Man’s Search For Meaning (1985)

An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.

Man's Search for Meaning CoverThis book actually an offer from my genius brother as a form of compensation. Well, at the first glance I thought “Why I have to read this book? I’m not a man, nor searching for my meaning”. But then, I finally find that this book wasn’t about the “man” as a gender, but as human itself.

Viktor E. Frankl is a Pscychiatrist who endured unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps for years. within this book, I just realize that under certain circumstances, modern-human being could be pressed to be back to their primitive life.

Life of Frankl inside of this concentration camp was never normal. How could you live in a small prison with crowded people inside and even you didnt have any space to lie down? How could you sleep in the night with noisy sound, bad smell and many uncomfortable things around? How can you get energy to march along the snowy day and dig the tunnel where you just ate a bowl of watery soup with 3 beans inside?

That’s how Frankl answer all of my question above. It became normal behavior, even tough in the “normal life” it won’t be normal.

Frankl also tried to explore the three stages of prisoner’s life in this camp as the result of their imprisonment. These three stages are Shock and Denial; Apathy and ; Liberation. I am not trying to explain it clearly, but I just want to tell you the story behind these three stages.

The first symptom or we can called is shock, where the prisoners still denying over the situation. Up until they face themselves in the real life that they are imprisoned. In the time where they saw their families are led off to the gas chamber or crematorium, they will start to move to the second stage.

Apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care any more

This symptoms will increase along with the terrible situations and feelings. Frankl explained that for the new prisoners, they will feel so sympathy over the dead bodies who just dragged along the alley where they will be burned. But, time goes by, then the prisoners started to grow the apathy feelings over the dead body or over people who sent to the death. It was just a relieve, where they aren’t the one that was drag over or the one that sentenced to death.

Apathy, the main symptom of the second phase, was necessary mechanism of self defense. Reality dimmed, and all efforts and all emotions were centered on one task; preserving one’s own life and that of the other fellow.

How they can endure their torturing life in the camp? As many as the story that Frankl stated, I personally like the part where Frankl experienced the “sun-light” of his life to face his tough and harsh reality.

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.

What I can say that what he said as “Love” can create like an inner spirit to stay strong and keep doing whatever he has to do to gain certain meaning of life. He saw his wife in his memory, talked to her wife as if her wife was standing next to him. He got a spirit, yet because of he got the feeling of someone still needs him to be alive. He felt that someday he will find his wife and live happily. Or at least, someone out there are waiting him to come back.

“The truth-that love is the highest goal to which man can aspire.”

Last symptoms, the period of following the liberation. Isn’t it will be easy? I mean, we just can live happily ever after after long time of terrible situation inside of the camp. Why it can be so hard, where we can stay live to face the horrible situation, but can we handle the changing situation after that?

Well, as what Frankl explained through his book, it was not easy to face this stage.

But we limped on; time with the eyes of free men. “Freedom” – we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it. We had said this word so often during all the years we dreamed about it, that it had lost its meaning. Its reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours.

The free-prisoners who feel their freedom as they can do anything that they want to do before, as they justified their behavior by their own terrible experiences. Apart from that, Frankl explain the terms of bitterness and disillusionment as the factor that can threatened the character of liberated prisoners. The bitterness – in my opinion- was to explain more about the liberated prisoners mind where he felt that all people around him didn’t feel the exact experiences that he has been pass through. So, if someone from his home country said that “we, too, have suffered”, he felt that all of what the other has been pass through is nonsense.

Meanwhile, the disillusionment happened through the liberated prisoners that thought he had reached the limit of suffering, even felt more suffering in his liberation life. The inner spirit to come home safely when he was in the prison, family who in his own memory will give him courage to finish day after day in prison is already gone. Facing this -even- harsh reality, the liberated prisoners didn’t have any spirit any more to continue their life. To face this hard situation, Frankl turned back himself into the part of spiritual belief.

The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more – except his God.

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