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Viktor E. Frankl : Man’s Search for Meaning

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Courtney Bree

on 8 December 2014

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Transcript of Viktor E. Frankl : Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl : Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor E. Frankl
Born in Austria
Neurologist and Psychologist
Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz
1944 - Frankl was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp

He was moved to Kaufering

1945 - He was moved to Türkheim
where he worked as a physician until he was liberated

From these experiences he wrote his book
A Man's Search for Meaning
A Man's Search for Meaning
Three phases of inmates mental reactions to the camp life:

Ø The period following his admission

Ø The period when he is entrenched in camp life

Ø The period following his release and liberation
Phase 1
Characterized by shock and horror
“Delusion of Reprieve”
Illusion that a person might be reprieved or released at the very last minute before execution/death
Somehow they would be saved despite of the horrible conditions (e.g., gas chambers, malnourishment, tortue, substandard medical care, etc.)
"The engine's whistle had an uncanny sound, like a cry for help sent out . . . Suddenly a cry [did break out] from the ranks of the anxious passengers, "There is a sign, Auschwitz!" Everyone's heart missed a beat at that moment. . . the very name stood for all that was horrible: gas chambers, crematoriums, massacres. Slowly, almost hesitatingly, the train moved on as if it wanted to spare its passengers the dreadful realization as long as possible" p. 27
These illusions were specifically created by the camp

Suicide was the most common effect of Phase 1
After everyone experienced the brutality and loneliness
Make new prisoners will be willingly to work within the camp and hand over any valuables
"They took charge of the new arrivals and their luggage, including scarce items and smuggled jewelry." p. 28-29
Given coupons, "extra allowances" (p. 49), cigarets used as currency, etc. by camp
Phase 2
Relative Apathy
Prisoners experienced an “emotional death” (p. 39)
Prisoners in this phase became unmoved by acts of terror in the camps
Apathy became a necessity for self-defense
Frankl spent time with typhus patients who were often delirious, "many of them moribund." (p. 41)
When one died, he watched, without any emotional response, as other prisoners took away the corpse’s belongings and the "nurse"'s inhumanly remove the body. The author, who two hours ago stared into the glazed eyes of the corpse laid on the floor, continued sipping his soup. (p.42-43)
Phase 3
Depersonalization, Moral Deformity, Bitterness, and Disillusionment if one survives and is liberated
Depersonalization - a period of readjustment in which the prisoners gradually return to the normal life
often some prisoners forgot what freedom felt like
Danger of Deformation - mental health is jeopardized as the intense pressure of previous captivity is no longer there
"people with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the . . . brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. . . they thought they could use their freedom "licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. . . They justified their behavior by their own terrible experiences." (p. 112)
Bitterness - often rising from reactions of those at home and questioning reason meaning for their experiences
"it was not one's fellow man . . . but fate itself which seemed so cruel. A man who for years had thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering has no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and still more intensely." (p. 113-114)
What is Frankl's Conclusion?
Frankl concluded that even in the most painful and dehumanized situations, life ultimately has a meaning and there is meaning in suffering
Life never ceases to have meaning regardless of the situation
He wanted to identify a purpose in life and imagine an outcome that coincided with that purpose
According to Frankl a person's ability to do so could affected their longevity
What is learned?
Life ultimately has a meaning and there is meaning in suffering.
“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” -- Nietsche.
Survivors of the camp had meaning and purpose that drove them to have hope, to be optimistic about life.
Part 3: The Case for a Tragic Optimism
It is possible to remain optimistic even in the face of the tragic triad:
How? Make the best of any given situation

Turning suffering into a human achievement; an occasion to find deeper, meaningful living
Deriving from guilt the opportunity to change for the better
Deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action now, instead of in some indefinite later time

Face the tragic triad in 3 ways:
You can’t force yourself to be happy; instead, you have to find a reason to be happy
“Hyperintention”, i.e forcing yourself to be happy, won’t work
Finding meaning gives one the capability to cope with suffering
Creating a work or doing a deed
Experiencing something or encountering someone
Turning personal tragedy into triumph
Three main ways one may find meaning in life:
Meaning can be found in suffering.
This is not to say that suffering is indispensable in the search for meaning, but it is something that can have value.
The value to be found in suffering is determined by the attitude with which one faces a situation. One must find a way to find good in all the bad that has occurred.
Unconditional meaning parallels with the unconditional value of each person.

The value of every individual must be found, even in the worst of circumstances.

One must avoid assigning value based on usefulness. Usefulness itself can be defined as what an individual can contribute to society. The value of a human being should be based on the sheer quality of dignity that exists within every individual.
Living a meaningful life can counteract the mass neurotic symptoms of our time: depression, aggression, and addiction
" [The prisoners] offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances- to choose one’s own way.” (p. 86)
Part II: Logotherapy
Logotherapy: a basic definition
Frankl’s therapeutical doctrine
Etymology: Logotherapy = Logos (Greek for meaning) + therapy; so a meaning oriented/focused therapy
It is less retrospective and less introspective, but more a focus on the future, and namely what the individual can do in the future
“Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.” (98)
a “meaning-centered psychotherapy,” which means that the development of someone’s neurosis is intertwined with an individual’s constant reorientation and confrontation with their search for their meaning in life
According to Frankl’s logotherapy, the individual’s search for their meaning in life is their “primary motivational force.” (99)

Will to meaning vs. will to pleasure
Will to meaning is not the same as the will to pleasure
A variety of studies showed that people viewed having a meaning in one’s life to be crucial for living, success, and what was often in the majority their primary desire in life
“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.” (99)
An individual’s desire for a life that is “as meaningful as is possible” is what is “authentic and genuine in man” (100)
Existential Frustration & Noögenic Neuroses
This search for meaning can be frustrating, what logotherapy calls, “existential frustration”
Existential can be used in 3 ways:
existence itself (specifically human existence/mode of being)
the meaning of existence
the will to meaning (striving to find a concrete meaning in one’s own personal existence)
Existential frustration can also result in “
noögenic neuroses
” rather than typical psychogenic neurosis
Noögenic neuroses comes from the Greek word noös which means mind
Has its roots in the “noölogical” dimension of human existence- only pertains to the human experience
Emerges from existential problems
Only proper therapy is logotherapy because it specifically deals with the human dimension
Not every issue is neurotic, some are just instances of frustration but logotherapy can be used to determine such
Example: American diplomat discontent with his job- vocation got in the way of his life meaning
Existential frustration is NOT a mental disease
Logotherapy cares for instinctual facts and existential realities
Deals with an individual not as someone who is trying to satisfy drives or desires (think ego, superego, and id) but as an individual trying to find meaning in their life
An ongoing tension between who one is an who one can become

A tension between one’s achievements and one’s goals
For Frankl, mental health is not about attaining equilibrium, contentment, or a painless state
Rather, it is about living out a meaningful struggle to become what one can possibly be
To live out life’s fundamental tensions in a meaningful way.
Existential Vacuum
An enduring, pervasive pattern of existential frustration, where one experiences one’s life as being most empty and meaningless.
Biggest symptom: Boredom

Our modern social situation helps foster existential vacuum
The older more traditional meanings are on the decline: animal instincts, traditions (religion, family, community)

In their place, an increase in values that are essentially passive and ultimately unsatisfying
Conformity, Totalitarianism, Pleasure-Seeking, Depression, Aggression, Addiction, Empty Sexual Promiscuity
All of which Frankl sees as rooted in people’s not perceiving and living out any higher purposes in their lives.

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, from hour to hour.” (108)
No doctor can answer in a general definition what the meaning of life is for humanity
What matters is not the general idea of the meaning of life, but the specific and personal meaning of an individual’s life at any given moment
Example: the best chess move in the world
There is no best chess move in the world- need the best chess move for that specific turn
Same with human existence
The Meaning of Life
Everyone is unique with a specific vocation- they cannot be replaced
Thus, everyone’s meaning is different and unique for them at whatever specific moment they are at in their life and everyone has the unique task of completing and fulfilling their personal meaning
The individual should not ask what the meaning of life is, but rather recognize that they are asked by life to fulfill and find their meaning
Each individual must have a level of responsibleness to answer this question posed by life
“Logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.” (109)
“Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness,” (109)
the categorical imperative of logotherapy: “ 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 act know!”
this maxim invites the individual to imagine that the present is the past and that the past can still be changed
Individual must decide whether to see his responsibility as being to the society or to his own conscience
“the self transcendence of human existence”
the true meaning of life has to be found in the world, not in one’s own psyche as if we are completely separate from the world we live in
do this by self-actualization: forgetting oneself in order to serve another
this is actually not attainable because if you strive for it then it is unattainable
- the meaning of life is constantly changes, but despite this it never ceases to be
can find meaning of life in 3 ways:
1. creating a work or doing a deed (way of achievement or accomplishment)
2. experiencing something or encountering someone ( experiencing something like beauty, etc…)
3. attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering (approaching suffering we must have)

The Essence of Existence
The Essence of Existence
Suffering ceases to be suffering the moment the individual can find a meaning in their suffering
Logotherapy’s goal isn’t to find pleasure, but to find meaning
However, suffering isn’t necessary in order to find meaning, it’s just one way you can
example: the logodrama of the mothers
example: super-meaning- the rabbi who outlived his children
The Meaning of Love &
The Meaning of Suffering
Love is its own primary phenomenon
Can’t grasp another person at their core without love
Love helps another realize their full potential
Taking meaning away from human life: a)Suffering b) Dying

- “...the only really transitory aspects of life are the potentialities; but as soon as they are actualized, they are rendered realities at that very moment” (131)

- “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 suffering are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy” (132)
Life’s Transitoriness
Realistic fear = a fear that cannot be subdued or ridden of by psychodynamic interpretation (like the fear of death)
Neurotic fear = cannot be cured by philosophical understanding (like agoraphobia)
Fortunately logotherapy can work with these
Just like how fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, the same is with forced intention in that it is unable to bring about what you intend
example: the stutterer
this is called excessive attention or “hyper-reflection”
“paradoxical intention” works on the fact that fear brings about what you fear, but forced intention can’t bring about what you intend, so the patient is told to intend what they fear so they cannot get what they fear
on the patient to will this
the cure is found in self-transcendence

Logotherapy as a Technique

Every age has...collective neurosis (mild mental illness) and needs its own psychotherapy to cope with it.
Existential Vacuum: Private and Personal form of nihilism
Nihilism: the contention that being has no meaning. Life is meaningless; (The rejection of ALL religious and moral principles)
“Danger inherent in teaching of man’s “NOTHINGBUTNESS”: The theory that man is nothing but the result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment.” (153)
-Neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychotherapy whichs denies that man is free.

The Collective Neurosis
“Pan-Determinism”: The view of man which disregards his capacity to take a stand toward any conditions whatsoever.
Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to donictions or stands up to them. Man is self-determining. (154)
The individual personality remains essentially unpredictable.
Ex. Dr. J “the mass murdere of Steinhof” (Nazi euthanasia program)

Critique of Pan-Determinism
A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining.
Man has both potentialities within himself (to act like swine or saints); which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conidtions.
Psychiatry Rehumanized
"Everything appeared unreal, unlikely, as in a dream. We could not believe it was true." (p. 110)
e.g. The diver being released from a pressure chamber(p. 112)
After his time in the concentration camps he also concludes that there are two races of men
"No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people."
(p. 108)
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