This is a very controversial and sensitive area to discuss.
Who survives extreme stress and adversity and who doesn't?
Or more to the point, how well do any of us deal with suffering? And to what extent are all human beings survivors of their life's experiences?
Are we all survivors of PTSD in one form or another? Is there a spectrum of suffering in which the mildest cases are considered "normal" whereas the severely afflicted are regarded as sick?
Suffering is universal. Buddhism recognizes this as a fact of physical existence. The degree of suffering, however, seems to be based on our mental state of being. How do we deal with the circumstances of our lives? How successful are we in transforming darkness into light?
How can we explain how two different individuals survive horrific circumstances with different outcomes? One person deals with the horror, chooses to move on with their lives and is capable of compartmentalizing their suffering for the sake of embracing what beauty and good life offers. Another can never escape the demons that afflict them and forever plagued–they be unable to deal with life's further challenges. Mental illness, even suicide seem to be their only escape.
Who is capable of surviving an abusive childhood filled with emotional and/or physical suffering and who is forever scarred? And who can overcome financial ruin, the breakup of a marriage, a physical illness which seems progressive and debilitating? Who returns from Iraq or Afghanistan forever emotionally crippled while another, limbs missing seems capable of moving forward in their lives?
The Holocaust of European Jewry claimed victims among the survivors. Some could never face life again in a world in which such horror could occur. Some philosophers and writers like Bruno Levi committed suicide years afterwards.
On the other hand, Viktor Frankl wrote Man's Search For Meaning and survived without rancor or hatred. His mechanism for survival was to visualize even the smallest reason to live. He was able to find meaning in life by observing a bud on the limb of a tree. Somehow he was able to find a thread of optimism in a universe of pain and senseless chaos. Frankl's response to suffering was to become open and loving, not filled with hate. How does one do that?
Very likely PTSD represents a spectrum—not only of the type of suffering one has to endure, but the resistance and resilience of those who experience it. Perhaps resilience itself has genetic roots with some of us more able to overcome adversity than others.
Perhaps, as the Buddhists take note, the purpose of suffering is not punishment, but to teach us compassion for our fellow PTSD travelers. On the other hand the notion what our souls may have "chosen" to face suffering in order to heal karmic actions from past lives may be more difficult for Western minds to accept.
I am planning to meet with an old friend I'll refer to as Bruce (not real name) I have not seen in decades who I understand is emotionally stuck in a very dark place. His life is apparently in disarray from financial and personal setbacks. He is apparently unable to move past a state of depression and self-pity.
He apparently spend much mental and emotional energy comparing his life with others and finds his lacking. He apparently is stuck in the memory of what his life was and no longer is.
He is suffering from PTSD.
I have no idea whether or not I can help him. It would be presumtuous of me to believe I can. But I will try.
I need to speak with him and to evaluate where he is on the spectrum of PTSD. I want to know if he is ready to move beyond the darkness. Why would I even question this? I know there are those whose identiy has become that of the victim, the loser, the one who suffers. I know that there are individuals who fear moving from this place.
I need to know if he desires healing, if he is tired of being where he is. Because all healing is ultimately self-healing. No one can heal someone who does not desire to be healed with every fiber of their being.
I need him to know that I will not judge him as a failure in life. I need him to know that I believe there is always hope for healing and transformation.
I will monitor any success or failure that ensues.
It cannot hurt to try