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  • Writer's pictureStacy Taylor, LCSW

Meaning in Suffering

In the l960s, Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl developed a therapy of meaning, which he called, Logotherapy. The main premise? As long as there is meaning in life, pain can be managed.

Frankl came up with the idea when he was in a concentration camp during World War II. He saw that people who found meaning in the situation didn't succumb to despair. When Frankl was released from the camp, he formulated a therapy to help others find meaning.

While the popularity of Logotherapy has faded, its ideas are still relevant today. A lot of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, have to do with lack of purpose and meaning. This was brought out powerfully to me recently.

I have seen several people wearing t-shirts that were blatantly nihilistic. Nihilism is the opposite of meaning; it is extreme skepticism that life has any meaning. Nihilism can lead to despair, depression, rage, and even self harm.

I'll list here the t-shirts that I've seen. I'm not going to curse in my blog, but the real words were spelled out in the shirts:

--A 20 something Caucasian male wearing white socks. One of them said the F word. The other said You.

--A 30 something Latino man, whose shirt shouted out, "I Hate You."

--A 20 something Latina, whose shirt said, "You're Going to Die, So F___ the Population."

--A 20 something Caucasian female wearing, "Dead Inside." (Side note: she wasn't goth at all!)

The last one was on a Caucasian teenager with her dad. The message was actually too shocking and offensive to describe here.

Seeing all of these t-shirts makes me think about Frankl's theory of meaning. If these slogans are an accurate sign of the times, people aren't finding a lot of meaning in life.

What has led to so much cynicism, nihilism, and hostility? Their personal circumstances have probably been filled with disappointment and betrayal. But what's going on in the culture can't be helping.

The country is about as polarized as it can be. There are wars and violence everywhere.

The media does its best to whip people into a frenzy and get everyone furious at each other. The phones separate us from each other; and Covid 19 only fostered more distrust.

What do do? If you are feeling any of what I've described, then it's time to explore purpose in your life. Purpose doesn't have to be anything big, like trying to change the world.

It can be simple, such buying some potted plants and tending to them. Or volunteering at an animal shelter or a nursing home. Think about people you haven't spoken to for a while, and give them a text or a call.

As Viktor Frankl showed, no matter what is the life circumstances, there can always be meaning. Even, in his case, being imprisoned in a camp in Germany.

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