Human Potential in Extreme Situations

· May 5, 2018

Is there anything more moving than seeing human potential in action during extreme situations? Maybe so, but there is something really moves us when humans act altruistically in extreme circumstances. Times when fear, danger, and uncertainty pervade.

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), a German psychiatrist and philosopher, elaborated on extreme situations (Grenzsituationen). He defined them as situations in which a curious paradox occurs. They seem like a maze with no exit but simultaneously — and inherently — contain the possibility of being overcome.

They are contradictory situations life surprises us with. Crucial moments when we can see the meaning of our lives more clearly, despite the horror of uncertainty. They give meaning to our existence.

Within extreme situations lies the potential of human beings

It is in extreme situations when human beings see themselves with no masks on. Here, survival is key — finding an exit to this labyrinth we’re in. In these situations, humans are capable of letting out the best of themselves. We are able to cooperate and collaborate with others, people who are also in it with us. In many occasions, human potential flourishes here with a boom.


People who put their own lives at stake to save others. People who unite against a natural disaster to safeguard their well-being and that of others. The ones who go to areas of conflict and war to help however it’s needed. Human beings who mobilize to protect the most defenseless, no ulterior motive.

Support in extreme situations: holding hands.

We find meaning in life when we are in touch with our best selves

There are many examples that show the possibility of getting the best out of yourself in extreme situations. They prove that something positive can be built on top of darkness and debris. We want to be useful to other people.

Viktor Frankl spoke of finding meaning in one’s life through adverse situations. Carl Rogers also spoke about the potential of human beings. Both trust fully in our potential as humans. They talk of our power to make our existence fuller, more authentic, and more engaged.

After the shaking and the uncertainty, humans bloom

It is amazing and encouraging to see how people can flourish in extreme situations, even after having been hurt. How they learn what they want in their lives and what they want to do without. How, finally, they see what they’re capable of and discover their real self.

It’s as if they find a pure, unique potential hiding inside after life hands them a huge challenge. After finding it they decide to live their life in pursuit of this potential. They show and share their genuine and beautiful essence with the world.

Can you think of someone you know who experienced this rebirth? Someone who built themselves up again after an experience like those we touched on? A kind of indescribable serenity grows in these people. It’s a serenity that nourishes their present and makes it meaningful. The good thing is, that person is — or will be — us too.

A blue flower with dew drops.