Man’s Search for Meaning

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

In 1946, Victor Frankl put out a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning, which became an overnight sensation and remained one of the most read books on the Holocaust. The book is an account of his ordeal as a holocaust survivor in a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl lost everything except his humanity which he fights hard to keep. Alone and faced with that burden and of staying alive, he grapples with finding meaning amidst the madness around him. The book chronicles his epic physical, psychological, and spiritual struggle not only to survive but to make sense of the insanity of war and the dehumanizing condition he finds himself in. The thesis of the book became the basis of his therapeutic approach known as Logotherapy.

Frankl’s argument that man has a natural capacity for creating or searching for meaning as an antidote to suffering or as a means of coping with the human condition may not be true for some, especially children. The capacity for finding meaning may be closely tied to a person’s experience. The older the person, the greater the chances he has had more life experiences and material to spin meaning. So what does a child who grew up under dire circumstances have to draw from in his limited and deprived existence?

“Frankl’s argument that man has a natural capacity for creating or searching for meaning as an antidote to suffering or as a means of coping with the human condition may not be true for some, especially children.”

I think that children are generally gifted with an imagination that can be harnessed to escape from whatever ills their lives under challenging situations. I say this based on my observations with homeless youngsters and their inclination to abuse volatile substances, such as paint thinner or glue, which, besides being cheap and accessible, produce vivid dreamy hallucinations triggered by imagination. One youngster confided that under the influence of these substances, he could will himself to imagine where ever he wanted to be. He can totally detach from his physical body and be completely absorbed in his imagined world. This account hit close to home and brought back memories of my childhood.

I was raised by a highly disciplinarian father whose form of discipline was physically abusive by today’s standards. His child-rearing style and my temperament were a bad mix as I was a child of high energy and independent disposition, otherwise known as “hyperactive.” In our clashes, of course, I always ended up with the wrong end of the stick. His punishment was often brutal. To heal my bruised body and battered ego from his dose of punishment, I would roll myself inside a buri mat or banig we used for sleeping. This was my symbolic ritual of escaping a painful reality, of disappearing inside the mat. In the dark “dungeon” where I buried myself, I was finally alone, and for hours I would let my imagination roam in agreeable places until I regained my composure and felt whole again.

“The ability to bear suffering without complaint expands our mental capacity to find meaning and curve out our hearts to contain the greatest joy.”

All through my childhood, I relied on my vivid imagination to deal with ennui or existential distress. In adolescence, daydreaming was a potent form of escape. I resorted to deal with a boring class or unpleasant physical task. When I was served meals, not to my liking, all I had to do was imagine I was in a deep jungle famished from looking for food, and with this scenario, I would relish the meal, thankful for having something to eat.

Later in life, when we have more life experiences, it is easier to fashion meaning to counter depressing events or pick ourselves up when we encounter setbacks. The harsher are our life experiences, the better our capacity to sustain ourselves spiritually in times of crisis if only we don’t lose faith. The ability to bear suffering without complaint expands our mental capacity to find meaning and curve out our hearts to contain the greatest joy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

X