In the last few months, several of my dearly loved ones have been going through various kinds and degrees of trauma. I began to think of the importance of resilience and, for solace, I revisited the work of Viktor Frankl.
Since its publication in 1959, Man’s Search for Meaning has been one of the most quoted and referenced books on the topic of the human condition. Over 50 years later, Frankl’s observations on finding joy and lightness in the midst of horror and darkness are still profound and insightful.
After the war, he became a professor at the University of Vienna Medical School and was a visiting professor at Stanford University. He developed an existential-based theory and therapy, having to do with the meaning of existing and living. The phrase Internal Locus of Control was coined by him.
Drawing from the existential philosopher Nietzsche who wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how…” Frankl revisited his memories of being confined in concentration camps. He noted that those prisoners who also had a will and a why to live were able to better support themselves by choosing to:
- Utilize humor. Yes, they did. One exercise was imagining themselves in the future with concentration camp behaviors in a more genteel environment.
- Experience joy. Whether it was realizing their new concentration camp had no gas crematorium or inviting one another to view a sunset.
- Gather with songs, poems and other distractions. Creating a diversion can provide a break from painful situations and is an example of accepting responsibility for creating our own pleasure.
- Connect to a spiritual source. Services were secretly held.
- Remember loved ones. Frankl often imaged his wife smiling at him in the most humiliating of circumstances.
- We should not judge another until we question whether, in a similar situation, we might do the same.
- We are not necessarily suffering a mental illness when we act abnormally in abnormal situations.
- There are situations in which numbing our emotions is a natural self-protection.
- We can turn our life challenges into inner victories.
- Suffering is diminished by finding its meaning.
Victor Frankl Quotes:
- “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
- “But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
- “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.”
- “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
In the preface to Man’s Search for Meaning, Gordon Allport (now called Ram Dass) sums up Frankl’s main survival discovery:
The last of human freedoms is the capacity to choose ones’ attitude in a given set of circumstances.”
When our loved ones are journeying through tough times, we can choose to witness with care and keep Frankl’s viewpoints in mind. When life hands us our share of troubles, may we provide a model of choosing to focus on the available moments of joy and love while letting the meaning of the experience unfold.
How might you put some of Frankl’s ideas into action? Leave your response and I will be sure to respond.