Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl – Part 2

MSFM

Continuing on from part one of this review, I will look at the second part of the book, where Frankl covers his theory of logotherapy and how he had used his experiences in Nazi death camps to help him in reinforcing it. Logotherapy is a form of psychoanalysis where there is “less retrospective and less introspective” methods used, meaning that the thoughts or past experience of the patient or subject are not as thoroughly examined. Instead, the future of the patient, in the sense of what they must achieve or what meanings to fulfill.

Logotherapy, taking the Greek word Logos, which signifies “meaning”, so patients are made to confront and examine the meaning of their life. Once given a meaning, they are able to turn their focus away from any feedback-loops from hell, which would otherwise have a chance to develop into neuroses. Breaking down the self-centered ego instead of feeding it. Giving motivation to the will of meaning, instead of following Freudian psychoanalysis or Adlerian psychology which would be the will to pleasure or the will to power, respectively. Each with their own problems, chasing happiness or pleasure often doesn’t end well as you will consistently be striving for it as one can never truly attain happiness. While striving for power also looks to attain superiority in some form over others, usually seen as an inferiority complex, of wanting to compensate for something that the person doesn’t have. Each of the three Viennese schools of Psychotherapy hold conflicting ideas, however, I think that each has some merit in some form and I suggest that you have a look into each and come up with your own assessment.

Back to Logotherapy and Frankl’s will to meaning. Frankl dictates that only the individual can fulfill the unique and specific meaning that he gives his own life. Meaning that the person must take it upon themselves to give their life meaning, one that they will not only live for but also die for. He goes on to reference a couple of public-opinion polls and studies done, all with very similar results. One done in France showed that 89% of the people acknowledged that man needs “something” to live for, and 61% said that they had something or someone in their lives that they were ready to die for. The polls showing that the thirst for meaning in one’s life is exceptional, considering that out of almost 8000 students from 48 colleges, 78% said their first goal in life was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life”. I would also fall into that category; however, I do not look back at my suffering and become paralyzed by it, I use all my experiences as a base to stand on, I look to the future of what I could achieve as a way to bring meaning to my life. It may be in the form of relationships, hobbies, career, side projects or hustles, And I have built a matrix of meaning so as to not make it that I am defined by only one meaning.

Finding a meaning can become a frustrating task, and as Frankl calls it “existential frustration”, which can result in the person forever searching and not coming to a solid meaning. Frankl states that existential in this circumstance may refer to the following:

  • Existence itself, “specifically the human mode of being”
  • The meaning of existence
  • Striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence

I have had these thoughts, and I often came to the common thought that life is meaningless and that ultimately, I also have no meaning. However, my views have begun to slowly change. That yes life may not have a meaning, however, it is up to me to give it meaning. I touched on this briefly, that the memories that we leave behind are a big part of the meaning that we can give ourselves, on a piece dedicated to a friend’s father. Where memories that you share with others can give your life meaning. I have seen firsthand how someone can see the frustration with not having a meaning. You can often get yourself into a vicious cycle of negative thinking that can be difficult to recover from.

Frankl covers that this search for meaning may, instead of bringing the desired effect of inner equilibrium, it instead brings inner tension. This tension though is only a byproduct and referring back to Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” The tension Frankl speaks of is “the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish.” This is part of human nature, to be able to look both backward at what you have done, but also towards the future to dream of the things you want to do. So, one should not be afraid or scared of challenging themselves with a potential meaning, even if it may not be one that they ultimately go for. This allows one to suffer for a task or reason that they chose. An interesting comment that Frankl makes on therapists, as follows:

“So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.”

Obviously not overloading their patient with a challenge that is far out of their mental level of sorts, but slowly having them set goals or achievements that they will be able to find meaning in.

If one doesn’t find meaning or lacks the awareness of a meaning that may be right in front of them, often they will complain about feeling empty. They find themselves in what Frankl describes as “The Existential Vacuum”. This Vacuum is in part due to one either wanting to do what other people do, or doing what others tell him to do. There is a responsibility placed on one’s shoulders whether they want it or not, one must choose what they want to suffer for. So, for instance, the elderly person who has just retired who’s meaning was their career. Now they have all this spare time and just sit at home depressed, not knowing what to do. They go to a therapist and asked to be cured. However, if they find a meaning that they can involve themselves in, like for instance a new hobby, or maybe at a community facility like helping out at a Men’s Shed program, or at their local sports center. Frankl says that with logotherapy almost anyone can find a meaning to their life, and ultimately find a meaning to their suffering.

Frankl goes on to describe what someone can do when they ask themselves, what is the meaning of their life? Knowing that no one will share their own meaning with another and that it may even change from year to year, like in chess how there is no best move, there is only such a thing as a good move, and it is solely dependent on the situation. Life is much the same, there is no best meaning, as it is totally dependent on the time and place of the moment in the person’s life. However, as each situation in one’s life signifies a trial to overcome, it is solely up to them to solve it. Ultimate responsibility.

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to now.”

Living with this in mind allows one to grasp each situation and decision, whilst being confronted with their own finite time on this earth. Having experienced suffering, I took on the idea that instead of complaining, why me, why did I get this shit hand. I took it upon myself to not let it win and beat me. Because I noticed that I could turn what would seem like a tragedy, into a triumph. I could overcome my battle, and use it as a way to show people that if you have the mindset of the suffering is meaningful in the sense that life has given you a test to grow in, then I would too overcome my situation. Frankl uses an example of an elderly GP that came to him for his severe depression. He had lost his wife and could not overcome the grief. Frankl asked the doctor a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” This way of thinking is crucial when going through suffering. As it gives the suffering meaning, and in the doctor’s case he found meaning in his suffering, and instead of having in a woe is me attitude, it shifted to an attitude of I would rather suffer through it than my wife.

In life, we are all able to change our attitude, and you can say that it is easier for some compared to others, or that I have not been through what you have been through so I wouldn’t understand. And you are right, I couldn’t understand what you specifically are going through. However, like every human that has ever lived and will ever live, I have suffered. I know I am not special and have been able to shift my attitude to help me in dealing with it. So, find your reason or meaning for your suffering, as it doesn’t matter about the hand you are dealt, it’s how you play your hand that matters. And this little snippet I found quite interesting, Frankl talks about how an old man need not envy a younger man as the old man has lived his life.

“Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

Living a life and being proud of each moment, so instead of becoming paralyzed by what has one has suffered and instead look at it as suffering one has endured and come out the other side with battle scars to be proud of. I at first wasn’t a fan of the scars I was left with, but as they tell a big part of my story I have grown to love them (plus, I’ve been told chicks dig scars).

Part two of Man’s search for meaning is littered with anecdotes provided by Frankl, each explaining one of his patient’s cases. From child abuse, to grieving, to sleep deprivation, he explains the principles behind logotherapy and how in each case the patient’s attitude can be changed and reoriented to a new meaning or used in a way that is quite paradoxical. In the case of sleep deprivation, Frankl advised the patient to try to not fall asleep, in doing so, the patient’s anxiety of not being able to sleep was reversed and now he wished for no sleep. Ultimately getting the desired result of sleep.

I have been able to touch and deliver only a few of the gold nuggets of information I came across in this book, and I can only recommend that you read it yourself. For a $10 book it is packed with so many ideas that will challenge your own ideas and like me, it may even change your life. I will finish this post with one quote from Frankl.

“In the concentration camps,.. we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”

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See you on the mats.

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