Finding Meaning in Pain - Dr. Viktor Frankl’s Empowering Perspective vs Hopelessness

in psychology •  6 months ago


Have you ever felt hopeless before and ended up doubting having hope again? Or have you been feeling such negativity these days? If yes, the powerful idea of psychologist and neurologist Viktor Frankl might help you out… for the rest of your life.


“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” - Viktor Frankl


Viktor Frankl’s book - Man’s Search for Meaning - highlights the power of logotherapy, a term he proposed to refer to his psychological method for helping out people under intense psychological distress. Frankl highlighted features that logotherapy differs from the classical Freudian psychology we have today.  

I hope that in dividing this article into 4 parts (by answering four questions about this topic) I can give you give you a glance on how it might actually change your lives. Further readings about this topic can be left out as assignment for you, but in a nutshell here are some of the major concerns I think you might want to know. ^_^

1) Who is Viktor Frankl?
2) What was his idea to resolve hopelessness?
3) Does it really work?
4) Why do we need it right now? 


Who is Viktor Frankl?
With his career life coinciding with the evil wraths of the Second World War’s Holocaust of Jews and since he was Jewish, Frankl ended up being one of the people sent into concentration camps such as the very infamous one in Auschwitz, Germany. Among the millions who were sent to various concentration caps, millions died while a small fraction of them survived. The situations he had been in the Holocaust were obviously harsh. In the book, he mentions about the psychological obstacles his campmates had been that might have given them a little push forward against their struggles.

One of such psychological obstacles he believes is being stuck in a mindset of hopelessness. For example, since the concentration camps had a “meritocratic” way of rewarding prisoners who seem submissive, they got some benefits which were still relatively unfair and inadequate to relieve them of the struggle they were given. They would pick cigarettes on the options of either cigarettes or food.


But, why? Why would one sacrifice food over cigarettes in such situation where they obviously felt hunger? This shocked me, too, when I read the book.  


"When a person can't find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure." - Viktor Frankl


Viktor Frankl’s view was that most of them might had been demoralized by the situation and felt that a way of out the struggle would be impossible to achieve. Even if they can, the situation (the wars and the consequences of trying to escape) seems to be worse than what was on the concentration camps.  With options, they would spend their preferences more on physically unhealthy things like cigarettes as reward versus scraps of food that could restore their energy. Frankl was bothered about this attitude. As a psychologist, recognized this as like learned helplessness, where a situation trapped a people’s ability to find a way out of a struggle or threat even if there is a clear, or possible, way out of it.

What was his idea to resolve hopelessness?


“Live your life as if you were living the second time and as though you had acted wrongly the first time” - Viktor Frankl


Dr. Frankl’s idea was very straightforward.

After the war and when he finally got out of captivity, he had patients that mirrored in some degree similar emotions Holocaust victims had when they were still in captivity - the feeling of hopelessness and learned helplessness. Hopelessness that the situation will be better and learned helplessness because the experiences they had been in the past might have been intense enough to reject any way out of their sufferings.

He developed the idea of logotherapy, a psychological method that has some differences from the classical Freudian one which was more popular that time. The word Logotherapy is derived from the words “logos” which in Greek means symbol/meaning and “theraphy” - I guess don’t have to explain that word anymore. In a nutshell, it simply emphasizes the value of the meaning of life and tends to be more present-future-oriented than the classical Freudian one.  

To compare the two, let’s have some facts the classical Freudian psychology is the one commonly used by today’s psychotherapists where they put you in chairs, ask you about your past, your dreams, and how you will with those. For Frankl, this method isn’t wrong per se, but it isn’t enough because it lacks the motivational force needed to push a person forward after understanding his situation, the “what now and in the days to come?” question. That’s where logotherapy comes in. It asks you questions about the future and what you want to do. It’s like being put in a chair to ask about what you really want in life and how you can move your way towards that meaning.

Does it really work?
To balance the weight put on either sides of the story, it is worth mentioning that there are some criticisms about his idea. For example, another psychologist named Rolly May asked on how for example, a person with mental illness can find his meaning? Since, Frankl suggest a goal for such people, May said that logotherapy is kind of authoritarian. Frankl responded that the suggestions he gave were thoroughly studied and are proper the patient’s condition.

Why do we need it right now?
I’ve made this post to share to you how Frankl’s idea of logotherapy helped me out as a person, too (like it helped others). I can’t say if it will work for everybody. But still, it's worth a try. Since, Dr. Frankl holds tight in his perspective despite criticism and since he is an expert in psychology, I tried to embrace his ideas to my own life. Gladly, it fruited out positive results - for me. Right now, I’m focusing more on what really matters to me in life and working against odds for them.

I guess that it might it help others, too. Specially in this era when our mindset about happiness and meaning is usually a bit inclined to bandwagonism and conforming to social pressures, the ideas in logotherapy can play a part in these by reminding us that we have choices and decisions to make for our own. For example, if we can hardly change the way other looks at us, we can change the way we look at ourselves and at them instead. This might not be the best option for everybody but for Frankl it would be relieving for one to accept his circumstances and change oneself for the better. 

This might be a promising tool to defeat social problems such as drug addiction, suicidal tendencies, terrorism, etc. The heart of logotherapy letting one know that he can make a bold choice despite his circumstances and that fate is not the antagonist of emotional stability rather it is one's feeling of hopelessness. Even if failure comes as result of trying many times,  one's relentless attempts to achieve something doesn't defeat the probability of the thing happening and second is making a bold choice despite failure as a result is simply normal and admirable for a person under a life seemingly "unfair".   

In one of my upcoming articles, I will share some points about what psychologists call learned helplessness and my insights about.  Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist but that course was my second choice in college. 


Sources, and reading (and watching) assignments you might want to dig in deeper into: 

1) Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning
2) www.viktorfrankl.org
3) Viktor Frankl delivers a speech about finding meaning in pain.



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