Victor Frankl was a neurologist and a psychologist by profession. He was also a holocaust survivor. In his book, Man’s search for meaning, Mr. Frankl describes his horrific experiences in a Nazi concertation camp during WWII. The first part of his book is dedicated to giving an account of what life was like in a concentration camp. He shares accounts of his terrifying experiences while at the death camp in the first part of the book. In the second part of the book, however, he applies his professional experiences in neurology and psychology to offer an understanding of what it means to find meaning in unavoidable suffering.
Mr. Frankl developed a theory he called logotherapy. According to this theory, the primary motivational factor for humans is to find meaning. There are three areas in life where we find meaning. We find meaning in love, in our vocation, and in unavoidable suffering. The emphasis on the second part of this book is on what it means to find meaning in unavoidable suffering.
According to Mr. Frankl, the choice is always in our hands. Conditions are never determined. Neither is a man’s existence fully predetermined. It is a man who determines what conditions mean and what his or her life means. And at any moment, “ man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his suffering.”
Mr. Frankl also took note of the tendency of people, especially those in the western world, to shame others for their suffering.
Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia best summarizes his assertions:
Our current mental hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased about unhappiness about being unhappy . . . Logotherapy may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the united states, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading so that he is not only unhappy but ashamed of being unhappy
He, therefore, advocated that instead of feeling shame in our sufferings or shaming others in theirs, we ought to stand in our sufferings with dignity because it opens up a path to finding meaning in life.