Viktor Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna, Austria. He is the founder of one of the most important treatment methods in medical science, which is called logotherapy.
Because Viktor Frankl was Jewish, he was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942 and spent the most difficult and fateful days of his life in this camp. He also spent some time in the Dachau concentration camp. He was released in 1945 and wrote about his experiences during these years of exile and published it under the title “Man in Search of Meaning” in 1946. In the following, we review some of the most important lessons and teachings of this book.
● First lesson: Indifference, the first step to return to life.
▪︎ There were two groups of prisoners entering the Auschwitz concentration camp. One group was sent to the forced labor department and the other group was taken to the execution department. Those who were executed, whose task was clear, but those who were in the forced labor camp, when they saw the execution scene, they were full of despair and frustration, and for this reason, some of them preferred to commit suicide. For this reason, they went to the electric fences around the camp and saved themselves from this situation by committing suicide.
▪︎ Those who did not commit suicide, after a while they faced indifference and everything became normal for them. As a result, they preferred to endure this situation in any possible way and continue their lives. Viktor Frankl was one of these people. Of course, their main concern was to reach the basic needs of life such as water and food. This concern was so intense that when typhus broke out in the prison, many did not feel disgusted and pitied at all, and were actually happy; Because they knew that more food would reach them.
▪︎ The prisoners had no idea of the future and did not know when they would be released from prison. This situation had caused the prisoners to become a walking dead. This part of the book is really painful and teaches us that humans have the ability to get used to anything. By the way, Frankel himself teaches us this in the form of a sentence:
▪︎Nudity was our only gift from the camp! We had nothing but naked bodies. Humans have the ability to get used to anything. Now if someone asks us about the truth of what Dostoevsky said, “Man is a creature that can get used to everything.” We will answer: “Yes, mankind is a creature that adapts to everything; But don’t ask how.”
○ Second lesson: Being alive and breathing is a gift in itself
▪︎When the war was over and the prisoners were released from the concentration camps, none of them could believe it and could not easily believe that they had been released and had to go home. Many of them were not well received when they returned to the society, and people told them that we also suffered a lot and that your experiences in the concentration camp are not so strange.
▪︎ This process continued until the freed people realized that being alive and breathing is a booty in itself and it is time to put aside past experiences and return to normal life so that they can rebuild their homeland. In fact, they realized that they had to change themselves in order to adapt to the situation.
▪︎Frankel writes: When you are unable to change a situation, you must change yourself.
■ Third lesson: Love is the savior of man in any situation.
▪︎ Love is one of the most important human capitals in life. The question that exists for many is what protected humans in those difficult and exhausting conditions? Some prisoners protected their mental health and nerves by imagining their loved ones and recalling happy and beautiful memories of the past, and by doing this, they adapted themselves to the difficult conditions they were in.
▪︎ Those who had a little love, enthusiasm and joy in their minds and kept happy memories of the past in their minds, could protect themselves. It is interesting to know that the prisoners did not have warm clothes to protect themselves from the bone-chilling cold of winter, and their clothes were the same in summer and winter. In such a situation, the power of love showed itself and proved to everyone what amazing power and ability it has.
▪︎ In that space, some prisoners would relax by watching the sunset or by hearing the sound of a bird. Also, when it was time for lunch, they would gather together and being together was beautiful and enjoyable for him. At this time, they told each other jokes and asked for help from their sense of humor for strength and power. This shows how energizing a sense of humor can be.
Humor, more than any other sense, can bring people out of isolation and increase their ability to endure adverse situations.
□ Lesson 4: Freedom is the only thing that cannot be taken from a person.
▪︎ Freedom is one of the most important assets of every human being. Some people stand by this important asset with all their heart and in any situation, and others give it up very cheaply. During Frankel’s stay in the concentration camp, there was also this debate. At that time, a series of prisoners accepted to be transferred to another camp very easily, and others stitched the land and time together so that this transfer would not take place.
▪︎ In the forced labor camp, it was completely forbidden to perform religious ceremonies, but some people nevertheless stood by their beliefs and used the power of their freedom as much as possible. It is true that conditions were very difficult in the camp, but some people kept their humanity and gave their food to people who needed more food.
▪︎Frankel writes: We can take everything from a human except freedom! Freedom is a word that makes life meaningful and purposeful. Life is not without meaning; Suffering is part of life. So there is meaning in suffering. Human suffering is an undeniable part of his life. Even if it shows itself in the form of fate and death. Life is not complete without suffering and death. When man realizes that suffering is an inseparable part of his destiny, he inevitably accepts it as a solitary and unique task. Suffering can lead to human success and progress.
● Lesson 5: Searching and finding the meaning of life is the greatest motivation of life.
Throughout his time in the camp, Viktor Frankl realized that when people want to achieve what they are looking for, they must first understand the meaning of their lives. For example, a person who was imprisoned at that moment should think about surviving in the hope of being with his wife and children again and make this the meaning of his life.
▪︎This observation proved to Frankel that finding the meaning of life can be life’s greatest motivation for action. The research conducted at Johns Hopkins University also showed this well. In this study, students were asked to specify their life priorities. 78% of them said that their priority in life is to find the meaning and purpose of life. Frankel’s meaning therapy helps people understand the meaning of their lives and move away from emptiness and meaninglessness.
○ Lesson 6: The meaning of everyone’s life depends on their current time and place.
▪︎ We are not supposed to constantly consider a specific meaning for our lives. The meaning of our life depends on the time and place in which we are present. It is possible that a person pursues a specific meaning at the age of 20 to 30 and considers another meaning for his life in the following decades.
For example, we cannot ask a chess player what the best move is. Of course, the chess player will answer this question: “The best move depends on the game conditions. The best move is determined by the situation of the game. This also applies to the meaning of life. The meaning of our life depends on our choices, decisions and behaviors.
■ Lesson 7: To eliminate fears, we must face them.
▪︎ Meaning therapy does not only help to find the meaning of life, this concept is also very effective and practical in eliminating human fears. In normal psychotherapy, the patient is tested and his fears are interpreted based on the environment, events and external and internal conditions of the person. Meanwhile, meaning therapy requires a person to face his fears, accept them wholeheartedly, and then try to control them. Unless we face our fears, they will surely remain as an obstacle in our life. So we have to put our hearts into the sea.
▪︎ For example, a person who is afraid of getting angry and blushing in front of others, whenever he is in the company of others, he is afraid of getting angry and this fear causes him to blush. This person should face this fear and not be afraid of getting angry and then blushing. After this happens a few times, she will find that it is okay for her to blush in anger.
Source: Man in search of meaning (summarized)