Victor E. Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, is a classic in which he details his experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and applies his psychotherapeutic techniques to explain how a search for meaning can help human beings through the most difficult times. According to Frankl, there are three stages that every prisoner goes through—shock, apathy and depersonalization/disillusionment if they survive the camp. Based on his experiences, Frankl came up with logotherapy, in which a person must keep imagining the positive outcome s/he wants to bring about.
According to Frankl, even in the darkest of times, when the prisoner has every reason to lose hope, they can keep going if they find some meaning in life. Frankl describes how his thoughts of his wife whom he loved kept him going during a march when the prisoners were being moved from one location to another. He found that maintaining hope was what differentiated prisoners who didn't make it through the camp from those who did.
He also found that people in general are either decent or indecent (used to mean "not decent" and not "lewd"). This applied to prisoners as well as guards or those in charge of running the camp. There were guards who behaved decently and prisoners who would abuse their fellow inmates for personal gain.
Once the prisoners were released from the camp, they often reacted in unpredictable ways, feeling disillusioned if the thing that gave them meaning was no longer present e.g., if the spouse whose memory they had held on to had died. Sometimes, the decent ones turned indecent and wanted to inflict pain on anyone associated with their incarceration.
Man's Search for Meaning is a truly inspiring book which shows how even people who go through horrific experiences can keep the faith and keep going by finding something meaningful in their lives.
Victor E. Frankl was born in Vienna and got interested in psychology early. When he attended Gymnasium, the Austrian equivalent of a preparatory high school, he wrote a paper on the psychology of philosophical thinking. He went on to the University of Vienna where he studied medicine and specialized in neurology and psychiatry. He was especially interested in counseling those who were depressed or suicidal and started several programs to help those who suffered from these problems. He and his wife were both taken to concentration camps in 1944; Frankl survived the experience but his wife didn't. A few years later, Frankl remarried and lived to be 92, when he died of heart failure. He lectured and taught all over the world and received 29 honorary degrees.
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Man’s Search for Meaning is the chilling yet inspirational story of Viktor Frankl’s struggle to hold on to hope during the unspeakable horrors of his years as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of those he treated in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Through every waking moment of his ordeal, Frankl’s training as a psychiatrist lent him a remarkable perspective on the psychology of survival. As a result of these experiences, Dr. Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy. At the core of his theory is the belief that man’s primary motivational force is his search for meaning. Frankl’s assertion that “the will to meaning” is the basic motivation for human life has forever changed the way we understand our humanity in the face of suffering.
Frankl’s riveting memoir was named one of the Ten Most Influential Books in America after a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club. This revised and updated version includes a new postscript: “The Case for a Tragic Optimism.”