A Trained Mind

Dr. Victor Frankl
Help me find joy … I’m in pain
( Part 2: A Trained Mind .. Real Story )

We ended up the first part asking the following questions :
• What about REAL difficult situations ?
Is pain a friend or an enemy ?
How to find internal Joy in order to help overcome the external painful circumstances?

Let us have a look on the following real story :
By narrating this real life story, we’re trying to get closer to someone who faced unexpected dreadful circumstances. There, with no apparent way out, no tools to support him, no entertainment, no friends, no comfort, at many times, no food or other basic life essentials, he survived . What did he do & how did he manage not to collapse before all these inhumane challenges?

Let us have a look at the life of:

Dr. Victor Frankl
(An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, and a holocaust survivor)

In 1942, Frankl, his parents, wife, and brother were all arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl never knew about their death until he was set free.

In the camp, Frankl faced the most brutal & inhumane treatment one can ever imagine: prisoners were stripped of their possessions. And their humanity. Any prisoner caught trying to hide any possessions was killed by the Capo (senior prisoners chosen very well according to their level of brutality); even good & fitting shoes were replaced by another unfitting ones.

Prisoners were also stripped of their names, and were identified by numbers instead. They had to work 20 hours each day in snow, worn-out shoes, and sore foot, digging and laying railroads. If you showed any sign of weakness, you were beaten. If you stopped working, you were beaten. You had to face all this; in addition to malnutrition; prisoners had to survive on only one small piece of bread and thin soup a day. The situation was so bad that their need for food surpassed any other desire.

Staying alive each day was a struggle. Each day many were taken to be burnt or killed in gas chambers. Being sick did not mean that you’ll find mercy & compassion; rather it meant death. Those who gave up & lost hope committed suicide.

“ What else remained for us as a material link with our former lives except our naked existence? ”  – Dr. Victor Frankl

Frank had the chance to choose death. But he chose life. He had all the reasons to be turned into a wild animal. But he chose to remain human.
How did he survive & endure all this?

His best-selling & groundbreaking book : ” Man’s Search for Meaning ” tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust, observing the behavior of the prisoners and observing his Mind by being alert not to get drowned in the the many waves of negative thoughts & emotions; this helped him to endure this terrible experience by finding a meaning in his sufferings .

Being able to survive this experience, Frankl wrote this book, and later he founded the ‘Logotherapy’ school, which means “Therapy by meaning”.

Striving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man
( Frankl 1992, p. 104)

Many lessons can be learnt from this book. Briefly, I can share with you the following points excerpting from his words. I ask you to stop and think thoroughly at each point & write down your thoughts, reflecting on how this can help you face your challenges :

Finding meaning in life & in suffering
Frankl quoted from Nietzsche:
                                “ He who has a WHY to live for can bear with almost any HOW ”

For Frankl, having something to live for helped him survive & endure such conditions more than anything. Prisoners who had completely lost their ‘why’ in life lost their life as a result.

He said:
– “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”

– “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 “.

He said that everybody’s ‘ why ’ are different. His (3) ‘ whys ’ mentioned in his book were:

(1) Love :
Frankl imagined a conversation with his wife. Not knowing whether she was alive or dead, he felt that he was in real connection with her either way:

“…The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved, In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.”

(2) Work : 
Frankl imagined returning back to his work; lecturing halls full of students; telling all about the various terrible experiences he faced and the lessons he had learnt, and the logotherapy, during his imprisonment. Hence, he started working on his lost manuscript, rewriting it on tiny scraps of paper in an attempt to survive when he was ill with typhus.

(3) Meaning in suffering :
Frankl believed that there is great meaning in suffering; he actually regarded it as an opportunity that can help you find the meaning of your life, test of your inner strength, & go beyond yourself.

It was forbidden to prevent someone from committing suicide, but few weeks before being set free, Frankl was permitted to practice his profession & to help prisoners.

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life … Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

“Most men in a concentration camps believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”

 As we can see, suffering was not Frankl’s enemy; on the contrary it helped Dr. Frankly as a friend – harsh but a real friend.

To a great extent, his story has met with many aspects in the definition mentioned in
part (1) about Joy. Of course he experienced pain, but he was consistent, coherent and had reasonable inner resources. However, many of the opportunities to live were called by him as ” Fate & Good Luck“. He was courageous & had a healthy mind; but someone might say: “what if I’m not as lucky as him?, does this kind of belief “ fate & luck “ can make anyone feel at peace & contentment? Why there’s pain ? How to find meaning out of my pain & can anyone help me ?.

That’s our topic in Part 3 & 4 from this article.
Click here to read Part (3) : Why There’s Pain?
Click here to read Part (4) :  Joy Despite Pain

Resources for further reading:
1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Frankl