The behavior of human beings in reaction to internal and external stimuli has fascinated the psychological community since the end of World War II. This is because the measures taken to keep prisoners in the camps provided a lot of necessary insight into the human psyche. Viktor Frankl describes not only his experiences but also those of his fellow prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and provides a psychological analysis of their reactions (Frankl, 1992). He comes up with theories on mental health, based on humanity’s need to fulfill purposes in life and our basis for survival.
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Self-preservation is a trait that is common across all species in the world. From Frankl’s observation at the concentration camps, the human will to livehugely depends on the individual’s need to fulfill a desire or complete something before expiring (Frankl, 1992). This is indicative of a link between the purpose of one’s life, the will to see it through and surviving until one accomplishes it. In the camps, Frankl noted that the prisoners who lost their hope for a brighter future ended up dead, either by their direct actions (in this case, suicide) or by the reactions of Nazi soldiers to their perceived loss of drive.
The nature of psychology largely depends on uncovering events in the individuals past, analyzing their impact on the present and preparing the individual’s mind to deal with future events in a better way. In his book, Frankl describes logo therapy as the analysis of an individual’s drive and ways to ensure they find the purpose of their lives. In his words, an individual’s mental health relies more on the success of their efforts, not on the struggle and suffering experienced on the journey (Frankl, 1992). This outlook explains the actions of martyrs and others who would sacrifice their lives for their values.
From Frankl’s notes, it is evident that modern life places a lot of stress on individuals as compared to life in less technological years. The increase in population has reduced the individual to a cog in the gears of society. As a result, many people now live in an existential vacuum, where passive values slowly replace the traditional meanings of life. Today’s generation therefore suffers from more pathological mental ailments and if we take theworld’s increasing population, these problems can only get worse. Frankl’s work thus focuses on creating hypothetical situations that train the mind to handle dire situations (Frankl, 1992). This is achieved by using the tragic triad; namely pain, death and guilt to maintain the tragic optimism that pushes us forward and resultantly, finding one’s niche in life.
Frankl clearly states his theory that the human drive needs to come from inside, strengthening the individual in the face of hardships. In his case, the individual depends on his internal drive to succeed. This theory also works in modern times, as is the case in the labor market (Ariely, Kamenica, & Prelec, 2008). Companies rely on creating a situation where the individual feels that the niche they fill in the company parallels their meaning and purpose in life. Various methods are used to achieve this, chief of which is providing incentives that distinguish the individual from the rest, such as increased wages. This leads to happier workers who are willing to utilize their skills maximally for the sake of another; in this case, the benefits extend to the company as well as the employee.
Individuals with a stronger feeling towards their perceived meaning in life also have a higher chance of sacrificing a lot for their beliefs. In the past, the utmost sacrifice was one’s life but in modern days, though not as extreme as past times, it is evident that the theory is still relevant. In Frankl’s case, he indicates that the need to keep his last possessions placed him in direct danger if they were discovered. The need to retain his manuscripts, however, overshadowed his fear of death, chiefly because he believed in continuance through his work. Arielyet al. indicate that modern sacrifices exist, such as in cases involving scientists who forego payment in exchange for getting their works published.
Frankl argues that the conditions of the camp, while dampening to the prisoners’ psyches, had a major effect on the positive mental fortitude of those who survived (Frankl, 1992).While I agree with this observation, it is also important to note that the individuals also came from different backgrounds and as such, may have had their own reasons for living. Depending on their length of stay at the camps, many may also have died due to the period of imprisonment and its impact on their mental health. It is therefore incorrect to assume that those who died were mentally weak; they may have been mentally apt but the prolonged exposure to the negative stimuli reduced the effectiveness of their mental fortitude.
According to Frankl the normal human mind faces anxiety in normal situations. This means that the repeated exposure to such events should be faced with paradoxical intention, giving the event a funny outlook (Frankl, 1992). However, the method refers to those who exchanged their names for others’ on the execution lists to survive, undermining the importance of others’ lives. While this is a display of mental fortitude in the face of annihilation, I do not agree with the way he amorally endorses it as strength. If anything, it goes against human morality that dictates that unless an individual places your life at risk, your life has no precedence over theirs.
When we were kids, we referred to what we wanted to be instead of what we wanted to end up doing for a living. Living in the adult world leaves many people without an answer when approached with the question of their life’s meaning.That said, the book relays important information on the journey to life’s purpose such as highlighting the human ability to change oneself. I believe this lesson will come in handy because of the nature of the world today, where individuals stand a higher chance of basing their purpose on the wrong values and calling it fate. The book therefore encourages me to look into my inner self, analyze my hopes and dreams in my formative years and streamline them with my current life’s path.
The journey towards living a fulfilled life has many situations that introduce anxiety to the individual’s mind. Whether meeting up with an executive to make a sales pitch, hanging out with our fellows or any other basic human interactions with outside stimuli, many people display some level of fear of events. By applying the principle of paradoxical intention, finding the funny side of an event is bound to reduce anxiety and increase the chances of a positive outcome to a negative event.
Frankl’s book enables those living in today’s world to understand that suffering is part of humanity’s strengths, while providing ammunition to deal with stressful situations by applying the human ability to be tragically optimistic. The tragic triad a usual turning point for many people’s lives and with the information provided in the book, it is possible for one to turn such events into an occasion to find meaning in life. With these pointers, I can lead a less stressful life even in the state of suffering by maintaining the mindset that all problems are solvable regardless of their extremity.
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