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Saturday, June 6, 2015

REVIEW: Victor Frankl


Viktor Frankl’s theory and therapy grew out of his experiences in Nazi death camps. 

Watching who did and did not survive (given an opportunity to survive!), he concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right:  “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. " (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121)

He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.

logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning.

Comparing himself with those other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.  Logotherapy postulates a will to meaning.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit.  In traditional psychology, he suggests, we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension.  Instead, or in addition, Frankl says we should pay attention to noödynamics, wherein tension is necessary for health, at least when it comes to meaning.  People desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal!

One of Viktor Frankl's major concepts is conscience.  He sees conscience as a sort of unconscious spirituality, different from the instinctual unconscious that Freud and others emphasize.  The conscience is not just one factor among many; it is the core of our being and the source of our personal integrity.

"...(M)eaning is something to discover rather than to invent."  (1975, p. 113) 

"...(M)an must be equipped with the capacity to listen to and obey the ten thousand demands and commandments hidden in the ten thousand situations with which life is confronting him."

This striving after meaning can, of course, be frustrated, and this frustration can lead to noögenic neurosis, what others might call spiritual or existential neurosis.

existential vacuum.  If meaning is what we desire, then meaninglessness is a hole, an emptiness, in our lives. Whenever you have a vacuum, of course, things rush in to fill it.  Frankl suggests that one of the most conspicuous signs of existential vacuum in our society is boredom.  He points out how often people, when they finally have the time to do what they want, don’t seem to want to do anything!  People go into a tailspin when they retire; students get drunk every weekend; we submerge ourselves in passive entertainment every evening.  The "Sunday neurosis," he calls it.

These neurotic vicious cycles are founded on something Frankl refers to as anticipatory anxiety:  Someone may be so afraid of getting certain anxiety-related symptoms that getting those symptoms becomes inevitable.  The anticipatory anxiety causes the very thing that is feared! 

 "feeling of futility," which he also refers to as the abyss experience.
Frankl calls depression, addiction, and aggression the mass neurotic triad.

finding meaning:  experiential values, that is, by experiencing something - or someone - we value.  This can include Maslow’s peak experiences and esthetic experiences such as viewing great art or natural wonders.

A second means of discovering meaning is through creative values, by “doing a deed,” as he puts it.  This is the traditional existential idea of providing oneself with meaning by becoming involved in one’s projects, or, better, in the project of one’s own life.  It includes the creativity involved in art, music, writing, invention, and so on.

The third means of finding meaning is one few people besides Frankl talk about: attitudinal values.  Attitudinal values include such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor, and so on.  But Frankl's most famous example is achieving meaning by way of suffering.

 paradoxical intention, which is useful in breaking down the neurotic vicious cycles brought on by anticipatory anxiety and hyperintention.

A second technique is called dereflection.  Frankl believes that many problems stem from an overemphasis on oneself.  

"(H)uman existence -- at least as long as it has not been neurotically distorted -- is always directed to something, or someone, other than itself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter lovingly." (1975, p. 78)  Frankl calls this self-transcendence, and contrasts it with self-actualization as Maslow uses the term.  Self-actualization, even pleasure and happiness, are side-effects of self-transcendence and the discovery of meaning.  He quotes Albert Schweitzer: "The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."  (Quoted in 1975, p. 85)

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