Personal Reflection on the Psychological Theme in Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

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Frankl dives into life in a concentration camp, careful to not to give a linear narrative of his own experience unless needed. Frankl was able to explain the daily camp struggles and how that affected the mental state of his fellow prisoner, giving details of his own experience when it benefits as evidence in his psychological theories.

With discussing his fellow inmates he gives his observations in part one of the books discussing the mentality of these prisoners and how he does not let those mentalities take over his mind. He observes that the ones who survive such horrific ordeal are the ones who had control over their environment. His observation states that “ We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Frankl 33). Through his hardship and trial, he finds what it means to live and observe the stages of living through the breaking of his fellow inmates.

Frankl believes that are three steps to finding the meaning of life. Those three things being through love, through work, and through suffering. Through suffering in the hard trials of the concentration camps, Frankl discovers the three mental stages that his fellow inmates went through. The first being shock. He discusses the first few hours of being on the train traveling to the camp being surrounded by uncertainty as to what the destination would be. Only to be radiated with fear from people on the train as the words “There is a sign, Auschwitz!” (Frankl 9), were said. As everyone gets off of the train to find smoke and soldiers yelling “The initial silence was interrupted by shouted commands. We were to hear those rough, shrill tones from then on, over and over again in all the camps. Their sound was almost like the last cry of a victim, and yet there was a difference.”( Frankl 9), demanding for order the first mental stage of the prisoners starts to be present.

The stage of shock is presented through the loss of identity as the prisoner begins to lose his or her belongings and categorized into two different lines. Frankl discusses being shaved bare and escorted to the showers with relief to know that the showers drip water. Naked and cold the prisoners begin to make light of the situation revealing a point of humor and curiosity. Frankl describes feeling this curiosity once before when on the brink of death. They were anxious to know what would happen next as people around them are being lashed by straps of leather creating the delusion of reprieve, “The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.” (Frankl 10), and hope.

This explained by Frankl adds to the stages of shock of which leads to finding the meaning of life. The second stage of the mental stages is apathy. Frankl discusses hope not being on the surface and being in a state of detachment from the present while working. A detachment of which one does not care for something that should be cared for. A stage of which the prisoner does not avert his eyes of another prisoner being beaten. An action of which one would flinch and empathize with the victim, then look away. “The corpse which had just been removed stared in at me with glazed eyes. Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup. If my lack of emotion had not surprised me from the standpoint of professional interest, I would not remember this incident now, because there was so little feeling involved in it. Apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care any more, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological reactions, and which eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings.” (Frankl 15).

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The third of the mental stages is that of depersonalization. A stage of which one does not realize what they have been through and cannot reconnect to life after the experience. In order to reconnect one would have to disconnect from the experience and try to return to a normal life. “ We could not believe it was true. How often in the past years had we been deceived by dreams! We dreamt that the day of liberation had come, that we had been set free, had returned home, greeted our friends, embraced our wives, sat down at the table and started to tell of all the things we had gone through—even of how we had often seen the day of liberation in our dreams. And then—a whistle shrilled in our ears, the signal to get up, and our dreams of freedom came to an end. And now the dream had come true. But could we truly believe in it?” (Frankl 42).

Frankl was able to use work, suffering, and love to keep himself alive. It is through love that Frankl had the most success with keeping his mentality in check. “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.’” (Frankl 39). It is the thought of his wife, the presence he felt, and the belief that he will get back to her that he was able to find a way to make his individual moment valuable abling him to find his existentialism. Frankl saw reactions in search of meaning in these actions. One of those reactions were the inmates seeing no meaning in their suffering so they gave up, by performing an action that would lead them to die. “The only exceptions to this were those who had lost the will to live and wanted to ‘enjoy’ their last days. Thus, when we saw a comrade smoking his own cigarettes, we knew he had given up faith in his strength to carry on, and, once lost, the will to live seldom returned.” (Frankl 9). The other reaction is finding a meaning to the suffering. Frankl found meaning by restoring his manuscript that he had lost while being stripped of his things upon arriving at the camp. He found that he had a purpose of surviving and a duty to resurrect what was lost. In this way instead of accepting being apathetic, Frankl decided to embrace his suffering to try and become a better person, a needed trait in order to survive.

To understand existentialism one must understand the concept of being human and that being human means “being engaged and entangled in a situation, and confronted with a world whose objectivity and reality is in no way detracted from by the subjectivity of that ‘being’ who is ‘in the world.’”. Depression from an existential standpoint it obliges us to exercise change between the meaninglessness of everyday life and the innate drive to find meaning.Exstential therapy can lead us to make choices that is given upon the freedom of being human. Such as, adjusting to social norms given that we are free to create one for oursevles and are presented to be able to make a wrong choice. It is given upon free will that we are able to make those wrong choices. Frankl introduces a type of existential therapy in his book. The concept of Logotherapy is introduced in the second part of the book when details of Frankl’s life are brought forward. Logotherapy is described as a method of healing the soul by cultivating the capacity to find a meaningful life. Frankl deems this as a kind of existential therapy (school of Psychotherapy) and explains this concept as if one cannot find the meaning or purpose in his life, one can form mental problems that need to be addressed.

Logotherapy focuses on the existential search for meaning as a source of fulfillment or neurosis. It suggests finding the will to that kind of meaning and the person is free to choose their stand on understanding the conditions of life. Frankl expresses that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of times and that is when it is most motivating and encouraging to find that meaning. He communicates that if we cannot change a situation then we are forced to change ourselves. The concept of Logotherapy could be discussed in cognitive behavior therapy and can be what helps to changes the ways of behavior. By finding meaning to life one can possibly reduce the actions of depression or anxiety, increasing motivation to avoid those feelings. Logotherapy is presented in everyday life. Though creativity, developing relationships, finding purpose in pain, understanding that life is not fair, in the freedom of finding meaning, focusing on other people, and accepting the worst out of life we practice this type of therapy to receive the best out of ourselves and knowing what our place in the world means.

The existentialism world view allows for a different image of what traditional psychotherapy could be. It brings a concept of how existence precedes essence. With the idea that the average man is always changing it presents a notion that psychologist can enter the mind of man and see how he exists. Frankl impacted the path of psychotherapy and existentialism by introducing a type of existential therapy called logotherapy. Logotherapy has impacted psychology by bringing a new concept of what it means to search for meaning with his book. There is always a search for meaning, it is a human trait needing to be explored and can be expressed by feeling depression and anxiety.

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