Can the victims of abuse ever lead full and satisfying lives? That depends, to a large extent, on how we define “full and satisfying”.
There is no question that abuse can kill. Those of us who survive may be left with lifelong physical and emotional scars. Abuse can leave victims struggling with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Abuse can turn sex into a weapon, in the desperate search for love. Abuse can lead to self-medication, with drugs or alcohol.
But that is not the whole story. Not by a long shot.
“…even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”
– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
The psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning described his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp. He concluded that human beings strive for purpose, and that – whatever our circumstances – we have the ability to give life meaning through love, work, and suffering.
At first glance, that may not make sense. Oh, most of us would agree that life can be given meaning by romantic love, perhaps brotherly love. After some thought, we might be persuaded that life can be given meaning by work – even tedious or menial work, if done to support the ones we love.
Yet suffering? Not such a stretch as it might seem. We recognize the concept of sacrifice in a noble cause (love of God, love of country, etc.), and sacrifice for the sake of a beloved. Mothers who have lost a child will understand that their grief is, in part, a testament to that child.
How does this relate to abuse victims? Well, we have certainly suffered. That our suffering was not to any purpose makes it all the more cruel. We were innocent victims. Blameless.
And that is the place to start…
For as innocents, we were led like lambs to the slaughter, in the same way that Christ – the Paschal Lamb, the babe in a manger – was. Those who harmed us will not be able to deny their guilt at the Last Judgment. The picture of Christ was before them at the very moment of sin, in the person of a guiltless child.
Some victims actually submitted to abuse, in the hope siblings might not be subjected to it. That sacrifice is worthy of the highest accolades. The soldier who throws himself on a grenade may wear his scars proudly – honored in life and in death.
For those without faith, who do not or cannot believe this, there is still consolation:
- Abuse may have impaired our ability to choose loving partners. It does not deprive us of the capacity to love.
- Abuse may have shown us the worst aspects of human behavior. It does not deprive us of the capacity for kindness. Many, in fact, argue that abuse increases empathy in victims for all those who suffer.
- Abuse may have exposed us to moral depravity. It does not prevent us from living ethically.
- Abuse may have a devastating impact on our lives. It can, also, become the focus for our talents. Many victims enrich the arts, easing the pain of others by sharing their own. But victims can be found in all areas of endeavor.
A meaningful life, a full and satisfying life, is attained through love, work, and suffering. I would add faith to the list. If we can learn to dance; recover a sense of humor; raise a child; plant a tree, so much the better.
In the end, we must decide for ourselves what a full and satisfying life is. I wish that for each of you.
Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤
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