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Om Namah Shivaya

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Jan 14, 2011

THE READER: Man's Search For Meaning - Dr. Viktor Frankl

The image of Dr. Viktor Frankl
I have had come across a great book "Man's Search For Meaning" recommended by a friend and thought of sharing with all. So here is it is ...
Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz and then went on to write one of the best books on Human Psyche and developed his ideas, now generally known as the Third School of Viennese Psychiatry - The school of Logotherapy.

I am also giving quotes from the Excerpts from the book after the introduction.

DR. VIKTOR E. FRANKL is Europe's leading psychiatrist. His new theory, logotherapy, has rocketed him to fame as the leader of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy and the most significant modern thinker in the field. Since 1961, when he was visiting professor at Harvard University's summer school, Dr. Frankl has been a frequent lecturer in this country.

"The story of a man who became a number who became a person. Today Frankl is one of the most gifted of all psychiatrists. Frankl developed his ideas, now generally known as the Third School of Viennese Psychiatry — the school of logotherapy. The incredible attempts to dehumanize man at the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau led Frankl to commence the humanization of psychiatry through logotherapy. Frankl is a professional who possesses the rare ability to write in a layman's language."
—Gerald F. Kreyche, DePaul University

First published in Austria in 1946, under the title Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager. This translation first published by  Beacon Press in 1959. Beacon Press books are published under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Here is an interview of Dr. Viktor E. Frankl - click here

Sources: Man's Search For Meaning, Images are as given in the captions

DR. FRANKL, AUTHOR-PSYCHIATRIST, SOMETIMES asks his patients who suffer from a multitude of torments great and small, "Why do you not commit suicide?" From their answers he can often find the guide-line for his psychotherapy: in one life there is love for one's children to tie to; in another life, a talent  o be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving. To weave these slender threads of a broken life into a firm pattern of meaning and responsibility is the object and challenge of logotherapy, which is Dr. Frankl's own version of modern existential analysis.

From this autobiographical fragment the reader learns much. He learns what a human being does when he suddenly realizes he has "nothing to lose except his so ridiculously naked life."

Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities. Frankl is fond of quoting Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how."

Frankl is neither pessimistic nor antireligious. On the contrary, for a writer who faces fully the  ubiquity of suffering and the forces of evil, he takes a surprisingly hopeful view of man's capacity to transcend his predicament and discover an adequate guiding truth.

Preface to the 1984 Edition

I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a
potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.

"Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the  unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by- product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what  your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run - in the long run, I say! - success will follow you precisely because you had
forgotten to think of it."

Experiences in a Concentration Camp
We are indebted to the Second World War for enriching our knowledge of the "psychopathology of the masses," (if I may quote a variation of the well known phrase and title of a book by LeBon), for the war gave us the war of nerves and it gave us the concentration camp.

Thus, when we saw a comrade smoking his own cigarettes, we knew he had given up faith in his
strength to carry on, and, once lost, the will to live seldom returned.

Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly, most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our so ridiculously naked lives.

Apart from that strange kind of humor, another sensation seized us: curiosity. I have experienced this kind of curiosity before, as a fundamental reaction toward certain strange circumstances.  When my life was once endangered by a climbing accident, I felt only one sensation at the critical moment: curiosity, curiosity as to whether I should come out of it alive or with a fractured skull or some other injuries.

Dostoevsky’s statement that flatly defines man as a being who can get used to anything, we would reply, "Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how."

I think it was Lessing who once said, "There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose." An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.

They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature.

The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."

Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.

As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances.

Despite that factor - or maybe because of it - we were carried away by nature's beauty, which we had missed for so long.

The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another,
"How beautiful the world could be!"

Humor was another of the soul's weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford aloofness and ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a  trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.

Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.

Eerything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose
one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, "There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings."

Curtsey News
It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering

With the end of uncertainty there came the uncertainty of the end. It was impossible to foresee whether or when, if at all, this form of existence would end.

It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future - sub specie aeternitatis. And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.

What does Spinoza say in his Ethics? - "Affectus, qui passio est, desinit esse passio simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus ideam." Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

Nietzsche's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,"

We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

"Life" does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life's tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man's destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.

When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe.

We had realized its hidden opportunities for achievement, the opportunities which caused the poet Rilke to write, "Wie viel ist aufzuleiden!" (How much suffering there is to get through!) Rilke spoke of "getting through suffering" as others would talk of "getting through work."

When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a
man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."

The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words.

And I quoted from Nietzsche: "Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker." (That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.)

Auschwitz concentration camp -Curtsey photos/bjurman/940097331

Again I quoted a poet - to avoid sounding like a preacher myself - who had written, "Was Du erlebst, kann keine Macht der Welt Dir rauben." (What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.) Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being.

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two - the "race" of the decent man and the "race" of the indecent man.

We had said this word so often during all the years we dreamed about it, that it had lost its leaning. Its reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours.

The body has fewer inhibitions than the mind.

Logotherapy in a Nutshell*
Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. (Logotherapy, indeed, is a meaning-centered psychotherapy.) At the same time, logotherapy defocuses all the vicious-circle formations and feedback mechanisms which  play such a great role in the development of neuroses.

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.

Man's will to meaning can also be frustrated, in which case logotherapy speaks of "existential frustration." The term "existential" may be used in three ways: to refer to (1) existence itself, i.e., the specifically human mode of being; (2) the meaning of existence; and (3) the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning. Existential frustration can also result in neuroses.

Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.

There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost  but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress

"Sunday neurosis," that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.

"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 now!"

I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. The first, the way of achievement or accomplishment, is quite obvious. The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something - such as goodness, truth and beauty - by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness - by loving him.

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true. In logotherapy, love is not interpreted as a mere epiphenomenon3 of sexual drives and instincts in the sense of a so-called sublimation. Love is as primary a phenomenon as sex. Normally, sex is a mode of expression for love. Sex is justified, even sanctified, as soon as, but only as long as, it is a vehicle of love. Thus love is not understood as a mere side-effect of sex; rather, sex is a way of expressing the experience of that ultimate togetherness which is called love. The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering.

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.

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  1. this is a book i will look for. peaks my interest greatly.

    great quotes and info, Shashi
    thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you Shashi. As a social worker I have read a little about Frankl, and have read some quotes but not his books. He certainly has much to offer the world, based on his own experience of suffering. I may pick up his book.

  3. This is a gem of a book. One that I have read fully at least twice. I have a copy that is highlighted, penciled, penned, scissored, taped, and debound. As a young teacher, I used to read it in the teacher's lounge to make sure I wasn't losing my compass.

  4. Thank you so very much for sharing this with me today. It absolutely could not have come at a better time. Proof of entanglement indeed! With much gratitude ~ N

  5. Thank you for sharing these wonderful thoughts Shashi :)

  6. Very insightful Shashi :) I read this book many years ago in high school Psychology. It made quite an impression on me. I went on to study Psychology in college (UMASS) No matter what our life circumstances or physical environment, we control our internal environment & our responses to stimuli. No-one & nothing can take from us our God-given free will, our freedom to choose our thoughts, feelings & attitude, which in turn determine our actions. That is a powerful lesson I learned from "Man's Search For Meaning". Victor Frankl is proof of the strength & resilience of man, in the face of seemingly hopeless circumstances. Another book I highly recommend is "Roots of Evil" by Ervin Staub, which delves into the origin of genocide & other dehumanizing acts of hate. The author was my college professor.


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