Viktor Frankl: Most Therapy Is A Psychological Tranquilizer
In this 1963 interview clip, Viktor Frankl shares this controversial idea:
Most psychotherapy is a "psychological tranquilizer."
In other words, in his opinion, most therapy makes a fundamental mistake.
It tries, as its main goal, to relieve anguish by guiding people toward a "tensionless inner equilibrium."
Frankl makes the case that the opposite should be done.
Rather than avoiding tension, we should embrace it.
Rather than enduring meaningLESSness, we should search for meaningFULLness.
Man must be prepared to endure the tension between the meaning (which is in wait for him) and the being (the actual being the actual state of affairs). This gap between what he is and what he should become. This gap must be endured.
Relating this idea to his experience in four concentration camps, he says that the basic question was not whether or not he would survive, which is what one might think the dilemma would be as an outside observer. Rather, Frankl says that the basic question was whether or not there was a higher meaning in all of the pains that these innocent people had to undergo.
Expanding on this idea in Man's Search For Meaning, Frankl says:
There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life.
There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Frankl's sharing of his experience from the concentration camp hit me deeply. I listened to the clip seven times, because I had to hear it over and over in order to put words to the feeling.
Here is my current interpretation of his wisdom…
What made the concentration camps so difficult wasn't just the physical challenges to the body. It was also the psychological challenges that robbed life of its meaning. And without this meaning, people stopped doing what was necessary in order to survive physically.
Furthermore, as I listened to Frankl again and again, I saw a super important connection to a life-changing book I read a few years ago…
Frankl’s Ideas Mesh With Another Life-Changing Book
In her book, Shattered Assumptions, psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman makes the case that the root cause of trauma isn't necessarily just events themselves. Rather, it's people's shattered assumptions of how reality works and an inability to recreate meaning afterwards. She says:
I would argue that it is not external losses—of one’s health, home, community, or a loved one—that define an experience as traumatic, but rather the internal disorganization and disintegration that follows from our psychological unpreparedness. Traumas are shocks to our inner worlds.
She makes the case that we implicitly carry around the following assumptions that give life meaning without even knowing we do:
1. The world is generally a safe place where more good happens than bad
Most people have good intentions and can be trusted
Good things happen to good people who do good things
To summarize her research: In life's most difficult situations, fundamental, unconscious assumptions are shattered, which then can make life feel meaningless, which then erodes the quality of our life. At this point, it is critical to recreate meaning. Janoff-Bulman describes how to do this in her book:
Traumatic life events shatter our fundamental assumptions about ourselves and our world. In the aftermath of these extreme experiences, coping involves the arduous task of reconstructing an assumptive world, a task that requires a delicate balance between confronting and avoiding trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and images. Over time, with the help of personally meaningful cognitive reappraisals and genuine support from close, caring others, most trauma victims manage to rebuild their inner world. They can move on with their lives, which no longer seem to be wholly defined by their victimization. Victims become survivors. They have “recovered.”
I originally read Shattered Assumptions while I was working on the Super Adapter Mental Model for the Mental Model Club. This mental model explored what makes some people grow stronger in light of difficult life events and what makes other people fall apart.
As I connected Frankl’s words to Shattered Assumptions, which then connected to the Super Adapter mental model, suddenly Frankl’s words could integrate more into my overall understanding of how the world works. Making these connections between people and ideas is an important part of the thought leadership process, because:
It makes the idea easier to remember
It imbues that idea with deeper meaning
It provides fodder for synthesizing other people’s ideas to create my own unique ideas built on top of them.
#1. Finding meaning is a skill
I now view the ability to find sources of meaning in every moment (especially the most difficult ones that shatter our basic assumptions) as a fundamental skill that's critical to master for mental health and resilience.
#2. I now see more types of meaning
I now view meaninglessness and meaningfulness as a multi-dimensional prism rather than a black-and-white continuum. Below are the new dimensions that I see:
Time: We create meaning moment-to-moment, not just for our life overall.
Quantity: There doesn’t just have to be one meaning in any given moment. There can be multiple meanings.
Depth: We can feel any given meaning at a shallow level and at deeper levels.
Areas Of Life: We can infuse meaning into more and more areas of our life from the easy to the difficult, from the personal to the professional, from the banal (brushing our teeth) to the more intrinsically meaningful (spending time with loved ones).
When I look at my own life through this prism, I feel excited by the idea of bringing more meaning to more parts of my life. In the short-term, I see opportunities for deeper meaning in how I relate to the physical pain in my back and difficult conversations with my wife and kids when I feel overwhelmed.
How I Found This Clip And How You Can Find Rare & Valuable Video Clips Too (For Paid Subscribers)
In today’s paid subscriber section, I share the insider baseball on the exact process I used to find today’s Frankl clip and all of the video clips I share (for that matter).
My goal, if you’re interested, is to help you start your own habit of finding amazing video clips during your learning process that you can share with others in order to: