"Man’s Search for Meaning" is a book by Victor E. Frankl published in 1946. This is one of his most popular books. It a memoir that tells of the psychological and torturous experiences of Viktor while he was serving his time in the Nazi concentration camps during the 2nd World War.
Frankl also survived the Holocaust. The Austrian lived from the 26th of March, 1905 to the 2nd of September, 1997 and was a very famous psychiatrist and neurologist of his time.
Man's Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy was originally written in German, with the title, trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager, and published by Verlag für Jugend und Volk in Austria before it was later translated to English in 1959 by Beacon Press.
In the book, Viktor describes his psychotherapeutic method, “logotherapy”. This method is concerned with positively identifying one's primary life purpose and also the possible ways an individual can try to achieve their true life essence or “meaning” (Adhiya-Shah, 2016; Steger et al.).
Meaning, according to Frankl, can only be made possible through three sources, which are, love, determination and the courage to be able to face difficulty heads on. Man’s Search for Meaning is a typical depiction of an average prisoner life through the eye of a one-time prisoner himself, Frankl.
In this article, E. Frankl’s "Man’s Search for Meaning" analysis will be done. This would help us to understand the processes of Viktor's method; the reasons for living and how the “intensification of (one's) inner life” helped those in prison to hold strongly to their belief in purpose and also pushed them to stay alive, despite the harsh experience they were faced with.
The first section of "Man’s Search for Meaning" focuses on Viktor's experience while in the Nazi concentration camps. He describes the five years of hardships and stark suffering that he and other inmates went through while in Auschwitz and other camps.
Through observation, he discovered the three psychological reactions of every inmate in the camps. The first is the shock of their unexpected incarceration at the first stage of their admission into the camps. The section reaction is apathy to ensure and prolong the survival of themselves and their friends in the camps.
They place value on things that can only sustain them and their friends only. The third stage is “depersonalization”, ethical degradation, hatred, and recovery from prison experience after their eventual survival or liberation (Frankl, 1959).
Following this observation, Frankl then goes on to conclude that meaning is a core aspect of the human experience. Meaning never ceases and, at every moment of survival, one continues to find meaning in every action we take or in everything that happens to us, even in hardships and, ultimately, death.
Viktor observes further, in a group therapy session when some inmates who were trying to protect their fellow inmates from the serious punishment that'd be instilled by the authorities, that everyone is looking out for another person or is being looked out for by others, be it God, family or even friends, and would not want to be disappointed. Based on this observation, Frankl then goes ahead to make a few conclusions.
First, the psychological reactions of a prisoner are not entirely what makes them and their conditions in life. The individual choices they are free to make also has a way of affecting their condition, even in the most intense situations. As mentioned earlier, the internal influence or the impact of this influence on a prisoner's spirit depends on their hope for continuous survival. The moment that hope is missing in that prisoner's life, they are doomed.
His second conclusion was only two human races exist, the “decent men and indecent men”. Every society must have both of them. However, there were Nazi guards who were decent and there were prisoners who were also indecent. He classifies those that make life difficult for their fellow inmates for personal interests an “indecent”.
In the concluding part of this section, Frankl describes the prisoner's psychological reaction to their liberation. This he also divides into three stages: (1) depersonalization; this the “period of readjustment”.
At this stage, a prisoner gradually recovers from their prison experiences. (2) the danger of deformation: there will be intense pressure on the mind. This places the mental state is then placed in danger. The pressure, stress, and trauma they were faced with will come back to haunt them.
When they return home, they begin to have a hard time with two fundamental experiences that would also have a negative impact on their mental health. Bitterness and disillusionment set in at this stage.
The prisoner becomes to realize that he's somewhat alone, the realization that their suffering may continue, and that, for them, happiness will become attainable has an adverse effect on their mental state.
The hope they kept during their stay in the concentration camp disappears. Their experiences while in the concentration camps turn into a nightmare. They become fearless of whatever they may face in their freedom. As Frankl acknowledges himself, he doesn't fear anything any longer “except his God” (Frankl, 1959: 115).
Adhiya-Shah, K. (2016). Book Review: Man's Search for Meaning (Victor Frankl). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01493. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5111395/
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man's Search for Meaning. Beacon Press.
Steger M. F., Kashdan T. B., Sullivan B. A., Lorentz D. (2008). Understanding the search for meaning in life: personality, cognitive style, and the dynamic between seeking and experiencing meaning. J. Pers. 76, 199–228. 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2007.00484.x
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