Upclosed staff | Jan 03, 2018

About Viktor Frankl and the Meaning of Life. 

What is to give light must endure burning.

September 25th, 1942: Viktor Frankl, his wife, and his parents were arrested and deported to the Nazi Theresienstadt Ghetto (concentration camp.) Frankl, the prisoner number 119104, a psychiatrist and neurologist by profession was assigned to a psychiatric care ward in the camp, where he treated camp newcomers to overcome shock and grief. 

In July 1943, Frankl, with Leo Baeck (1873 – 1956) - a noted 20th-century German rabbi, philosopher, and scholar - organized a closed event for the prisoners where the duo and gave lectures including "Body and Soul", "Sleep and Sleep Disturbances", "Medical Care of the Soul", "Existential Problems in Psychotherapy", and "Social Psychotherapy". 

In April 1945, the camp was liberated by American soldiers, and Frankl returned to his home in Vienna and was free again. Out of several observations and life-changing experiences he had at the camp, one stuck with him - that the difference between those who had survived and those who had died came down to one thing: what life means to them. He argued that people are primarily driven by a "striving to find meaning in one's life," and that meaning becomes the reason and motivation for them to survive and overcome life's challenges. As he observed in the camps, even in the most absurd, painful, and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and even suffering is meaningful.

His experiences at the concentration camp shaped his therapeutic approach and philosophical outlook. He assembled his thoughts in his best selling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he had written in only nine days. 

Frankl had, in fact, become familiar with the notion of "meaning" early in his life. At the high school in his hometown Vienna, he once asked his science teacher, "what can be the meaning of life?" when the class was discussing the lives of people. Later, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna and specialized in neurology and psychiatry, concentrating on the topics of depression and suicide. His initial works were influenced by other celebrated Viennese psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler - though later he diverged from their teachings.

From 1933 to 1937, Frankl completed his residency in neurology and psychiatry at the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna, where he treated more than 3000 women with suicidal tendencies. After Nazis took over Austria in 1938, Frankl was prohibited from treating "Aryan" patients because of his Jewish heritage. In 1940, he began working at the Rothschild Hospital, the only hospital in Vienna to which Jews were still admitted. 

In 1946, after he was liberated from the Nazi camp, he started working at the Vienna Polyclinic of Neurology. In 1955, he was awarded a professorship of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna. He was also a visiting professor at Harvard University (1961), at Southern Methodist University, Dallas (1966), and at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh (1972). In his career, Frankl had published 39 books, which were translated into as many as 40 languages. 

Frankl is attributed to have coined the term Sunday neurosis - a form of anxiety resulting from an awareness of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over. People without a meaning in their life are exposed to aggression, depression, and addiction. On freedom and responsibility, he once said: 

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. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Frankl died of heart failure on 2 September 1997 and was survived by his wife and his daughter Dr. Gabriele Frankl-Vesely, who is a child psychologist.

Quotes

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in suffering.

Nothing is likely to help a person overcome or endure troubles than the consciousness of having a task in life.

Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how.'

Man's last freedom is his freedom to choose how he will react in any given situation

What is to give light must endure burning.

Ultimately, a man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.

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

Since Auschwitz, we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima, we know what is at stake.

Only to the extent that someone is living out this self-transcendence of human existence is he truly human or does he become his true self. He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self's actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."

A human being is a deciding being.

Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human.

 

References: 

http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/frankl/frankl.html
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/

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