Man’s Search for Meaning

By Cherise White, LMSW

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl claims that future orientation is a way to self-preservation in extremely harsh conditions. This premise highlights the strength of the mind-body connection. Following the focus of the mind and its functioning, Frankl states, “emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” This sounds like he is referencing what we know to be a component of mindfulness. This clarity can be found through awareness and acceptance of one’s emotions, thoughts, or sensations. Even though mindfulness as described by Bishop et al. (2004) is more about being present and in the moment than focusing on acceptance and awareness, these elements are still a part of the general perception of mindfulness as presented by Marsha Linehan in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. 

Frankl also discussed the connection between the psychological and physiological parts of a human. He shed light on the relationship between immunity and the state of mind, courage, and hope. The physiological and psychological parts of a human were also discussed in Wager et al’s (2004) study on the anticipation and experience of pain. They highlight how pain is a psychological experience but that it has great effects on the physiological part of a human body. The same connection is discussed in Gross’s (1998) experiment on emotion regulation. Even when emotion regulation strategies such as suppression and reappraisal are used, there is still the potential for physiological effects as displayed in his findings. Therefore Frankl, from observation and experience, honed in on something research has now proven, that there is a strong link between the physiological state and the psychological state, cognition, and mind of a person.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl also calls for a change in attitude toward life. He states that one has to take responsibility in searching for an answer to one’s problems.  To an extent it seems Abramson et al.’s (1978) theme of learned helplessness could come into play. With the harsh conditions and circumstances the men faced in the concentration camps, many fell victim to learned helplessness and took on a perspective of a larger external locus of control. To combat ultimately being overtaken by helplessness, Frankl employed a number of emotion regulation strategies. He used both reappraisal and suppression (Gross, 1998). He also used cognitive strategies such as distraction (focusing on his wife and the everlasting feeling of love). At other times it appears he used mindfulness (find solitude for about five minutes) and visualization (“I dreamed longingly, and my thoughts wandered …in the direction of my home”) as coping mechanisms. 

Overall, Frankl underlined the idea of mind and body all throughout the novel as he presented the struggle for the prisoners to remain men and not objects, to implement mental toughness and remain hopeful, and for the men to employ cognitive strategies that could promote self-preservation in the midst of ambiguity of them ever being free. 

References

  • Abramson, L. T., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49-74.
  • Bishop, S. R., Lau, M. , Shapiro, S. , Carlson, L. , Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J. , Segal, Z. V., Abbey, S. , Speca, M. , Velting, D. and Devins, G. (2004), Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11: 230-241. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bph077
  • Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man's search for meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Gross, J. J. (2002), Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39: 281-291. doi:10.1017/S0048577201393198
  • Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. 
  • Wager, T. D., Rilling, J. K., Smith, E. E., Sokolik, A., Casey, K. L., Davidson, R. J., Kossyn, S. M., Rose, R. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2014). Placebo-Induced Changes in fMRI in the Anticipation and Experience of Pain. SCIENCE, 20, 1162-1167

Cherise White is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.