What are people looking for

A consideration from an existential analysis and logotherapeutic point of view Looking for meaning by Manfred Knoke

1. Man as seeker of meaning

With the topic of meaning, we are reaching straight to the roots of human existence. Asking about the meaning of life is a hallmark of man. He asks why, why, why. The question of meaning becomes particularly urgent when a person gets into a crisis, for example due to progressive blindness. He has to constantly reorient himself in order to adapt to his changed reality. Why is the question of the meaning of life so important for us humans? Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy and existential analysis (1905-1998), found an answer to the question of meaning. He developed logotherapy, the so-called theory of meaning. Frankl looked back at existential philosophy (Jaspers, Heidegger, Kierkegard) and found the anthropological ideas that founded his psychotherapy.

Existential analytical aspects

Existential analysis wants to accompany people in their search for their very individual meaning in life and to detect the blockages where they cannot come to existential life. Existence is not an objective fact, but a process. To live existentially means to dare to try to live independently in freedom and responsibility. It makes a difference whether I say "yes" to life, or whether I live it provisionally or conjunctively, for example waiting for something that will bring salvation in research. But life challenges us to live the actual "here and now", otherwise we postpone life.

The answer to life's questions requires decisions, either for or against something that wants to be lived. Jaspers said: "Being human is decisive being." Where man does not decide, he does not come into existential life.

Existential analysis means analyzing the conditions for a valuable, self-designed and humane life. Existential analysis works on the individual prerequisites for a meaningful existence, especially when these are buried under psychological impairments and disorders.

Logotherapeutic aspects

Logotherapy accompanies people in their decision-making. It is a meaning-centered counseling and treatment method. This is especially true for people who have lost their orientation and can no longer discover the meaning of their life.

The aim of logotherapy is to raise awareness and intensify the individually lived fullness of meaning through the introduction to a freely chosen responsibility. Above all, the strengthening of personal skills is indicated here. Frankl said: "Being human therefore always means being able to become someone else." The change can happen on the one hand in the person himself, on the other hand around them. We exist by answering life's questions. These answers have to be constantly reformulated, because life and with it life's questions are also constantly changing.

In existential analysis and logotherapy, humans are not viewed solely as the result of internal psychological processes or environmental influences (see Freud and Adler), but as a being who can shape itself in what matters in life. For example, the greatest possible preservation of independence and self-determination, mobility and participation in social life.

In addition to the ability to be impressed, the person must be ready to question his security instances (ideas, expectations, convictions, attitudes, etc. see also "The pitfalls of expectations" in Ra 3/05) in order to make those for him to find the most meaningful answers. This presupposes a self-determined life in freedom and personal responsibility. External determination excludes meaningful life.

2. Significance and determination of meaning

Above all, Frankl pointed out the power that meaning can mobilize in people. In essence, he says: 'Anyone who has a purpose in life endures almost any suffering.' This means that the question of meaning is a reason for hope, protection against despair and motivation to persevere. Asking about the meaning therefore also means being serious about human freedom. Being free for something is the prerequisite for a meaningful life. The question of meaning is a mirror of human creativity and the ability to relate. A relationship is required so that an activity can be experienced as meaningful, for example, volunteer work in self-help groups thrives on the strength of relationships with other people involved.

Meaningful lifestyle

Part of the meaningful way of life is that people are constantly aware of their contexts and that they feel them anew over and over again. Seminars, weekends and other breaks for reflection are very important for this. But what should be done if the person does not experience themselves in any context? When he doesn't feel what and for whom he should do something. It can help to think about what it would be like if the activities are no longer carried out? Housework or professional activity only make sense if it is done for himself or for someone for whom you want to do it. Meaningfulness emerges only from connectedness.

When a person feels trapped in futility for a long time, it is time to make a change. From the consequences you can feel how your own life should go on. But it also makes sense if people can live their relationship with themselves or can develop relationships with other people, with animals, with nature or with ideas, etc. In any case, it is important for a meaningful way of life that people understand themselves in a context. To make another person happy means to share in the joy yourself. If the person cannot be happy, the meaningfulness is not experienced. Certainly there are routine areas for every human being that are part of coping with everyday life. To a large extent, life also consists of unspectacular errands that convey little or no meaning.

A feeling for what makes sense

Meaning is not an issue that everyone is aware of. The question does not arise to those who are filled with meaning. However, everyone is endowed with an intuitive sense of what makes sense. Even children refuse to do things that they think are pointless. They demand explanations that are supposed to make them understandable. What is meaning is always open as long as the person lives. He alone knows about the finiteness of his life, so the question of the meaning comes to mind.

3. Meaning through value realization

According to Frankl, humans are valued beings. He strives for values ​​that attract him and in realizing them he experiences meaning. In order to achieve a meaningful life, it is first necessary to be in tune with one's own reality. When man faces the truth, he builds on his existence and not on an illusion. Frankl says: "Meaning is a possibility against the background of reality." This reality changes in the course of life and all the more with progressive blindness. In order for a person to be able to enter existential life, he needs three basic prerequisites.

Three basic personal requirements

The first basic requirement is sufficient protection, stability, reliability, security and space. Man must have the feeling of being able to be in the world. When this is fulfilled, basic trust can arise to get involved in the world. If a person cannot have these experiences, a great deal of uncertainty can arise.

The second basic requirement is to be seen in the experience of an emotional relationship. Man experiences life only through establishing a relationship. Life can only be felt through affection. The feeling "I like to live" arises. If this requirement is not met, there is a loss of vitality and depressive moods. Man feels worthless and listless.

The third basic requirement for existential life is given if the person is allowed to be as he is in his originality and uniqueness. If he does not succeed in being himself and in developing self-worth, inner loneliness and abandonment arise, which are particularly stressful if the person does not stand by himself, if the blind person or person threatened with blindness does not want to show himself with a white stick.

The will to meaning

Only when these basic requirements are met can the will for meaning (according to Frankl) develop. If these basic requirements are blocked, biographical, psychotherapeutic work is required. In addition to being able to exist, liking to live and being allowed to be, the fourth decisive condition for a fulfilled life is that we find meaning in life. In other words, in order to be able to live with full devotion, people have to see themselves in a valuable context with their experiences and actions. It must be worthwhile to find values ​​and perhaps to recognize a lack of self-worth and to work on one's own well-being. Human existence is closely linked to a need for attachment that leads to a lifestyle that is encountered, tolerant and respectful.

Three ways to make sense

With regard to the fulfillment of meaning through the realization of values, Frankl speaks of three value categories that are of fundamental and general importance for everyone. It is the experience values, the creative values ​​and the attitude values. Experience values ​​mean experiencing the world (aesthetic values, love, art, relationships, etc.). Active shaping of the world (work, occupation, hobbies, leisure time, etc.) is seen as the path to fulfillment of meaning among creative values.

The attitude values ​​are the so-called human maturity values ​​that are achieved in dealing with life (death, guilt, suffering). The attitude value is identical to the acceptance or the inner approval of life after a stroke of fate. Only when the uncertainty and the sadness about the lost value have subsided and it has been possible to let go of the lost value, the attitude value can open up new possibilities of meaning again by activating the will to meaning. The human being feels again the tension between being and ought, between what is and what is still to become. The tension remains as long as the preoccupation with the value continues. The so-called traditional, social values ​​(upbringing, education, integration of social fringe groups, reliability, diligence, duty, responsibility, etc.) are not meant in this context. They form the social background, because the focus in this consideration is on individual personal values. Each person only develops a feeling for their own individual values ​​that attract them. With the decision to realize value, people take responsibility for their actions. This requires a willingness to make an effort and commitment. The reward is a full and happy life. The inner approval of the new reality gives those affected the openness for a new perspective on life.

With the decision for an individual value, fears arise about making or having made the wrong decision. Turning to new meanings can also convey insecurities and feelings of withdrawal. If people want to live meaningfully and fulfilled, they have to remain open and overcome their fears so that they can take action. Those who fail to do this remain inactive, live non-existent and are dependent on other people's decisions.

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Last changed on 08/22/2013 12:28 PM