Man's Search For Meaning | Hamro Patro

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Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

   Pranjal Khatiwada - Jun 12 2023

Live as if you were living for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now. - Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor. He is best known for his work as the founder of logotherapy. Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna, Austria, and began studying medicine at the University of Vienna in 1923. After completing his medical training, he worked as a resident in neurology and psychiatry. Frankl was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 and was sent to Auschwitz, where he spent three years in a concentration camp. After his release in 1945, Frankl returned to Vienna, where he resumed his work as a psychiatrist. Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," describes his experiences in the concentration camp and his theories on the importance of meaning in life. The book has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Frankl continued to work as a psychiatrist and therapist until he died in 1997, and his ideas continue to influence the fields of psychology and mental health today.

In the first part of this novel, Frankl has discussed his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Frankl describes his own experiences and those of other prisoners in the camps, including the various psychological reactions that they had to the dehumanising treatment that they were subjected to. Frankl and other prisoners at Auschwitz were subjected to extreme conditions, including forced labour, malnutrition, disease, and abuse. Many prisoners were also subjected to medical experiments, torture, and other forms of cruelty. Frankl's experiences at Auschwitz and other concentration camps had a profound impact on his views about the human condition and the search for meaning in life.

Frankl thoughtfully explains the three phases of mental reaction to life as a prisoner in a concentration camp. The first phase was characterised by shock and disbelief. Frankl and other prisoners were initially in a state of shock and disbelief when they first arrived at the camps. They experienced a sense of delusion of reprieve, as they hoped that their circumstances would eventually improve or that they would somehow be able to escape, but the latter didn’t happen. Frankl also notes that some prisoners experienced a sensation of humour, curiosity, and surprise in camp life, as they tried to adapt to their circumstances and find ways to cope with their situation.

The second phase of relative apathy / emotional death was characterised by a blunting of emotions and a feeling that one could not care anymore. Frankl describes this as a time of apathy and emotional death, as prisoners become insensitive to the daily and hourly beatings that they were subjected to. They were unable to feel emotions such as disgust, horror, and pity and were overwhelmed by a sense of mental agony caused by the injustice and unreasonableness of their circumstances.

“The salvation of man is through love and in love”
 “Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being ”
“ Love is how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved”. Frankl emphasises the importance of love and connection to others in helping prisoners find meaning and hope during this difficult time.

The third phase was the period following liberation/ disillusionment, which was characterized by the experiences of the prisoners after they were liberated from the concentration camps. Frankl describes this phase as a time of "depersonalization," as the prisoners struggle to reintegrate into society and cope with the moral deformity that results from the sudden release of mental pressure. Many prisoners also experience bitterness and disillusionment when they return to their former lives, as they struggle to come to terms with the experiences that they have endured.

In the second part of the novel, Frankl discusses his theory of logotherapy. Frankl developed logotherapy while he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, and it was heavily influenced by his own experiences of suffering and the observations he made of other prisoners. According to Frankl, logotherapy is based on the idea that individuals have a natural inclination to find meaning and purpose in their lives, and that this search for meaning is essential to mental health and well-being. He argues that when individuals find meaning in their lives, it can give them the strength and resilience to overcome even the most difficult challenges and suffering.

Frankl discusses Existential Frustration which refers to the feeling of discontent or unease that can arise when an individual lacks a sense of purpose or meaning in life. In "Man's Search for Meaning," he discusses how this feeling of frustration can be a common experience for individuals who are struggling to find meaning in their lives. He suggests that one way to overcome existential frustration is to find meaning and purpose in one's life. He believes that this can be achieved through work, relationships, and personal experiences of suffering. He argued that it is possible to find meaning in work by pursuing a career or vocation that aligns with one's values and interests. Also, relationships with others can provide a sense of meaning and purpose, and it is essential for mental health and well-being. By finding meaning in their lives, individuals can gain the strength and resilience to overcome even the most difficult challenges and suffering.

One of the most striking topics for me, discussed by Frankl, is Paradoxical intention which is a technique used in logotherapy to help individuals overcome anxiety and other psychological problems. The technique involves intentionally and paradoxically focusing on the very thing that one is trying to avoid, to neutralise the fear or anxiety associated with it. He shared different accounts of how he helped different patients through this technique. He shared an incident: “Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” “Oh,” he said, “for her, this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering—to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” which was beautifully thrilling and made me stop and think for a second.

The novel ends with Frankl discussing the concept of tragic optimism based on the belief that it is possible to find meaning and purpose in life despite suffering and tragedy. Frankl argues that this is achieved through work, personal experiences, encounters, and love and that suffering can be a source of growth and meaning if it is approached with the right attitude and if it is used as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Overall, the novel deals with a series of insights into the human experience that the readers can ponder and get inspired and know about the importance of finding meaning and purpose in one’s life. I haven’t read a lot of novels that have had many impacts on my life. However, this book has touched me deeply. It is a powerful and inspiring testament to the human spirit and the enduring power of the human will to find meaning and purpose in life, no matter how difficult or challenging the circumstances may be. So, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is seeking inspiration and guidance on their journey of self-discovery.

I would rate the novel 9.5/10 .5 deducted because I found a sentence contradicting my thoughts. The sentence was, “Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on the decision but not on conditions ”. The writer may be right even with this, but I found this sentence a little bit unconvincing as I feel certain conditions do determine how a man responds.

Pranjal Khatiwada
Grade: XII, Lobuche
Roll no: 23030
Deerwalk Sifal School

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