Although much of Frankl’s book is focused on his time in concentration camps, Man’s Search for Meaning is fundamentally about logotherapy. Logotherapy is a school of psychology—developed by Frankl himself—that is centered around helping people find meaning in life. Logotherapy is known as the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,” after Freud’s and Adler’s respective theories. Unlike Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology, logotherapy claims that the search for existential meaning is the major motivating force in a person’s life. Moreover, Frankl maintained a sense of purpose in the concentration camps precisely by deciding to study how the camps affected prisoners’ psychologies. Thus he gives personal details about life in the camps, but he does so from a psychologist’s point of view, and draws larger conclusions from his experiences.
The second section of the book deals with logotherapy more directly, and sets out Frankl’s core beliefs. He defines his therapy by comparing it to Freud’s method of psychoanalysis: logtherapy is “less retrospective and less introspective.” Frankl says that existential frustration (a lack of meaning in one’s life) can lead to noögenic neuroses like anticipatory anxiety, which must be treated with logotherapy. This frustration can also lead to existential despair, or a state in which one deeply questions the meaning of one’s life. Frankl encourages therapists to help their patients achieve a state of noö-dynamics, in which what one has already accomplished is in a healthy tension with what one hopes to accomplish in the future. This state can help clarify a man’s will to meaning (sense of purpose) and set him back on a healthy path. For example, Frankl once had a patient who was still grief-stricken over his wife’s death two years after her passing. Frankl helped the man realize that if he had died before she had, she would be the one suffering instead. The man was then able to think of his suffering as a sacrifice made on behalf of his wife. Once the man understood that his pain was meaningful, he was able to bear it. Likewise, Frankl himself managed to endure the concentration camps by deciding that his suffering was meaningful, and by maintaining a goal for the future. Ultimately Frankl’s extreme personal experiences contribute to and shape his theories of psychology, leading to an entirely new school of therapy as developed in the book.
Psychology and Logotherapy ThemeTracker
Psychology and Logotherapy Quotes in Man’s Search for Meaning
Who can throw a stone at a man who favors his friends under circumstances when, sooner or later, it is a question of life or death? No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.
Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that within those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?
One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he should recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
The emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and if you had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now!”
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.
For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.
It is one of the basic tenants of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.
Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers at Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.