Read part one.
Logotherapy seems immediately relevant to another area of interest that I am pursuing right. Next week is the last of five modules that I have taken in order to become a Spiritual Care volunteer in the Fraser Health region. Within the next few weeks I hope to be working on the medical ward at the local hospital. As I read Man’s Search for Meaning I couldn’t help but find a wealth of thoughts that I think will become incredibly beneficial to working with patients who are probably at two of the most difficult stages of life: illness and death. Frankl’s personal experience of suffering in four different concentration camps during World War II and his subsequent reflection on the role of suffering in human life is fascinating.
For example, Frankl writes:
- “Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances [as a concentration camp], decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski [sic] said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” (75)
- “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” (76)
- “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.” (116)
- “It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to 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.” (117)
- “There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.” (118)
So some final notes on Logotherapy:
- Edith Weiskopf-Joelson observed that North American culture emphasizes the pursuit of happiness to the point that unhappiness is seen as a deficiency. With such a strong emphasis on happiness, above all else, a problem arises: “Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.” (118) In other words, the more one knows they are unhappy, the unhappier they get because society puts an incredible pressure on ‘being happy.’ Weiskopf-Joelson continues, “the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading…” As a result of the unhealthy North American focus on happiness, the one who suffers “is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.” (118)
- Frankl makes a very insightful observation that many people go to therapists seeking help for what they think is a neurosis (a mental disorder) when in fact what they are experiencing is the human condition. (I speak from experience!) Then Frankl, who as far as I know was only a nominal Jew (if there is such a thin!), states that these days, people don’t want to talk about this human condition with clergy persons, but rather with doctors of psychology and psychiatry: they “confront the doctor with questions such as ‘What is the meaning of my life?'” (119-120) Perhaps this is both an indication of a the Western mindset that sees science as the solution to humanity’s greatest questions and the inability of religion to enable people to live fully human lives with responsibility, rather than preaching other-worldly escapism.
- On the question of the meaning of human suffering, Frankl again, despite his scientific training, seems to push us further beyond the limits of reason and science to solve existential issues: “Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?” (122)
- In other words, does reason have the capacity to explain everything? No, says Frankl. The demand made on the human person is not “to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos (meaning) is deeper than logic.” (122)
- An apophatic or mystical psychoanalysis? Yes!
- Life changes and so does meaning. But this doesn’t mean that life is meaningless. The transitory nature of life requires that the human person respond to each moment, making responsible choices, choosing what will be made a reality. “Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal ‘footprint in the sands of time’? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.” (124)
- Frankl coins the phrase “hyper-intention” to refer to what we might call a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ That is, hyper-intention refers to what happens when “fear brings to pass what one is afraid of” or “a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes.” (125) An example of hyper-intention is sleeplessness caused by one’s obsession with falling asleep. “Hyper-reflection” is a related term that refers to an intense focus on something that one wants that they are unable to achieve what they actually desire. He uses the example of a patient who was so focused on herself, her past history of sexual abuse, and the orgasm itself that she was unable to actually enjoy the sexual act nor achieve an orgasm itself. (126)
- How can one change the negative results created by hyper-intention and hyper-reflection? Paradoxical intention is the logotherapeutic technique that combats the obsessive focus of hyper-intention and hyper-reflection.
- Paradoxical intention results in doing the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. For example, someone who suffers from the inability to sleep because they are so anxious about not being able to fall asleep needs to instead try to stay awake. One who cannot achieve an orgasm tries not to achieve an orgasm at all. (126-129)
- Frankl argues that man is totally free and determines their own self. Humans are not things that are pre-determined in the way they act. We are what we make ourselves and we have no one to blame but ourselves for our failures.
- Humans have the freedom to become “swines” or “saints,” says Frankl referring to his observation of fellow prisoners in the concentration camps he lived in. Some became assistants to the mass murderers while others did unthinkable acts of heroism. “After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of 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.” (136)