would give their suffering meaning. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he observed that the prisoners needed a reason to carry on – a future focus – or they were at high risk of committing suicide.

Frankl said that one of the ways he coped with his own suffering was to visualize himself standing at a lectern speaking to rooms full of people about his experiences in the concentration camp. Later his vision came true, and the reality was that he ended up speaking to many audiences in many large lecture halls… and in front of cameras as well.

Here’s a montage of interviews with Frankl.

Potential Meaning Waiting To Be Fulfilled
Frankl wrote, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

Whereas grief over loss might not be on the same level of the intense suffering that Frankl and those he counseled endured, the principles still fit. He has shown us that even in their darkest times, humans can still make it if they have a future focus or “potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled.”

Knowing this has helped me through this past year of grieving the end of my family as I knew it. It’s not the only way I’ve coped, of course. As this series has revealed so far, I’ve also gotten support from friends, family, and faith; actively practiced gratitude; journaled extensively; used healthy distractions; and relied on structure and routine.

Future focus became pretty important early on though. So much was changing because of the divorce. At first it was about planning my next steps, including moving to a new home, untangling finances, and processing the paperwork to end the marriage. After that, I found it helpful to start reflecting on what I wanted my life to look like sans husband.

Long ago I read this statement by Frankl, which has always resonated: “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”

Despair and Meaning
Once I was settled in, I knew that I needed to find meaning in my suffering. I agree with Frankl that I don’t need to suffer to find meaning in my life, but suffering does give me a singular opportunity to figure it out. I knew it would be smart to start thinking about the bigger picture too.

At first I found it very hard to focus on the future. As I’ve mentioned previously, I did a lot of journaling, as well as writing several unsent letters to express my anger and despair at what had happened.

By the way, when Frankl was asked about despair, he gave what he called a mathematical equation to define it:

D = S – M

Despair is suffering without meaning.

The Life That Is Waiting For You
However, even in the beginning while my emotions were still a jumbled mess and despair was assertively present, I knew that my grief was temporary. I had faith that the feelings of despair would eventually subside. It may have been difficult to see myself in my new life, healed and happy, but I knew it would happen.

And it helps that some time ago, I created a bucket list of things and places I’d like to see, as well as projects I’d like to do. My vision of the future includes creating two significant online support communities and one day establishing a charitable foundation to fund programs that support disempowered populations. My list also includes being awe-inspired by visiting places like the Grand Canyon and by seeing sights like the whale migration in Alaska.

These things can still happen. How I get to do it and who I get to do it with might just look different than I had imagined, right?  Reminds me of the famous Joseph Campbell quote: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

The reality is that grief will run its course as it must.  In the meantime, it’s a great comfort to know that my life is still calling me and that I get to contemplate the possibilities.  It’s totally up to me to continue envisioning my future and seeing the meaning in my life has as best I can.

Next – Physical Activity
Have you heard of “endorphins”? It’s one of several mood-boosting neurotransmitters that your body produces from physical activity. Studies show that getting your body into motion is an excellent therapeutic way to cope with grief. But you don’t have to be an athlete nor do anything too aerobic to benefit. There are other ways to physically relieve the stress of grief. In the next and final part of this series, I’ll share what I’ve learned about how physical activity can help you move through grief.

Click HERE to read part seven in the series, 7 Ways To Move Through Grief: Physical Activity

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Angela Loëb is into self-development… learning it, teaching it, and supporting others who do too.
More at http://angelaloeb.com
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