II. Frankl’s Meaning Triangle and Overcoming the Existential Vacuum:
At this point our intention is to highlight Dr. Viktor Frankl’s concentration camp experience in order to illustrate the tenets of the Meaning Triangle and the way of overcoming the existential vacuum. Frankl wrote about the ‘three phases of acclimation to camp life in Man’s Search for Meaning: delusional reprieve, apathy, and liberation. These can be contrasted with what he later termed in logotherapy as the three ways of discovering meaning in life.[i] These three ways are: creative work/good deeds, experiencing something/encountering someone, and one’s attitude toward unavoidable suffering.[ii] The ‘ways of discovery’ serve as a means of bringing about lasting hope and meaning beyond the circumstances one experiences in life. The will to meaning makes that which is ‘delusional’ a reality – that is, it creates lasting hope and meaningfulness. Man’s ability to transcend himself through experiencing/encountering something positive or another person is the means by which one frees himself from the hopelessness or lack of meaning caused by apathy.[iii] The sense of liberation is concretized in the ongoing discovery of meaning in the midst of unavoidable suffering. The inner decision (spiritual freedom) to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances remains constant throughout life.[iv] Therefore:
…in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not the camp influences alone.[v]
Frankls’ personal experience demonstrated that one does not have to succumb to the existential vacuum as created by man’s distress over the ‘worthwhileness’ of life.[vi] Instead man can actualize his potential by responsibleness, that is, choosing to transcend himself in love and through love.[vii] Thus:
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.[viii]
This found its way into Frankls’ therapeutic method: “logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.”[ix] Herein lies man’s means of actualizing his potential and overcoming what Frankl referred to as the existential vacuum. The only inner void is the one we choose to allow when we decide not to discover meaning and act in responsibleness.
[i]Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 28,39,105,109.
[ii]Frankl, The Will to Meaning, 91-92.
[iii]Graber, Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, 79.
[iv]Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 87, 136.
[ix]Ibid. 131 and The Will to Meaning, 83-84.