Viktor Frankl’s search for meaning (1)
Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl noticed in the mid-twentieth century that many of his clients were suffering from an existential vacuum; feelings of emptiness or lack of meaning in their lives. Somehow it seems to me this feeling is still widespread today. In this article, we will explore the overcoming of this feeling through logotherapy.
The search for meaning is exactly what logotherapy is about. It was developed by Viktor Frankl as a kind of legacy of his concentration camp experiences. The word logotherapy comes from the Greek word logos, which means meaning. Frankl mentions in his book that logos is something that can give man the strength to withstand superhuman suffering, because “logos is deeper than logic.”
Logotherapy believes that finding meaning in a situation can best allow a person to survive any circumstances, even the worst that Frankl himself has experienced, such as living in a concentration camp. The search for meaning in this context may seem superfluous, but it is at this point where logotherapy enters the scene.
Logotherapy considers existential frustration to be the source of many human problems. In other words, this means that one feels the lack of meaning in the current circumstances of one’s life. This is why the person is then instructed to find the meaning with the focus on the future.
Viktor Frankl and the development of logotherapy
Victor Frankl developed his idea of logotherapy faced with the direst conditions a human being can face; being thrown into the concentration camp during the IIWW. He survived the concentration camp precisely because of this thought. At the concentration camp, he was separated from his wife and family. He was stripped of an important manuscript he wanted to publish. He found his meaning in the idea of meeting his wife again, but also, in rewriting of the text. This gave him the strength to endure all the suffering in these extremely extreme, living conditions.
Even as he lay sick under the heat in the cold and damp huts of the concentration camp, scribbling small portions of that future text on pieces of paper helped him to survive. According to his comprehension, it is a willingly chosen valuable goal or task that gives human being psychological strength.
That individual meaning is not easy to determine, warns Frankl. It can vary depending on the stage of one’s life, sometimes even depending on the day. However, this meaning is not some abstraction but is a real task that someone has to do. It is unique to everyone and depends on the specific circumstances of life and the situation in which one is currently.
The question of meaning should be addressed, Frankl says, not in the manner of asking what the meaning of one’s life is, but to recognize that we are the ones being asked. “In other words, every man is asked by life, and he can answer it by answering for his own life; He can only answer life by being responsible. Therefore, logotherapy sees the very essence of human existence in this responsibility.
But the responsibility to whom or what, that is left to the particular person to choose. Everyone must make that decision himself or herself. That is why logotherapy does not impose value judgments on us; we have to find them ourselves. Frankl equates the role of the logotherapist with that of the ophthalmologist; its role lies in expanding the visual field of a person so that he or she can see the horizon of potential meanings.