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Man’s Search for Meaning: Analysis






Man’s search for meaning analysis 


By: Kim Byrd-Rider   






Jewish concentration-camp survivor Viktor Frankl (1959) wrote about life motivations from personal experience: Man’s Search for Meaning.  His odds of survival at a concentration camp were 1 in twenty-five. Yet, he managed the motivation to live from 1942-1945 until the war’s end. Frankl’s background was quite impressive. Prior to being abducted to the camps, he headed the department of neurology at the Rothschild Hospital, the only Jewish hospital in Vienna, 1937-1942. He also practiced as a psychiatrist for suicidal patients at the University Clinic in Vienna, Austria, 1930-1937. These experiences would become useful to him in the camps. 

After surviving the traumas of family separation and work vs. death selections, he moved on to the terrors of Auschwitz and Dachau-Turkheim Nazi concentration camps where he was starved, beaten, dressed in rags, and exposed to freezing temperatures. He endured hard-labor work for long hours. He watched his fellow prisoners give up and die in droves. The worst intolerance, according to Frankl, was the Nazi degradation of their humanity, insulting their mere existence.  

When encouraging the prisoners in his hut, he would remind them of the trivial comforts they possessed, including their bones. He focused on their future restoration to “health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society.” He told them human life never ceases to have meaning, even in sacrifice. 

Learning from the camps, post-war Frankle developed logo-therapy which has three principles: “(1.) Turn suffering (which is inevitable) into a human achievement and accomplishment. (2.) Derive from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better. (3.) Derive from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.” He also proclaimed people should not ask what to expect from life but what life expects from them. Each person has their own why (meaning for life) and it changes through a lifetime. Frankl quoted Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Frankl also believed the meaning of life is actualized in the world, not within the man. The man is responsible to actualize this meaning. 

The strength of his theory is that it was a quick remedy to life’s motivational problems. Merely rethinking any suffering or guilty situation as an achievement, changes one’s attitude from oppression to accomplishment.  Frankl even applied this process to dying.  One man suffered from fear of death but Frankl reminded him that his life had left a historical imprint on the world (accomplishment) bringing meaning and happiness back to the dying man.  

There is a weakness in his theory, though. Frankl himself identified it. He said, “an individual’s concern with values is really a camouflage of hidden inner conflicts; but if so, they represent the exceptions from the rule rather than the rule itself.” He grossly underestimates this issue. 

Dr. Karen Horney (1950) was a German psychiatrist, a founder of the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis and a founder of the American Institute for Psychoanalysis. According to her books, every person possesses a camouflage of hidden inner conflicts, not just the exceptions from the rule as stated by Frankl.  She names this camouflage: the neurotic false-self of the inner shoulds, the search for glory and the pride system involving self-hate.  This camouflage system imprisons the true-self, where authentic meaning and purpose of life resides.  She would argue that Frankl’s logo-therapy does resolve torment (self-hatred) within the false-self system bringing the person an element of content and false-motivation for life. Instead of Frankl’s proclamation ‘man is responsible to actualize his meaning for life,’ Horney would most likely state ‘man is responsible to actualize his true-self which holds the authentic meaning of life.’  Peeling away the camouflage of neurosis (the false-self) to unveil and liberate the true-self for the intention of living in authentic motivation is a more difficult task than Frankl’s solution. Any type of motivation generated by the false-self will still be false, even if it is comforting.  



Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. 

Horney, K. (1950). Neurosis and human growth. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. 






I'm Dr. Kim
Byrd-Rider, PT

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