Wednesday, May 7, 2008

(Wo)Man's Search for Meaning: The Existential Crisis

"Science may have found a cure for most evils; 
but it has found no remedy 
for the worst of them all - 
the apathy of human beings."
Helen Keller 

I presented on traumatic loss at a community forum today.   We began to discuss the ways that the MISS Foundation helps families cope after the death of a child.  As I inevitably do, I reflected on the work of Viktor Frankl.  

It's difficult to discuss resiliency and meaning making in absentia Frankl.  His book Man's Search for Meaning has been a constant companion throughout my own grief experience, and I have both a home copy and office copy.  The pages are weary from too much handling, and the edges are tinged with age; still, this worn out book continues to teach me so much about transcending loss and seeing others' pain.

Frankl says that there exists three principal ways in which mankind can find meaning in life: by what we give to the world in terms of our creations;  by what we take from the world in terms of meaningful encounters with others; and finally from suffering. That is, the ways in which we confront a fate that we cannot change. 

Frankl's experiences during the Nazi regime helped provide the foundation for an innovative intervention in psychotherapy called logotherapy.  Logotherapy, like Adlerian psychology, asks the patient to, when ready, view their life in different ways, requiring personal responsibility for understanding and making meaning of loss. Frankl encourages sufferers to become seekers- seekers toward the will for meaning.

According to Frankl, existential distress is inevitable as part of the human condition. It is not neurosis or mental illness; rather it is an indication of our humanity and our desire to seek meaning. He believed that we each have free will to decide: What will I do? Will I suffer in isolation or will I invite connection to and compassion from others? Will I remain silent or will I use my voice to change the world? Will I be a seeker of truth or will I accept what is told to me? Will I use my grief to discover meaning or will I acquiesce to apathy? Will I succumb to the pain or will I decide seek the purposeful life?  Will this tragedy destroy me or will it help me to transcend my place in the world?

Those are, indeed, existential questions that warrant our seeking...

1 comment:

Ya Chun said...

After teh loss of my daughter, I have taken great comfort from trying to do good things. It was a decision I made while in the early stages of labor, knowing already that our sweet girl was gone. I told my husband that we would live to honor her. I am so glad that decision came to me early and so strongly. This post has helped me to put that into perspective. Thanks.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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