This is one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read. It details how the author (a psychiatrist), despite his horrid experiences as an inmate of several Nazi concentration camps, found meaning in his life — and urges the reader to do the same.
The book is divided into three major sections:
- Experiences in a Nazi Concentration Camp:
This is an account of the three psychological phases a prisoner of a concentration camp goes through:
— shock as he enters the camp,
— apathy (emotional deadness: death of emotions such as disgust and pity) as he gets used to the hellish living circumstances around him, and
— depersonalization, bitterness and disillusionment after he’s liberated
Even under such circumstances, and in fact in all kinds of societies, there are two kinds of men: the decent and the indecent.
Too, no matter how tragic one’s circumstances, one still has the last freedom: to choose one’s attitude toward one’s circumstances (and thus, to give meaning to one’s suffering). This is called mental or spiritual freedom. Only those prisoners survived the camp who had such a meaning to live for.
The author lived in anticipation of meeting his beloved wife after release.
- Logotherapy in a Nutshell:
Logotherapy sees mental health in the tension between what one is and what one could become.
There are three ways to give meaning to one’s life:
— by creating a work or doing a deed (the way of work)
— through interaction with something or encounter with someone (the way of love)
— in the attitude one takes toward unavoidable suffering
(Enduring avoidable suffering, however, is masochistic and not heroic.)
Another small aspect of logotherapy is paradoxical intention, i.e. eliminating a fear by intending exactly what one fears.
- A Case for Tragic Optimism:
One should always say yes to life, despite the tragic triad of:
— pain: by making of it an achievement through one’s attitude toward it,
— guilt: by realizing the opportunity thereby to change oneself for the better, and
— death: deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action