Today’s pages (p103-108) mark the beginning of the second part of Man’s Search for Meaning: Logotherapy in a nutshell.
After some apologies for the inevitable failures for compressing into a few pages that which ‘required twenty volumes in German’, Viktor Frankl sets about explaining his therapy.
Logotherapy (as its etymology indicates) attempts to confront the patient with and reorient him towards the meaning of his life. Frankl is very insistent that this ‘will to meaning’ is the overriding motivation for human beings: we live and die for our meanings and values, he points out.
This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
As we saw in the earlier pages of the book, it is through its uniqueness to us that our meaning gains its power. Our meaning can only be pursued by ourselves: it is our unique contribution to humanity and the universe. We are vital.
But, as we all well know, ‘[m]an’s will to meaning can also be frustrated’. Frankl calls this ‘existential frustration’ and it can cause what psychotherapists call neuroses.
However, these are not the ‘normal’ neuroses of conflicts between drives and instincts. These are ‘noogenic’ neuroses and can be resolved only by the search and discovery of meaning in life. This is not something that involves digging back into one’s early childhood.
Indeed, Frankl is quite dismissive of such futile efforts. ‘Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic,’ he writes, ‘some amount of conflict is normal and healthy.’ Phew.
A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress, but by no means a mental disease.