flock of birds flying above the mountain during sunset

“Existential Angst,” and “Existential Threat:” Implications for Healing and Working Toward Peace


An examination of existential angst and existential threat from an existential perspective reveals that the two dynamics intercept each other at the common point of anxiety. How one chooses to respond to anxiety can have implications for peace-making and healing.


“Existential angst” and “existential threat.” What do these concepts mean and why are they increasingly used in discourse? An understanding of these concepts may shed light on what existential issues we are facing, and what choices we have as we address these phenomena.

According to the dictionary definition, the feeling of “existential angst” is a feeling of dread, impending doom, and anxiety that reaches nearly the levels of panic; a term used by the existentialists related to the human experience of freedom and responsibility (7), and by extrapolation, related to finding and actualizing meaning, more precisely, it refers to the sense of meaninglessness and the apparent lack of meaning (8).

The concept of “Existential threat” has been used by people to refer to their basic needs not being met, a threat to their very existence, when their continued being is at stake or in danger (1). A perception of “threat” involves a sense of impending harm to their being and often involves anxiety and vigilance to ward off the harm.

Let us examine these concepts in further detail to highlight some of their existential implications and correlates.


There are many forms of anxiety. Some types of anxiety are reasonable and justified. Anxiety is state and an emotional reaction that is associated with feelings, thoughts, and physiological reactions, among which we can list, increased sympathetic nervous system activity, higher heart rate and blood pressure. Release of adrenalin to prepare the body for flight or fight. This is an evolutional response serving the purpose of survival. Psychological states associated with anxiety include vigilance, hyper-arousal, scanning, anxious rumination, catastrophic thinking. In the absence of real or imagined threat, the thoughts usually subside, the thoughts calm, mental clarity returns along with normalizing of bodily states. Homeostasis and a state of rest returns. Only, in the condition of prolonged toxic stress, that is unbuffered by the mediating factors such as a source of safety, security and trust, the body’s resources are increasingly depleted and in the case of lack of capacity to obtain rest physically and mentally, the body’s capacities to reinstate a state of rest will be jeopardized. Increased physical reactivity along with emotional hyper-arousal and vigilance will interfere with rational thinking and reasoning (5).

“Existential Angst:”

When one is talking about “existential anxiety,” we are talking about the existential dimension of the person, with their dimensions of body, mind, and spirit. Spirit is that dimension in which existential dynamics takes place. It is a dynamic that orients a person toward meaning, values and ideals that during the course of their actions one reaches toward to actualize. According to Frankl, meaning is the main motivating force of a human being, the reason of our existence (2,3). When our will to meaning is frustrated, we feel empty inside, thus the expression “existential vacuum” (3). Long-lasting existential frustration can lead to a dreaded sense of an apparent lack of meaning and despair (2, 8). Existential angst is a normal reaction to the sense of lack of meaning and indicates the significance of meaning in our lives. With guidance, one can help a person find areas in which meaning can be found to alleviate the existential angst and re-establish healthy tension between being and meaning and meaning-seeking, where meaning is the pacemaker and guide of our being (2).

“Existential Threat:”

Conceptualized from an existentialist point of view, a feeling of existential vacuum leads to a sense of emptiness in the absence of the perception of meaning and values to actualize. Existential distress is brought about by value conflicts. Existential frustration is the sense of loss of values (2). Existential struggle is related to the trespassing and disregarding of one’s deeply held values (6). In existentialist framework, existential threat can be conceptualized as a perception of the jeopardy of what one is, and what one stands for, such as a threat to one’s values.

When existential frustration and angst persist, people can attempt to find meaning in areas that do not lead to meaning but are shortcuts to a feeling that a sense of meaning would result in: they pursue pleasure or power (2). But since these do not result in a lasting fulfillment, the pursuit increases the level of their intention and their anxiety. Hyper-attention to oneself and hyper-reflection fuels fears that are now related to the intended and demanded results, in the absence of which the experience of “existential threat” intensifies. This threat is perceived whenever one’s needs for security, safety and basic needs are not met, or one’s values are in jeopardy, and is experienced as a threat through one’s functions of survival (notice: not functions of purpose and meaning, but functions of survival).

There are cases of course, when one’s basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, esteem are not met. The existentiality of the person, the existential dimension in such instances would suggest that a person engages in problem solving, thinking, creative and cooperative values-based action. However, when a person’s entire existence is reduced to a capsule of an organism with body and mind and the spiritual aspirations have been denied or ignored, meeting needs may not proceed according to rational, reasonable, and reflective grounds. They will be pushed by instinct and drives, instead of pulled by what is meaningful to do to meet basic needs. A prolonger state of existential angst, whereby reflection on one’s actions and their consequences, reaching out to others and options, choices (self-transcendence and self-distancing) have been lost to an impulsive jerk response of stimulus and response. The existential angst that was there for a prolonged period, and ignored, has given space for a feeling of “existential threat” to sprout and to take over genuine existential concerns.

The existential threat will intensify when values are equated with what one has, rather than what one is. Furthermore, a sense of “jeopardy of values” will surface if one ignores one’s freedom of will choose to live one’s values in harmony with universal values, regardless of the conditions. Thus, without the realization that values can not be given or taken away from a person if they decide to remain true to them and live them in various circumstances, existential threat may become chronic and persistent.

Interaction between “Existential Angst” and “Existential Threat:”

In summary, “Existential threat” is an anxiety about the basic needs of a person not being met and beyond that, that their values are being in jeopardy, without reference to their existential self in search for meaning. When the “existential threat” is accompanied by angst, fear of fear produces a vicious cycle in which the more one attempts to fight the fear, the more intense it will become. Fear produces fear and the fear of fear keeps the person trapped in a highly emotionally charged state that interferes with rational problem solving, blocks the ability to listen access one’s inner resources and increases the frustration of the will to meaning, that remains unheard and unheeded. Blocking access to the freedom of will, ignoring one’s will to meaning, reducing oneself to the level of body and mind, desires, instincts and impulses, and emotions, feelings, and thoughts, leaves out the possibility to choose one’s values and responsibly live them, be guided by them.  Therefore, a reductionistic and so called “value blind “ view of the self (and others) reinforces the existential threat and the existential angst.  

How does one Break the Vicious Cycle of Anxiety?

How can one bear the grip of fear? One can no longer run from it; one needs to face it. Unless one does, the despair continues, and the vicious cycle pulls the person toward destruction. To face fears, one needs space. One needs to sit down with oneself and have a dialogue with oneself. If one cannot do it alone, one needs help. One needs to evaluate one’s actions. One needs to get in touch with one’s feelings, thoughts, and values. One needs to evaluate the consequences of the actions. One needs to be able to see oneself, as a being with body, mind, and spirit, between functions of survival and function of purpose. One needs to re-discover oneself as a person of worth, wit freedom and responsibility and the possibility to change oneself for the better. One needs to question the reality of one’s thinking when irrational and anxiety motivated, based on assumptions, past experiences or automatic conclusions that are exaggerated or overgeneralised, and result to increase suffering to the self and others. More so, one needs to re-connect with one’s inner self. The freedom of will, and the will to meaning, beyond the will to power and pleasure. One needs to assess and re-assess one’s values in light of universal human values. One needs to re-set oneself. One needs to accept one’s mistakes and assume responsibility for them. Effectuate change and growth. Mold oneself. Shape oneself. “Not to take every nonsense from oneself” (2). Discover the freedom and the responsibility to take a stand toward not only one’s circumstances, but one’s inner self: one’s fears and anxieties. Do not give into them. Do not let them be in control, Re-gain agency. Re-gain self-determination. Only the step in the “right” direction in the direction of meaning can bring about a gradual relief from the existential angst, reinforce a sense of trust and thus gradually ease the grip of existential threat.

Abusive Relationships:

Human relations involve body, mind, and spirit. Physical contact between people is often preceded by emotional connection, exchange of ideas though communication and an implicit or explicit dialogue about goals and values. One feels attracted to people with who one shares similar interests, can share ideas, or have similar goals. One shows open mind, benevolence, and tolerance toward diverse ideas. One shows respect for diversity of thought, ideas and perception of what others think what is meaningful to do in a situation. And this is rightly so, since meaning is always individually given, tailored to the situation and uniqueness of a person. But we know that meaning is not subjective. It is objective and it involves what is good for one and for the other (2). For such reason, one needs to rely on conscience to discern one’s course of action in accordance with values and universal values (2). “What is the best to do in a given situation?”

So, what happens is cases of conflict, where one person imposes on the other what they should do, how they should think, or live? There is a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe imposition, to the point that the other may feel that their will to meaning is not being heard or its dictates can not be fulfilled because of the amount of imposition. This will create tension. The tension can rise to the point of oppression. This can be manifested in words, gestures, and actions. In relationships, we call it abuse, and we recognize several forms of it: physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, spiritual, etc.

Abuse in all these cases presents the other party with suffering. The abuser suffers in their own way. However, instead of solving this suffering and choosing to respond to it by allowing oneself space, determining their response so that they do not harm the other, they may choose to impulsively lash out at the other, threaten the other, attack the other. In relationships, we call this to act aggressively.

What shall the other do? In partner relationships, one assesses the level and seriousness of the threat of aggression or the aggression once it occurred. One considers its history, its manifestation, its possible consequences. One tries to mediate, to negotiate, to find a common ground. However, with severe abuse in relationships, the one that cause the other serious emotional, mental, or spiritual pain, let alone physical pain, intervention is necessary. One does not counsel the abused party to return to the abuser. One does not counsel the abused party to physically fight back. One advises the abused partner to remove oneself from the situation until the other partner is committed to receiving help, accepts responsibility upon being confronted with their actions, and commits to change. Until the abuser learns how to tolerate their inner distress without lashing out, and how to resolve their issues about existential threat and angst within themselves, without harming someone else in the process, the distance needs to remain, lest to perpetuate the abusive cycle.

Concretely, when one witnesses abuse where one of the partners is beaten, and beaten to death, or likely to be beaten to death, one does not stand by. Moral duty and responsibility demand action. Vulnerable individuals need to be removed and protected. A safe space needs to be created between the abuser and the abused person and enforced so that the abuse does not go on. Sometimes, the police need to be alerted, the authorities need to get involved to restore justice and order need to be on the scene. This is the prerequisite of finding a space to re-build lives and achieve peace until the attacking party will assume responsibility, realize their freedom of will and responsibly mend their ways (if they decide to do that).

Conflict Situations:

The same happens in conflict situations between nations. Each situation is different, and each nation has its own “face;” history, culture, and traditions. Mistakes can be made by individuals who bring an entire country into war against another one. We know that this is not a case of collective guilt (3). There are those who oppose to war but have no choice to live elsewhere and suffer the wrong actions of the leadership of their country. To the party that suffers the attack, we cannot say, “it’s your problem, we do not care.” We can not stand by passively because humanity is like a big family. What one does, affects everyone else.

We may say we want to work for peace, and we know how to get there. This ideal, the value of peace, needs to be upheld. However, when the conflict already happens, the fact is that peace has been disturbed. We need to be aware of this fact and face it. To bring peace, it is necessary to reflect and to think. Evaluate one’s values considering universal values. Re-align them if there is a misalignment and disharmony. Tolerate distress without lashing out, until meaning dawns.

It is necessary to have space to think. To create space between two warring parties until solutions can be worked out can be a part of building peace. This value is now actualized in a way that its optimally possible to live up to it, until the circumstances change, until there is a change of heart. It is a human pre-condition for gaining insights and to regain rational thinking to allow space to reflect.

We humans have a strong will. This will inherently helps to find meaning (functions of purpose) that ought to guide how we meet our needs (functions of survival). It can also be stronger than our will to power and will to pleasure to the point that we can accept sacrifices for the sake of the other, for the sake of living together in harmony.

Speaking of survival, survival would be meaningless if it was not for the sake of an ideal for which we are willing to lay down our lives and that is the source and purpose of our existence, the Reason of our being. When we find a strong reason to live, we can withstand frustrations, even if not all our needs are met. Or as Frankl quoted Nietzsche: “Whoever has a why can bear with nearly any how.” (3) It is this “why” and “what” is the most meaningful to do that is waiting for us to ponder in a crisis situation where space between stimulus and response allows to make a choice. This choice is meaningful only if it is the best option among those available, the best for us and for the others involved, since we are one human family.

Working for Peace:

A common goal, a common task– this is what will save humanity from extinction, and extinction not only because of needs not being met or values being in jeopardy but first, because of the self-destructive effect of rage and senseless and uncontrolled actions that follow from angst-motivation that follows from an un-reflected existence, where the will to meaning was not and cannot even be heard in the turmoil. “Existential angst” and “existential threat” require to be acknowledged and guided “toward” something and someone for whose sake we are willing to stop and think.  

Peace requires to stop and think. To make space. Physical space away from the noise of battle. Mental and emotional, spiritual space for the voice of conscience (3). Space to listen, and space to discern. Space to heal. Space to get in touch with the inner strength to counter the “existential threat” and supplement it with answers to the existential angst. Search for what is meaningful (what is true, what spreads goodness and beauty), what builds up rather than destroys. Search for values in harmony with universal vales. The more a nation can have this space the more they can advance toward peace. –In a space as large as the heart.


The opposite of war as an aggressive act is a space in which value discernment can take place and where meaningful decisions can be made.  When existential angst and existential threat are not equated with the person, but a distance can be gained from these states to find a response to them, without hurting or damaging another, victory has been won over dread. When a space is perceived between stimulus and response, the agency of the individual is can be called upon to decide in which direction they want to move. When the space is filled with meaning–the actualization of values in harmony with universal values–peace can freely flow.

Screaming “existential angst” and “existential threat” are sure signs that existential dynamics are at hand. To deny them and suppress them would deepen the cycle of anguish and despair. To face them and to respond to them squarely offers hope for a better life.    

We can not deny the chance to the party needing inner space to let live, just like we cannot deny the right to life.

Living itself means nothing than being questioned; our whole act of being is nothing more than responding to–and being responsible toward—life” (4)

Life is calling us. Are we listening?


  1. (2019). “Existential threat”
  2.  Frankl, V. E. (2014). The Will to Meaning. New York, NY: Plume.
  3. Frankl, V E. (2014b). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  4. Frankl, V. E. (2019). Yes to Life. In Spite of Everything. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  5. Harvard University (2022). Toxic Stress. Center on the Developing Child.
  6. Marshall, E. & Marshall, M. (2021). Logotherapy and Existential Analysis for the Management of Moral Injury. Ottawa, Canada: Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy.
  7. (2018). “Angst.”
  8. Rankin, A. (2022). “What is Existential Angst?”
acorn advent blur bright

Mystery, Symbols, Metaphors, and Meaning: Logotherapy During the Holidays

“…O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

This is a busy time of the year, and two holidays almost coincide. In the Jewish tradition, Hannukah started at sundown on Sunday, December 2. It lasts eight days until December 5th. Hannukah is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, also called the Festival of Lights. It commemorates that in 165 BC, Judas Maccabee and his brothers won a victory over the invading Syrian army. On that occasion, they re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The oil lamp inside the temple had enough oil for only one day. But the light did not dim, and the oil lasted for eight days until new oil could be made. Hannukah is a joyous, cheerful celebration of re-dedicating oneself. Tikkun Olam means spreading good in the world and being the light of the world.

In the Christian tradition, Advent, the four weeks before Christmas is a time of waiting and preparation. We prepare our hearts and minds for welcoming the Christ Child.  Jesus is the “Light of the World.”

In Frankl’s home both Christmas and Hannukah were observed (Klingberg, 2001).

Symbols and metaphors are commonly used in logotherapy to refer from the concrete to the abstract and to capture a meaning that goes beyond the mundane and the ordinary (Lukas, 2020).

In this presentation, we would like to consider some of the most frequent symbols associated with Hannukah and Christmas and illustrate logotherapeutic concepts or principles that can be pondered using these symbols. Symbols and metaphors are used in practice is for clarification and for encouraging the spirit. They usually occur in the context of an authentic “I and Thou” encounter, with the recognition that as therapists or patients, we are pilgrims in our journey of life (Marshall & Marshall, 2022). During the holidays, we profit from the time available for reflection and meditation to offer new insights and to allow meaning to unfold.  

The symbols that we chose to reflect on today are those most frequently noticed in our surroundings at this time: (1) The candle, (2) the tree, (3) the presents, and (4) the star.  Many of these items have rich symbolism and their existential significance can be explored.

  • The Candle:

Most of us have a candle in our homes. Whether we saved it from previous years, or we bought a new one for the holidays, our candles are ready to be lit.

The candle’s purpose, its function is to give light and warmth.

If we just kept candle hidden in the drawer, it would not fulfill its purpose.

So, let us take a closer look at our candle and observe what logotherapeutic thoughts may be associated with it. Some of the following ideas were described by Dr. Elisabeth Lukas’ “Candle Meditation,” found in her book, “Alles fugt Sich und erfullt sich,” published in 1994. She used these mediations in group settings:

The candle is composed of wax and has a structure.

Inside the wax is a tiny bit of wick that is visible on the top of the candle. The rest of the wick is invisible, but we know that it is inside.

The wick is the most important part of the candle, because without the wick, the candle would be of not much use. We could not light it, only burn it. (Maybe, that would not be such a good idea). 

The candle represents our human reality. Our bodies and mind that are like the wax, fragile. We are fallible, vulnerable, and finite beings.

Much like the wick, our essence is not our bodies, or minds, but rather, what is “inside,” and most hidden from the eye, other than a little bit of what is visible of the wick at the top of the candle, what can be seen.

Spirit is the very essence of our being.  Body and mind are only its instruments through which the spirit can express itself. This is similar, to how the wax provides structure and holding place for the wick so it can fulfill its function (Lukas, 1994).  The spirit relies on its instruments to accomplish its purpose.

We can say, we have hands, feet, and eyes. With a stretch of the imagination, perhaps we can embrace the statement that we are the feet, the hands, and the eyes through which truth, beauty and goodness can be brought into the world.

St. Theresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun and a mystic. She wrote these beautiful verses so appropriate to the metaphor of the candle:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good

Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

When we light the candle, it gives light and warmth. This is the purpose of human life. To be a beacon of hope and to shine in the world though one’s actions of caring and kindness.

In the moment we light the candle the candle is no longer wax and wick, it is transformed into purpose and function. The physical energy is transformed into light and heat energy that radiates into the world and that remains in the world.

It is interesting to ponder that the reality of the candle giving light is independent if someone else can see the candle or knows about it. Similarly, our actions of kindness and goodness do not pass away and are independent of who knows about it (Lukas, 1994).

The old candle, the broken candle, a damaged candle, the bruised candle can still be lit, and it can still give light and warmth.

As we contemplate our candle, we may recall Frankl’s words:

What we radiate into the world, the waves that emanate from our being, that is what will remain of us when our being itself has long since passed away” (Frankl, 2019:45).

  • The Christmas Tree:

We may buy our tree or observe some that we can see around us on the streets, in the shop windows, or at the city square. A gorgeous, green tree may be erected and decorated in the mall or at the market.

What do we see?

The tree, a symbol of life, spirals toward the sky, ending in a high point symbolizing a climax or destination.

In may places, the branches of the tree bear rich decorations or tiny lights and ornaments. Every decoration is carefully placed. Sometimes, it takes some time to decide where one will place the larger ornaments, where one will place the smaller ones. Where one might hang a dented but highly prized piece, or where the most cherished ornaments will find their place. These decisions can represent the choices we make. The decorations are like the values that stand in relation to us. They shine brightly.

When we finish making our choices, and decide where we will place the ornaments, the lights, or the ribbons, we usually stand back and admire the tree. There it stands in all its glory. The decorations sparkle in the light, and they all rise, pointing up toward the top of the tree. Up high, closer to the tip, are the ornaments representing the higher values or universal values, such as the values of love, value of fidelity, the value of life, the dignity of a person, and so on. These values are under which the lower values are subsumed. The lower branches are closer to us. So are the decorations on them, which represent the values through which we actualize concrete meaning, the meaning of the moment that is within reach.

The tree is beautiful when all the decorations are in harmony with each other. From the concrete to the abstract, from the low to the high, from the meaning of the moment to ultimate meaning, the lights and special ornaments create a harmonious and appealing image of actions reflecting values just as decorations reflect our highest ideals, aspirations, and ideals.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit and theologian once remarked: “…Remain true to yourself but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit your will find yourself united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.

Frankl reminds us that our actions are meaningful if they are in harmony with universal values that point to ultimate value and to ultimate meaning (Frankl, 2014).

As we contemplate the beauty of the Christmas tree, we may take a moment to reflect on his words of wisdom:

 “It is terrible to know that at every moment, I bear responsibility for the next: that every decision, from the smallest to the largest, is a decision for ‘all eternity;’ that in every moment I can actualize the possibility of the moment, of that particular moment or forfeit it. Every single moment contains thousands of possibilities—and I can only choose one of them to actualize it. But in making the choice, I have condemned all the others and sentenced them to ‘never being,’ and even this is for all eternity! But it is wonderful to know that the future—my own future and with it the future of the things and the people around me—is somehow, albeit to a very small extent, dependent on our decision in every moment. Everything I realize through them, or ‘bring into the world,’ as we have said, I save into reality thus protect from transience” (Frankl, 2014:106).

How do we decorate our tree, which values do we pace higher or lower? The choice is sometimes not easy to make. It may take some prayerful reflection to decide well.

  • Presents:

Several ideas of presents that we want to buy, or wrap may be going through our minds. Those of us who are really organized, already have some items ready and hidden, somewhere were little eyes and hands can not touch them, so they are a surprise

Presents represent our acts of kindness and good deeds, the warmth, and the love we share. Yet, while we have not given them, they are only possibilities. When we give them is the moment when they accomplish their purpose and bring smile to the face of someone.

As we contemplate presents, the ones we may give and those we may receive, we contemplate the gift of love and being loved.

Earlier, when we talked about the example of the candle, we talked about the uniqueness of each person and the value which is related to the community and serving the community, serving others. This is love that we give.

There is also a second path, says Frankl other than doing, and that exists in being, in being appreciated for who one is, which is a more passive way. This is love that we are given.

This is a more or less passive path, without any stiving, without any doing—“without doing anything for it”—in being loved, what someone otherwise had to strive for in his activity or employment now seems to fall into his or her lap; on this path of being loved we achieve what we would normally have to fight for and though our performance, but without needing to earn them: indeed one cannot force love; love is not a reward but a blessing. On the path of love a person thus receives by “grace” the things that he or she would have to strive for to obtain through action: the realization of both his or her uniqueness and individuality. For it is the nature of love that makes us see our loved one in their uniqueness and individuality” (Frankl, 2019:75-76).

Thus, as we contemplate presents, the presents that may want to give and the presents we may receive, we can ponder love. The mystery of love is that can not be demanded or commanded but it is an act of grace.

As the hustle and bustle of preparation is nearing, let us recall the greatest gifts that God gave. Let us prepare fitting gifts in our hearts:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love,

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where id sadness, joy.”

O Divine Master, grant that I may

Not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born

To eternal life.” (Prayer reflecting the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi)

  • The Star

The final symbol that I would like to ponder in relation to logotherapy is that of the Star of David and the Star of the Nativity. Christmas time in all traditions is a celebration of hope and good will. This hope and good will is fulfilled in our relationship with the Transcendent and the Divine who is not distant and far away but with us on our journey though the desert until we reach the Promised Land.

Perhaps these words are ever more significant today, during the suffering that we experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic than ever before.

Two millennia ago, in the small town of Bethlehem, Jesus was born. According to the Gospel of Luke 2:8-16:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” ‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly Host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another: “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger.”  

And at the time when Jesus was born, there was a star that marked the place of the manger, which led the wise men on their journey to Bethlehem:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews?’ For we observed his star at its rising and we have come to pay him homage” (Matthew, 2:1-2).

And following the star they found the baby and thy paid homage to him.

The star of Bethlehem heralded his birth. The angels sang. And on this holy night, God, yet again, confirmed his never-ending covenant.

God is all mighty, God is all knowing, God is all powerful. In comparison, we are weak, vulnerable, time limited and fragile. Like a speck of dust on the face of the earth. But God does not abandon his people. He has chosen an appointed time in history to manifest himself in relation to us, in a way that we could possibly relate to him most in a personal way.  

As we spoke of our finiteness, vulnerability, and fallibility, so we must also speak of suffering, and we must note the concept of the Tragic Triad of pain, guilt, and death that Frankl mentions in Man’s Search for Meaning (2014:129). Pain belongs to our vulnerability, death to our finality and mortality, and guilt to our fallibility.

Suffering uniquely colors our lives and represents an opportunity for expressing our individuality and uniqueness in not only how we experience it, but how we respond to it. Through creative, attitudinal, and experiential values, Frankl described the avenues through which suffering can be turned into a human achievement. The highest challenge, and the highest form of human achievement possible is to find meaning and to live meaning in suffering.

In Frankl’s words, “…In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice” (Frankl, 2014).

Tragic optimism (and by optimum Frankl meant “the best”), humanity at its best, in the face of tragedy is manifested in the human potential that (1) allows for turning suffering into a human accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action” (Frankl, 2019:130).

As we ponder the Star of David, composed of two inverted triangles juxtaposed one on the other, and the star of the Nativity, let us remember that as our suffering is unique although shared with all humanity, the meaning-call that lies in it is also unique that we leave with all humanity.

At Christmas time, let us open our ears, hearts and minds to a call that transcends time and space, and which resonates on our inner selves: “We are wonderfully designed, eternally loved, and awaited!”

To close with Frankl’s thoughts:

It is only in the image and likeness of God that we understand ourselves (Frankl, 1951).

It is only to the extent to which we transcend ourselves that we actualize meaning” (Frankl, 1972).


Frankl, V. E. (1951). Logos und Existenz. Vienna, Austria: Amandus Verlag.

Frankl, V. E. (1972). Der Wille zum Sinn. Vienna: Huber.

Frankl, V. E. (2014). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, Boston.

Frankl, V. E. (2019). Yes to life in spite of everything. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Lukas, E. (1994). Alles fught sich und erfullt sich. Stuttgart: Quell.

Lukas, E. (2020). Living Logotherapy. Logotherapy Principles and Methods. Bamberg: Elisabeth Lukas Archives.

Klingberg, H. Jr. (2001). When life calls out to us. The love and life of Viktor and Elly Frankl. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Marshall, M. & Marshall, E. (2012). Logotherapy Revisited. Ottawa, ON: Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy.

Marshall, M. & Marshall, E. (2022). Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. Currently in press. Ottawa, ON: Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy.

Bible references are based on the Holy Bible, NRSV (1989). Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Quotations by Teilhard de Chardin, Theresa of Avila, and the poem attributed to St. Francis and are in the public domain.

*This presentation was prepared for the Christmas series of AMES, Alianza Mundial para Encuentros con Sentido, and presented virtually on December 2, 2021.

Logotherapy and Existential Analysis for Moral Injury

Logotherapy and Existential Analysis for the Management of Moral Injury

New Book by Edward and Maria Marshall (2021)

Logotherapy and Existential Analysis for Moral Injury

The COVID-19 pandemic brought Moral Injury (MI) to the forefront of clinical attention and research. This multi-dimensional syndrome has been first described in the military context and is now understood to affect people in other occupations such as health care, business, education, law enforcement, the legal profession, disaster relief, international aid, social justice, as well as other areas of social and occupational functioning. Moral injury occurs when deeply held beliefs, ethical and moral principles have been trespassed. The violation of universal values and personal principles can be committed by oneself or by others. Witnessing potentially morally injurious events gives rise to guilt, shame, remorse, anger, disgust, feelings of betrayal, spiritual struggles and disorientation, loss of meaning, and despair. The secondary symptoms of moral injury may include anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress. The symptoms of moral injury can vary in intensity and can present from mild to severe, seriously impairing functioning. Moral injury is not considered a mental illness but a syndrome that warrants clinical attention.

Employing a phenomenological hermeneutic method of systematically reviewing pertinent texts, the present study explores the lived experience of moral injury in relation to assessment and treatment methods currently available. Conceptually, research indicates that self care, moral resilience, and social support are linked with factors such as resiliency, post-traumatic growth, and self-transcendence. These factors are correlated with meaning, a key factor in wellness following existential frustration and distress. Thus, a holistic body, mind and spirit approach to the assessment and response to moral injury is warranted.

Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (LTEA) is an evidence-based meaning-centered approach to psychotherapy and counselling that has been successfully applied in the treatment of conditions involving existential issues. The present research examines the contribution of LTEA to the conceptual understanding of moral injury and to its related symptomatology. It details the application of LTEA principles and structured meaning-centered interventions in responding to moral injury. The applications are illustrated with examples that help to position this method into a holistic framework promoting re-connection, renewal, and health.

red leaf trees near the road

Saying Yes to Life

Notes from an Interview with Alexander Batthyany and Elisabeth Lukas.

On January 15, 2021, Professor Dr. Alexander Batthyany, Philosopher and University Professor at the Universities of Vienna and Budapest, Director of the Viktor Frankl Institute in Vienna, and Viktor Frankl Chair for Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Lichtenstein, and Professor Dr. Elisabeth Lukas, Clinical Psychologist, and former student of Dr. Viktor Frankl, were interviewed by Andreas Obrecht at the Austrian Radio [ORF] with the program title “Saying Yes to Life.” It aimed to provide an opportunity for Dr. Batthyany and Dr. Lukas to present their latest book with the title “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Today: A Current Standpoint.” [Logotherapie und Exystenzanalyse Heute: Eine Standortbestimmung, 2020].

Dr. Batthyany studied logotherapy with Dr. Lukas over twenty years ago. These two prominent advocates of Viktor E. Frankl’s work collaborated in writing the book that explores the position of Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis with respect to our complex reality today. The program provided an opportunity for listeners to express their views and ask questions.

Referring to the current pandemic, Andreas Obrecht explained that “Difficult questions arise in difficult times.” The interview aimed to explore some of the answers that logotherapy and existential analysis can provide in response to these questions. He prefaced the interview with the remark that “Logotherapy and existential Analysis, also known as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, was founded by Dr. Viktor Frankl, an exceptional doctor, psychiatrist, neurologist, and philosopher.” He then chose one particular crucial point in Viktor Frankl’s life, 1941, when he held a valid visa in his hands that would have allowed him to immigrate to the United States. Since he was of Jewish origin, the visa was very significant for it would have allowed him to escape the horrors of the concentration camps. However, he decided to let it lapse because he wanted to protect his family. In 1942 his entire family was deported to the concentration camps where his wife, parents and his brother perished. He was liberated in 1945 by American troops.

From this brief window into the life of Dr. Frankl, Mr. Obrecht returns to the book in which Dr. Batthyany and Dr. Lukas state that it is hard to characterise Dr. Frankl since “his life was multi-faceted” and he was an exceptionally talented man. Dr. Lukas explains that “… One of the most remarkable qualities of Dr. Frankl was the coherence between his convictions, his teaching, and his life example which gave him a high level of credibility.” Namely, we can see that soon after the liberation when he found out that his loved ones perished, and he was struggling, he established to himself that there must be a ground and a reason for his suffering why he would be in a unique position to shoulder it and he held firm to the belief that a meaning that he can realise must be waiting for him in the face of it. Dr. Lukas explained, “…He had been granted a second life. This was a present. The first life ended in the camps. The second life was a gift of grace that he said he wanted to show himself worthy of it.”  He wanted to use it well and so he lived in a way to help others.  Another example of the congruence between his actions and words can be seen in the fact that “…he determined that he wanted to keep his heart free from hate and grudge.” Dr Lukas explained that “…hate and grudge dwell in the soul and weighs it down. The only way one can free oneself from both is by focusing on the present and how one’s life in the here and now can be filled with a meaningful content.”

The interviewer remarks how Frankl had written his book Man’s Search for Meaning very soon after his liberation and it become popular immediately after its publication. It is still a widely read book today, perhaps exactly because it offers an example for people on how to deal with suffering and even very intense suffering, such as Frankl experienced in the concentration camps. Dr. Lukas pointed out that Frankl dedicated himself to helping others as a doctor fully respecting each person. He did not ask his patients what their convictions were. His sole aim was “… to help people live a healthy life and this is what helped him to regain his own stability.”  

The title of this new book is “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Today: A Current Standpoint.” From the perspective of this historical vista, one can reflect on the contributions of this psychotherapeutic orientation today. Although the interview allows for only very brief remarks, Dr. Alexander Batthyany, notes that it is relevant to recall that the foundations of logotherapy have been laid before the second world war because this point is often missed or misunderstood. The roots and basic formulation of logotherapy were already laid by Frankl before the war and to think that he developed his theories in the camps or after his liberation emerged with this theory is of course not correct. What Frankl witnessed in the camps is that “…all the methods and therapeutic formulations that he gathered through his experiences earlier were applicable and held up in the camps and after.” Regarding the contribution of these principles today, Dr. Batthyany notes that he had been fortunate to hold presentations on logotherapy in different parts of the world, for example Japan or Africa, and he was always impressed by the realisation that the basic principles and the corresponding therapeutic methods are so to speak “trans-cultural” and timeless. “The basic factors, the basic principles remain, although the conditions may change with time and from place to place.” We live in some countries and on some continents in wealth but not on others and so the circumstances and the challenges may be different. However, the methods that have been applied across several cultures and have proven to be time-tested and effective. The principle what Frankl asserted is that fulfillment can be found “…not by intending that what feels good but discovering and doing what one is good for.” Thus, “…one can not aim for pleasurable activities to overcome hardships because there will be still hardships left but rather to think: how can I remain a human being in the good times and in the difficulties, through the ups and downs, and become a human being who leaves their own contribution to the world?”

One chapter in this book is entitled:” Happiness is what we are saved from.” This is a thought- provoking title. Dr. Lukas explained that it is easy to forget about life’s blessings: “What one experienced in the past is a wealth that was a gift. Each new day is a gift.” Looking carefully at the current situation, we realise that even what we take for granted, for example, our everyday lives, “…normalcy itself–is a present.” Dr. Lukas then asserted that “…even loss has an element of thankfulness about it that is easy to overlook.” Often it is only when we have lost something that we realise how precious it was. For example, if one loses a loved one. Or if one loses a job and realises how much one enjoyed work. These are values in life that we may temporarily overlook. She noted that it is relevant to become aware of the precious things that surround us. It is good to be mindful of everything that we value so that when we need to let go, we can think back with gratitude that we were blessed, and we were given these values as a present.

The first caller is a lady who has attended Dr. Lukas’ presentations and would like to point out another important contribution of Frankl that he summarized with the quotation “Whoever has a why can bear with nearly any how.” An experienced educator, she wondered how this idea could be presented to young people and if the formulation that if we have a reason, we can learn from our challenges could be explored in today’s classrooms. Dr. Lukas affirms her point by remarking that those who can see a task waiting for them can handle frustrations easier as they are searching for where they can responsibly contribute to making our society better.

Next, the interviewer invited Dr. Batthyany to summarize two main concepts in logotherapy: self-transcendence and self-distancing. Self-transcendence, said Dr. Batthyany, is the dynamics of reaching beyond oneself. “…It is an empirically demonstrated phenomenon. As human beings, we are capable of observing and reflecting on ourselves. Beyond self-awareness, we are able to reach beyond ourselves into the world and an area of possibilities in the world. These possibilities represent the area where our area of freedom lies. Not all of these possibilities are of equal value and this is where the element of responsibility enters. Some could be accomplished, some may be possible, and we need to aim for discerning the one task that is waiting for us to become actualised, that only we can bring into reality. This is our contribution. This is when we look not so much for what is good for me, but for what am I good for, what is meant for me to accomplish?”

Reflecting on Frankl’s remark that “responsibility is at the same time frightening and at the same time wonderful,” Dr. Battyany explained that it is a gift that we are able to act and that there are possibilities to choose from in our area of freedom where our values beckon. The realisation that without us acting none of these values can actualised, can fill us with a frightful sense of responsibility.  Thus, “…we are all writers, and we write by the minute, the hour and the day our own stories. We decide what title we give to the chapters in our lives.”

Self-distancing, continued Dr. Batthyany, has to do with freedom. We have a physiological and psychological reality. For example, we have impulses and thoughts that may come and go. The question is if we are fully dependent on these psychological or physiological realities, “…do they have the last word, or can we gain some distance from them?”  Here is where an area of freedom opens, at least in our attitudes. Dr. Lukas continues the explanation of this concept by referring to Dr. Frankl’s notion of the tragic triad of human existence: pain, guilt, and death. “No one is spared of pain, no one is free from guilt and we all have to face our finality.”  In this relation to fate that which we do not have direct control over, or very little or no control over, we have little or no responsibility. We are not the ones who ask the question of why bad things happen to good people. Life does not answer these why questions. However, we are the ones who are being asked by life, what we are going to do in response to fate.  “Until the last breath, we have a choice how we answer to life. We can answer with a yes or a no to life. That is what it means to be responsible.”  Dr. Lukas explained that “…we can choose to be constructive, loving, or negative, bitter and cynical.”

The next caller asked why there is a strife between logotherapy and psychoanalysis. Dr. Battthyany explained that the roots of the differences go back to radical positivism. Historically, Frankl elaborated on the foundational principles of psychotherapy and the anthropological view of the human person to include the dimension of the spirit and unconscious spirituality along with the resources and capacities o the spirit which logotherapy mobilises. Thus, “…the are clear differences between psychoanalysis and logotherapy.” He goes on to say that “…If we omitted the changes that happened the evolution of psychoanalysis and we still considered it in its dogmatic origins with these principles at the forefront, then the differences would be very marked, indeed.” The differences would be even contradictions, for in logotherapy the therapist’s main concern is not the uncovering of hidden motives or drives. “Logotherapy rest on the recognition that we live in the world and our intentions are not ends in themselves; we are not primarily aimed at achieving homeostasis but that we are directed toward the world.” At the same time there are differences, there are instances in psychoanalytical thinking where we can see that “…the two orientations coincide”, noted Dr. Batthyany, and this is “…because ultimately, we are both talking about people in the world and the aim is the same: to help people. This is a common denominator. We want to understand people and support them. Thus, while there are some differences, there are some inherent similarities.

The next caller expressed the view that through Frankl’s talks and presentations, one which he was fortunate to attend, there was always a thread of deep-seated trust and faith. Not necessarily in a religious sense, but the deep-seated trust of a believer, that was absent in Freud’s atheistic bent.  He recalled the example mentioned at the start of this interview where Frankl shared that when the Vienna synagogue was destroyed [1938], he found a marble piece with on the Ten Commandments engraved into it and it was the one: “Honor your mother and father so that you may do well in the land” and he acted accordingly. He based his decision on his faith and not on positivistic atheism.

The interviewer asked Dr. Lukas about the scientific basis of logotherapy following the findings of her dissertation [1971]. She explained that she measured two parameters. First: “To what extent people see their lives as meaningful?” She developed a test [Logotest] for measuring this first parameter. Second, the mental stability of her subjects. “The interesting finding was that with ninety nine percent certainty one could observe a correlation between mental health and seeing meaning possibilities in life.” Her findings offered one of the first empirical validation of Frankl’s work. This was an early study and since then, evidence for their validity has been mounting, with extensive research on the methods and the applications of logotherapy and existential analysis.

The question arose “What would Frankl say in response to the violence and aggression we see through the media today?” Dr. Lukas replied saying that each time has its negative trends. Frankl said that “…each time has its own illnesses and its own therapies.” Aside from reductionism, he identified fanaticism, fatalism, and collectivism. Nevertheless, there are several positive trends in today’s society as well, examples of kindness and altruism. Thus, we are confronted with the question “…whether to give in to these trends or to join those people who stand for hope and a better future.”

A caller requested to have some more information on the ways in which logotherapy can be applied in the case of treating emotional disorders. Dr. Lukas explained that logotherapy’s principles are applied with the intention to help the person in the present. “…We are not concerned so much with the past, and roots of the disorder but giving first aid in the present and exploring what possibilities the person has in the present.” In facing psychological difficulties and limitations “…we want to point to an area of freedom whereby one can develop a vision for the future.” Thus, logotherapy is primarily present and future oriented and helps to mobilise one’s inner resources in response to trauma or emotional challenges.

A caller who is currently a student of logotherapy and wishes to apply it in the future in his work with young people inquired about whether there is an international network of research and training insitutes in logotherapy? Dr. Batthyany replied that there are about 140 institutes in 40 countries. There are small institutes and larger institutes among them. [The list of these accredited institutes can be found on the website of the Viktor Frankl Institute:]. There are innumerable publications of book and articles in many languages. However, the main point he wanted to emphasize is that “…the idea is always greater than the institutes.” What Frankl wrote and his students developed on the basis of his thoughts, ”… is wholesome and transculturally applicable.” The second point he made was that, as the saying goes: ‘the taller the tree, the deeper the roots,” and there is a lot of opportunities for an in-depth study of logotherapy and existential analysis.

A caller reported that he developed a program based on logotherapy and positive psychology with an emphasis on gratitude and mindfulness. He was wondering if happiness could be taught and learned? Dr. Batthyany lauded his efforts. However, about the question if to cultivate happiness can be made an intention, he offer this alternative: “…I think that aiming for a fulfilled life would be more realistic [than aiming for a happy life]. Happiness is only a small segment of life.  There is also pain and grief. And if we focus too intensely on our own happiness it may cause us to be a bit blind to the suffering of others and the suffering where we could be helpful. …Engendering hope and being helpful, acting with responsibility and accomplishing something worthwhile that is waiting for us to accomplish is what I think can be helpful.”

[Dr. Batthyany’s proposition stems from Dr. Frankl’ assertion that happiness is the by-product of a meaning-filled life, and it will ensue by itself, we do not need to intend it. It may come as a gift, or unexpected, as a surprise when we least expect it. Such as with the words of C. S. Lewis who said that “At the times of intense suffering we may still be surprised by joy.”]

A person sent in a comment wondering if lack of thankfulness is an overgeneralised statement. Alternatively, if we have the right to ask people in difficult situations to be grateful? Dr. Lukas answered these remarks with a personal example to illustrate that gratefulness does not need to disappear and it can be present especially in the most difficult situations. She related that her husband passed on after 44 years of happy marriage.  It was a tragedy for her and “…the only thing that helped me was this great sense of thankfulness about having been happily married for so many years.”  Illustrating the way in which gratefulness can be present and helpful, she explained: “…On my left side is thankfulness and on my right side is grief. Whenever grief on my right-side whispers into my ear: ‘You have lost something wonderful,’ gratitude in my left side whispers: ‘You had something wonderful.’ This is of great comfort.”

Another caller was wondering if logotherapy’s applications are too abstract and authoritarian. Dr. Lukas noted that it is one of the basic guiding principles of logotherapy that the therapist can not prescribe or command another person what to do or what should be meaningful to them. “…What we are attempting is to help people connect with their own inner resources, their own inner voice, one can name it one’s conscience or inner compass that orients them toward values and meaning that is inherent in the situation.” People need to discover for themselves best what it is that is a meaningful next step for them. “Therapy is successful when we can bring people into harmony with what they discern to be meaningful with their inner resources and we can help them gain awareness of it.”

The last caller asked if logotherapy can become a religion for a secularised society? Dr. Lukas’s answered this question with an empathetic “No.”Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that is brief and effective. It is open to both religious and non-religious people.” Dr. Batthyany added that “…Frankl very clearly stated that logotherapy is for all people. It helps to intuitively discover meaning though being attuned to the inner voice of our conscience.”


Batthyany, A & Lukas, E (2020). Logotherapie und Exystenzanalyse Heute: Eine Standortbestimmung. [Logotherapy and Existential Analysis Today: A Current Standpoint] Innsbruck/Vienna: Tyrolia Verlag.  

Obrecht, A (2021). Ja zum Leben sagen. [Say Yes to Life]. Austrian Radio [ORF] program aired on January 15, 2021. Retrieved from:

man standing on a rock

The Art of Living

Walking Tour of a Living Exhibition

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Viktor Frankl, the Viktor Frankl Museum in Vienna first opened its doors to the public on the 19th of March 1995. Its was an initiative of the Viktor Frankl Center in Vienna, aiming to preserve the life and legacy of Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, who lived and worked at this location from 1945 until his death in 1997. The Art of Living program of the Austrian Radio Station [ORF] aired on January 10, 2021, produced by Ms. Brigitte Krautgartner, explored the themes that come alive as we enter the doors of this unique exhibition, offering a view into the timeless wisdom and timely message of logotherapy. Ms Maria Harmer accompanies Ms. Elisabeth Gruber, Director of the Viktor Frankl Museum Vienna, who shows us around the exhibition hall and leads us through some of its interactive features (Viktor Frank Museum Vienna, 2021).

The following are reflective notes that summarize the interview:

  1. From Life and Work to a Museum / From Museum to a Living Exhibition:

Ms. Harmer opened this interview by reminding her listeners that an awareness of meaning in life is most helpful in difficult times since it helps to overcome external difficulties and inner challenges. We can learn a lot from Viktor E. Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, who was of Jewish origin, and “…one of the greatest teachers when it comes to affirming life.”

We know from Frankl’s biography (Frankl, 2000) that during the second world war, he survived several concentration camps. Due to tragic circumstances, he lost his young wife, their unborn child, his mother, father, and brother. From 1945 to 1997 the year of his death, the world-renowned psychiatrist lived in his apartment in Mariannengasse 1, in the IX district of Vienna. His second wife who is now 95 years old still lives there. Part of the apartment has been transformed into a museum.

Because of the coronavirus, the museum was closed for some time, and currently it operates with limited opening hours. Ms. Gruber unlocks the door stating: “When we first came through these doors and decided to set up the museum, we asked ourselves: ‘Viktor Frankl is world renown; If we do not do it, who will? If we do not do it, when will it be done?’ –so, we did it.” This is how the museum came into being.  

Ms. Harmer remarks that the words of Rabbi Hillel: “If I do not do it, who will do it? If I do not do it, when shall I do it? And If I do it only for myself, who am I?” –are words Viktor Frankl often quoted. The quote offers a fitting appeal to explore our area of freedom with our possibilities and opportunities. Which one of these, as of yet unfulfilled potentials, depend upon our courage and determination to be fulfilled?

  • Scaling the Mountain Cliff: 

In the entrance, we are greeted by a large photo of Dr. Frankl scaling a mountain cliff. Ms. Gruber stops to explain the significance of this photo: “This is a very fascinating image because Frankl suffered from fear of heights, but he did not want to let this deter him. So, he said to himself, who is stronger ‘I or me,’ ‘Is it my anxiety or is it me as a person?’ ‘And he said to himself, I will go climbing with my anxiety and despite my anxiety!’” Frankl took the advice that he often gave to his patients: “Do not take every nonsense from yourself” and he prescribed the same medication for himself as he would prescribe to his patients: “Take a bull by its horns” and as you do so, the anxiety will loosen its grip. We are stronger than our emotions and physical reactions. We can do things that we never thought we would dare to do if we see a strong meaning that beckons us. Frankl wanted to live what he preached. As early as in 1928 and 1929 when he first took up maintain climbing (Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna, 2021), we see that he was ready to challenge himself and to “take his own medicine.”

  • A Thread Running through the History of our Lives:   

The Director of the museum leads us through the museum past historical boards showing how Frankl was first influenced by Freud and then Adler, and he founded the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.” She stops at this point, reflecting on the metaphor of a “thread.” She explains that a thread that runs through our lives connecting us with it. At each step, we can grow beyond ourselves as this rope holds us up. “…And this means that we have a connection with the ultimate Thou—who is concerned about us and watches over us and extends a hand to us so that we can master life’s challenges”—this is the reason why we are invited to say ‘yes’ to life.

Ms. Harmer reminds us that in his book, “Say Yes to Life, a Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camps” [which was translated as “Man’s Search for Meaning” in English and first published in 1959; Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna, 2021], Viktor Frankl detailed his experiences “…not to elicit sympathy or to complain but to help others gain strength.” This book moved millions of people around the world. Its main thesis, which Viktor Frankl never tired repeating, is that meaning is available in every life situation.

  • Every Situation is Unique and Every Moment in Precious:

Continuing the tour, we hear an excerpt from one of Frankl’s presentations [quoting Nietzsche]: “Who has a why in life can bear with nearly any how.” And another excerpt that explains this statement: “This is to say that whoever has a goal and a task, whoever can perceive that there is a mission that only he or she can fulfill, who, in other words, sees meaning in life, is capable of enduring suffering…for the sake of this meaning…for the sake of a loved one.” Ms. Gruber pauses to emphasize that his is one of the main points. And the other is to emphasise how precious each moment is. When we come face to face with death, we become aware of the limitations of life, and our vulnerabilities. That is why we can say “…death is the engine of life.” When we can see that every moment is unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable and no moment comes again in life—this is what death brings into awareness—that each moment is precious. As Frankl stated, “…Faced with life’s transitoriness, it is meaningful to act.” If there were no such limitations, each action and decision could be procrastinated indefinitely.   

These words remind bring us back to the present. Certainly, these times of the coronavirus pandemic remind us of the unique and unrepeatable moments we live in. On several occasions, it was remarked that this present crisis confronted us with our own vulnerabilities and finiteness.

  • “Seeing Through” Means Appreciating the Healthy Core of the Person:

Next, we arrive to a glass case housing the glasses of the psychiatrist. Ms. Gruber explains that “…the glasses for him were the symbol of seeing through.” To see through in a situation would mean that we are aware that the anxiety and stress affects us physically, psychologically, and emotionally. However, what we do not want to miss and what we really want to keep in front of our eyes is that “…wee have a healthy core that is the indestructible part of our being—of every human being.”

This unconditional belief in the meaningfulness of life is what Viktor Frankl wants to call our attention to, explains Ms. Gruber, as she points to several questions illustrated on boards. “What is the point of life?” “What is worth living for?” “Will death destroy all what we achieved?” –These are philosophical questions that philosophers have grappled with for centuries. Through the lenses of a three-dimensional view of the human person, we can see people not only as they are but as they can be. We can appreciate that the core of the person is the spirit, a healthy core, that is inherently dynamic and oriented toward meaning.

  • Inherent to human existence is a Will to Meaning:

Above, through the speaker we hear Dr. Frankl repeat the phrase which he repeated innumerable times during his lifetime: “Fundamental to a human being is his or her will to meaning.” Thus, the question of meaning is timeless. For, it is an age-old question that was with humanity since its creation. According to Dr. Frankl, “In the last analysis, a human being can not exist without meaning.” And when he is ill, or close to death, is when the question of meaning is most likely to surface in his or her depth…that is when he is confronted with the question of meaning, for “…people do not question meaning when everything is going well, but when they suffer.” That is the point when they need something desperately to hold on to. “A man who suffers and sinks into hopelessness and despair unless he can decisively hold on to meaning.”

  • Reaching to the Infinite:

Ms. Gruber explains that, after 1945, Frankl had not much left in terms of material possessions. Great was the weight of the death of his loved ones. He still held on to the belief that life holds meaning and that is in a unique position to fulfill this meaning. In his Jewish family home, he experienced protection and unconditional trust.  Yet, he wanted to reach beyond his Jewish roots to a point that connects us all as human beings and ties us all into one human family. He pointed to something that transcends all denominations and addresses the heights to which we can aspire. “Whenever someone spoke of God, he related it to a notion of ‘God as the most intimate partner of our soliloquies.’” This means that “…whenever we are talking to ourselves in honesty and in solitude, we can say that we are talking with God.”

“His advice is indeed rewarding in our times,” remarked Ms. Harmer, who chose to end this program with melodies of trust and safety from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Missa Brevis in C-Dur, K. 220.

Indeed, the Viktor Frankl Museum Vienna is a living exhibition that invites its visitors to participate in life fully and take up courage to scale every mountain that may lie ahead.


Frankl, V. E. (2000). Recollections. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

Krautgartner, B. (2020). Viktor Frankl neu gelesen. [Re-reading Viktor Frankl]. Broadcasted 10 January 2021. Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from:

Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna. Website. Biography. [Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from:

Viktor Frankl Museum Vienna. [Retrieved on January 11, 2021 from:

art bright burn burning

Wax will Glow—Candle Meditation

The Candle Meditation according to Dr. Elisabeth Lukas can be found in the chapter “Wachs wird zu Leuchten” [Wax will Glow] of her book “Alles fugt Sich und Erfullt Sich: Die Sinnfrage im Alter” [Everything is linked and gets fulfilled: The question of meaning in old age] (Lukas, E. 1994: 81-83).

This meditation is very timely. A challenging year is coming to its end and a new year is about to begin. This year was not an average year as we struggled with the global impact of the Corona virus. Our strength, resolve, and courage were tested in unforeseen ways. It is a wonderful gesture to invite all of us to light a candle and to hold it up witnessing our hope as one humanity.

I would like to preface the meditation with my familiarity with it. This will take us back to the history of how I got to know about the Candle Meditation and its significance in my life. I hope you will trace the steps of this journey with me.

No year passes that I do not remember my first encounter with Dr. Lukas in her office at the South German Institute of Logotherapy. I have seen her and interacted with her on several occasions before while I attended her lectures, presentations, and seminars, both in the United Sates and in Germany. This time, it was different. She has set the location of my final exam to take place in Furstenfeldbruck, Germany, where the South German Institute of Logotherapy with her leadership was operating since 1986. The year was 2000. It was a cold winter day in December. 

Christmas was near, and I was looking for a suitable present to bring her. Something that would express my appreciation and my admiration of her work that I was familiar with from her lectures and workshops and attempted to memorise word by word. But what can you buy as gift for a person who means so much to you? Dr. Lukas was a former student of Dr. Frankl, internationally recognised and accomplished. I was a budding psychologist. I had just recently finished my PhD degree and eager to work using the principles laid out in her books.

On my way, I bought a package of festive candles. The candles were neatly wrapped, and I added some ribbons and a card, wishing her and her husband Merry Christmas and happy New Year. It seemed surreal to think that after traveling from so far, soon I will meet her and have a chance to give her this humble token of appreciation.

What a surprise awaited me when, entering her office, I saw her sitting at a round table that had a candle lit on it! She explained to me that we will leave the candle burning until we talk. This will remind us that we do not only have the two of us present in the room, but our dialogue is meaning-oriented. Looking at the light made me feel much more at ease while Dr. Lukas graciously accepted my simple present and placed it on an adjacent desk. 

The oral exam consisted of one question. It was about the properties of the human spirit in Frankl’s theory. We talked about how the spirit is the essence of a person, how it can never become ill, and how it is a seat of our healthy resources. At the end, Dr. Lukas asked me to wait a few minutes while her husband filled out the certificate. In the meanwhile, she asked me which books I had in German that she had written. Anything that I did not have, she gave me a copy. When Mr. Lukas was ready, we went over to their apartment and she had a piece of cake and refreshments ready! I do not know if anyone ever in the history of psychotherapy had such a pleasant encounter with their mentor, I only know that I felt myself in heaven and left with a strong sense of mission to read her books and to help others learn about them, too.

Exactly, twenty years have passed since. When I was contacted about the project of translating Dr. Lukas’s Candle Meditation, the memories came flooding back. The “Candle Meditation” is a chapter in one of her books entitled “Alles fugt sich und erfullt sich” (Everything is linked and gets fulfilled). It was one of the few books that she gave me in Furstenfeldbruck. This book has travelled with me over countries and continents. I was thrilled to get to work at once….

I translated the chapter “Wachs wirm zu Leuchnen—Ene Kerzenmeditation” as “Wax will Glow—A Candle Meditation.” This title is symbolic of the transformation that occurs as soon as we light a candle, and the substance of its wax is transformed into light and warmth. Let us follow the steps carefully, with guidance by Dr. Lukas. I will summarize the main points below:

Most of us have a candle at home. Maybe it remained from another celebration. It was carefully saved somewhere for a special occasion or time of need. Whether on a joyous occasion, or on a sad occasion that we thought we may need this candle again, now we can use it on this occasion to reflect on life that spans between birth and a death and learn valuable lessons from a small demonstration that we will do together. 

Dr. Lukas invites us to observe our candle. It stands there new, and intact. Upon a closer look, we can see that it is made of two components, two substances, wax, and wick. The wick runs inside the wax and is almost invisible. Still the wick is essential for the candle being what it is, a candle. It belongs to the nature of the candle being what it is, a candle, and not just a piece of wax.

We could make a comparison between the nature of a human being and this understanding of the wick being all but covered by wax. Observing a human being, we see the body, the organism, “animated” by facial expressions, gestures, speech. The appearance of a person makes us infer the presence of the “soul” behind the “mask” of the body and mind. It is that part that is invisible, yet, the essence of a human being which was “breathed into the dust of the earth.” “The soul elevates the human person from the animal body of evolution and makes him or her a unique and singular wonder of creation” (Lukas, 1994:82).

Returning to our candle, we are now going to light it, and pay special attention to what happens to the wax. We observe that as soon as the flame reaches the wax, it becomes liquid and evaporates. We may experience a bit of sadness at the sight that the wax is melting in front of our eyes and there will be less and less of it as time goes by. Drop by drop, our candle will lose its height and its remaining “material” will be less and less.

Comparing this process with human life, we may observe that as soon as the “flame of the spirit” is lit, our vital functions are getting used and over time, they become less able to regenerate, more fragile and brittle. As the organism that ages, it loses its vitality, cell by cell.

Yet, we know from the laws of physics and chemistry that in the universe nothing gets “lost.” Material can change its shape or state, energy cam be found in different form. As we pay attention to the wax, we observe that it is changing into warmth and light. In other words, substance changes into function. Furthermore, there is a proportional relation between the length of burning and the amount of light and warmth given: the longer the candle was lit, the more light it gave. Similarly, the more substance it has lost, the more it has fulfilled its function. By giving more light, the candle has increasingly filled and full-filled its function. Thus, we realise that we need not “mourn” the loos of the wax that melted as it is proportional to the extent to which the candle “achieved” to fulfill its purpose. It has given light and warmth instead of remaining forever unlit and unused–a “dead” candle that “held back” all its wax. This candle, our candle that has been “awakened” by the flame –it glows.

Dr. Lukas always links her work with that of Professor Frankl. She remarks Dr. Frankl once wrote about human beings: “At the start, life is full substance that is unused; in the course of life, one keeps losing substance that has changed into function so that at the end a human life is brought forth into reality with all that one accomplished, what one experienced and what one suffered” (Frankl, 1982: 84).  To “bring forth” something means to actualise it in time. “Whatever exists in the history of time flows and merges in time where all time merges: eternal truth” (Lukas, 1994:84).

Dr. Lukas explains that before we lit the candle, the reality of the light of this candle did not yet enter time. It has not yet taken place, did not become visible. The substance of the candle was there but the function was not yet fulfilled. We could also say: the candle has not yet fulfilled its meaning. Or we could say, the candle has not yet entered time, it was not yet been “brought forth”. In the moment when we lit the wick, the function of our candle was set into motion.

The reality of our candle is that it can burn for seven to eight hours and after that, not much will be left of it.  However, even if the candle’s flame goes out, the fact that it was glowing can not be undone. What was brought forth and actualized has become eternal. Paradoxically, exactly when the candle has visibly disappeared, while there is still a trace of the burned wax or a trace of the wick, is when its meaning is once and was fulfilled once and for all.

Dr. Lukas again makes reference to Dr. Frankl’s work who reminded us that all that remains in human life after death is what we have “brought forth: what we accomplished, what we experienced, and what we suffered. He stated that whatever we accomplished and experienced or suffered during the course our lives enters truth where it is safely and securely stored against any distortion or destruction. “Only when our bodies have changed and become feeble does that what we caused and accomplished with its help become forever “young,” since the truth into which all time merges is itself timeless, without beginning and without end” (Lukas, 1994:86).

Next, Dr. Lukas instructs us to extinguish the light and let the wax of our candle cool down. We want to do a small experiment in which we have to break the candle. We want to philosophically think about these broken parts that represent human brokenness. We do not need to understand the philosophers in detail to relate to the fact that every human life has its challenges, its twists, failures, losses, unfulfilled meaning potentials. What was accomplished, experienced, suffered and brought into reality in the course of time is often not without pain. Coupled to this are the physical and psychological injuries to of the organism whose substance could still be changed into function. These injuries can be caused by ourselves or others. We are going to symbolise this brokenness by breaking off the top third of the candle. If this task is a bit difficult to do by hand, we can use a knife to help us as we merely want to make cut on the candle so that the wick is not severed. The candle should still stay in unity and wholeness just as injured and ill people still are.

As the candle lies in front of us on the table, Dr. Lukas invites us to lift it up by one end. We observe that the piece where we made cut is hanging down with some tiny crumbles of the wax around. The “wounded piece” hangs on the invisible wick that runs in the middle of the candle. The candle in its entire entity is not broken, only the wax: the wick is still intact. Thus, we observe that to call the candle “broken” is not really accurate. Well and unwell parts are mixed; wax is “unwell” only at a certain location where it shows a cut, and it does not hold together. It may be scratched or dirty in other parts as well, but these shrink in significance to where the brokenness can be observed.

Here lies a valuable lesson about injured and ill people: It would be wrong to call them “broken” people because in each person there is something that is in principle healthy and indestructible such as his or her spiritual origin and reason. The “Divine Breath,” as it is called in theology, is the basis of the unlimited dignity of the human person in Frankl’s anthropology. “Whatever is of spiritual nature is not born, it does not die, it does not stay healthy or become ill since it stems from an entirely different dimension” (Lukas, 1994:89).

We have likened the human spirit with that of the wick in the candle—inseparable from the organism through which the flame of life burns through earthly time into eternal reality.  We have also learned something else: “The spiritual person can be disturbed but not destroyed” (Frankl, 1990: 173)—it can be broken but not annihilated. Through this example we can see that people with severe physical or mental challenges, “…people with severe handicaps or limitations can still fulfill meaning in the world through the exemplary way in which they carry their heavy burden” (Lukas, 1994:89). 

With a bit of effort, it is possible to prop up our “wounded” candle and light it again. We may have to hold it so it stays up right, just for a while, with help, with care, with attention, and light it again to observe that even this candle, whose substance was damaged, can still fulfill its function and its reason. The same applies for a wounded person.

Yet, Dr. Lukas explains that mystery of meaning fulfillment goes even deeper. It will reveal itself if we are patient and keep waiting a bit longer. “The fulfillment of meaning is the absolute antidote of brokenness, which in the context of our meditation means: not only will the wax glow but the glow will redeem the broken parts. In other words: a life that glows, glows through its breaking points…” (Lukas, 1994:90).

As we remain relaxed and concentrate on our candle, we observe that it is growing ever smaller and smaller and the tiny droplets of wax flow over the point of the damage as if to smoothly cover and glue it together again. As the flame keeps glowing and nearing this breaking point, the edges will soften and soon the fracture melts into light and fulfills a function, despite everything. Observing this mystery opens a new perspective. Does the sight of this once broken candle that has overcome its brokenness not warm our hearts even more than the sight of the intact candle? Perhaps now it is easier for us to see that a person who with some help manages to “straighten up” and “radiate” something positive into the world can heal him or herself. We may choose to remain with our candle for a few more minutes and ponder this thought.

Reaching the end of our meditation, Dr. Lukas proposes that we can reflect on the process: We lit our candle, extinguished it, burned it, and observed how its light can be “restored.”  We have seen that the longer it fulfilled its meaning, the smaller it became, and this shrinking held intrinsic value.

At this point, we will add a few final considerations: Friends and relatives, who were not in our house, have not seen any of what happened. They know nothing about the light of our candle. If they come to visit one day, there will be nothing left from our candle, nothing left from the light that they can experience. Will this alter the fact that our candle gave light? –The answer empathetically is: “Certainly, not!”

We know about the light shine of our candle. What would happen if we decided to turn our backs to the candle, left for the other room and closed our eyes? Would the lack of perception of the light or our lack of attention to it make it not real? -Again, the answer is: “Certainly not!”  

Thus, we may conclude that “…the truth is truth and remains the truth even if not perceived” (Lukas, 1994:93). The truth is not dependent on our perception. The truth is not dependent on awareness or knowledge. The role of the candle does not in the least depend on the fact if anyone can see it, perceive it, or appreciate it. The most important fact is that the candle is in fact glowing and the light and warmth are true. Since this truth entered reality, it is eternally true, regardless if someone knows about its truth or not. In a dimension greater than our limited human perception, or different than our finite knowledge, everything dwells safely in the truth.

Before we blow out the light, Dr. Lukas instructs us to briefly recall the all the bright and meaningful events that we have accomplished in our lives and hold on to the thought that it does not make any difference if anyone else knows about these events, recognises them, or grateful to us for them. And when no one can see it: “Light remains light and meaning remains meaning” (Lukas, 1994:93). Or, in Frankl’s words: “The act of looking at something does not create that thing; neither does the act of looking away annihilate it” (Frankl, 2019: 110).  –Could it be that, even if the whole world ignores our good deeds, they can not be destroyed?

These words may summarize our conclusions: “In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored” and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the “stubble fields of transitoriness” but overlook and forget the “full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives:” the deeds done, the loves loved, and last, but not least, the suffering they have gone though with courage and dignity. “Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being (Frankl, 2014: 113).

As the person who had the honor of presenting this text entirely in gratitude and crediting Dr. Lukas and Dr. Frankl, I would like to add the affirmation of a personal belief that every life is a gift and an opportunity for something. Every life offers the possibility of bringing into reality truth, beauty and goodness that merges into eternity.

May the Light of this World, illuminate our paths as “Light from Light” bears light, and quenches the thirst for meaning.

To use our resources to soar above the ground,

To seemingly defy gravity,

To fly, sometimes, despite the odds,

To accomplish what we were meant to do,

To leave a gentle presence over the peaks,

And to land where our home awaits,

While we glow and share the light that is entrusted to us.

My husband, Prof. Dr. Edward Marshall, joins me in wishing you a joyful New Year!

Maria Marshall, PhD, RP

Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy

Ottawa, Canada

December 31, 2020


Frankl, V. E. (1990). Der Leidende Mensch. Munchen: Piper Verlag.

Frankl, V. E. (2014). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Frankl, V. E. (2019). The Doctor and the Soul. New York: Vintage Books.

Lukas, E. (1994). Alles fugt Sich und Erfullt Sich: Die Sinnfrage im Alter. Stuttgart: Quell Verlag.

Carried by the Spirit

“Carried by the Spirit: Our Hearts Sing”

Discerning Meaning during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Edited by Maria Marshall and Edward Marshall

Published through the Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy

New book available on Amazon

September 2, 2020 Paperback; September 3, 2020 Kindle

Contributors from around the world recorded their experiential observations and reflections on how the principles of Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (LTEA), a meaning-centered psychotherapy, can activate the resources of the human spirit to increase resilience and alleviate existential suffering while facing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The writing process blossomed into an expression of selfless giving and self transcendence. Words of wisdom, courage and solace emerged in response to suffering. Healing words sprang forth in response to the wounds of humanity. A circle of care from person to person overarched our world to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with care and compassion.

The book includes an original article from 1935, authored by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), which is published for the first time in the English translation with permission from the Viktor Frankl Archives in Vienna. This edifying instance offers a unique insight into Dr. Frankl’s work. His humanity and closeness to his patients offers a legacy that enriches our understanding of what it means to be a loving human being.

The editors gratefully acknowledge the support of Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely and Dr. Gabrielle Vesely-Frankl at the Viktor Frankl Archives and the Viktor Frankl Estate, Vienna, who granted permission to include an original article written by Prof. Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl in 1935. We are thankful for their acquaintance and friendship.

We wish to thank all our colleagues for the gift of their presence and caring. Especially our contributors: Dr. Teria Shantall, Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C. M., Dr. Tamas Ungar, Valquiria Gonҫalves de Oliveira and Dr. Eugenio Ferri, Dr. Meba Alphonse Kanda, Prof. Dr. Rachel B. Asagba, Matti Ameli, Mar Ortiz, Prof. Dr. Daniele Bruzzone, Dr. José Martínez-Romero Gandos, Prof. Rev. Andrzej Jastrzebski, Prof. Rev. Wladimir Porreca, Dr. Adriana Sosa Terradas, Dr. Robert Hutzell and Vicki Hutzell, Sharon Jones, Dr. Cynthia Wimberly, Dr. Willem Maas, Prof. Dr. Svetlana Shtukareva, Panayiota Ryall, Erika Dunkelberg, Rev. Zoltán Nyúl, David E. White, Sladjana Milošević, Mónica Montes de Solares, Elena Osipova, Sabine Indinger, Blanca Ramirez Gonzales, Prof. Dr. Vladimira Velički, and Miro Raguž.

This book was written in solidarity with those who suffer from the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to a United Nations fund aiding refugees and displaced persons.

Meaning is a need or meaning as a need?

Meaning is not a “need” in the sense of basic needs that are ends to themselves and their aim is rest and homeostasis upon fulfillment until the next need arises-as is the process in the dimensions of the body and mind (i.e. Frankl, Existential Dynamics in the Will to Meaning). In the dimension of spirit, existential dynamics is fundamentally reaching beyond oneself toward meaning. There is a tension between being and meaning. Between what is and what could be, should be, ought to be. That is why Dr. Frankl spoke of a “will to meaning” instead of a “need” to meaning.

In relationships, one can have different ways of relating: physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. The depth and height of this bond can evolve, mature and “grow” to mutual transcendence toward meaning–love as a spiritual act, free and responsible dedication and commitment. In such relationship a physical-emotional bond reflects and corresponds to the the highest form of valuing and spiritual communion (i.e. Frankl on the Meaning of Love in the Doctor and the Soul).

Do we “need” meaning? Do we need meaning in relationships?

Let Dr. Frankl answer:

“But let us come back to the issue of meaning: I hope I could show you that man’s basic concern is neither the will to power, nor a will to pleasure, but a will to meaning, his search for meaning-precisely that which is so much being frustrated today! But man needs not only meaning but also something else: he needs the example and model of people who have fulfilled the meaning of their lives, or at least are on the way to do so. And this is precisely the moment at which the issue of the family comes in. For I regard the family as a lifelong opportunity to watch and witness what it means to fulfill meaning in life by living for others, nay, by living for each other: the family, indeed, is an arena where mutual self-transcendence is enacted!” (Frankl, 2010, The Feeling of Meaninglessness. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette Press p. 205).

In our spirit, we can take a stand toward what our physical, social or psychological circumstances may be. Our social connections can be a source of meaning. Our connections to other people can encompass different dimensions.Spiritual connectivity can transcend the dimension of human.

How much we long for meaningful relationships in our human family today….

“Maslow’s distinction between higher and lower needs does not take into account that when lower needs are not satisfied, a higher need, such as the will to meaning, may become most urgent” (Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, 1978; p. 33).

Culture and Personality

There is a role for education to help individuals develop their personality throughout life. Beyond the influences from the somatic and psychological dimensions, the person has the capacity to reflect and decide how to respond to life. The freedom of will of the human spirit also influences culture, since culture is amenable to develop over time. Personality relates to the individual whereas culture relates to the community. Within the community individuals exercise their freedom with responsibility. Their lives and response to life have consequences on other members of the community.

There has been an emphasis on the discoveries of determining factors in society. To have a complete picture of what humans are capable these factors need to be complemented with acknowledging the human capacity to decide a meaningful response to the environment. To bring awareness of the human capacity to freely respond to reality in spite of conditioning factors according to reasonable judgment is one of the roles of education and psychotherapy.

For example, we may reach conclusions through statistical research about the influence of the economy on mental health and how an economic crisis situation can precipitate a mental health deterioration on predisposed individuals. The person can feel excluded from the community or develop low self-esteem because it becomes impossible to keep up with expectations of society. On the other hand each individual can develop the capacity not to be completely determined by such external factors. This is the time to look outwards to what can be done to improve the situation which may benefit the community as a whole.

The person needs to take the initiative beyond expectations in their particular circumstances to the benefit of the community even though the community is not expecting much from the person. Leaders in position of power have it easier to exercise this capacity of outreaching to the community since this is what is expected from them, but individuals suffering from lack of employment, failure, marginalization, the effects of immigration, minorities, chronically ill, disabled, etc., are not expected to contribute much to the community, and their input is perceived at times bothersome and unwelcome. These are the individuals who require to mobilize the resources of the human spirit the most in order to reaffirm their dignity, uniqueness and humanity. In essence, to become leaders, or agents of change in their own right.

The first step to strengthen the capacities of the human spirit is an invisible change that happens inside the person to perceive the world not as a threat but as a place to explore and improve. From the time the person starts to think about how to reach out to others rather than focusing only on personal problems there starts to be a benefit for the community. This internal spiritual change, may translate into action, to alleviate the suffering of those around the person.

According to personality theories, there are certain types of personality which may have it easier to develop this outward way of thinking. This doesn’t mean that this change is not possible or available to any individual.

Breaking the barrier from changes in interior life to visible action can also have its difficulties, since there would be a reaction from other members of the community, not necessarily encouraging or welcoming. There may be reluctance that the change comes from the so called marginalized, since the majority of the community have excluded those individuals in the first place. It is then when the individual needs to put to the test the defiant power of the human spirit fighting for what is right. This is a psychological fight rather that a physical one. The individual needs to adapt and be flexible to aim at what is possible within their means to promote peace, compassion, and love, to those afflicted by suffering. Encouraging peer support, community building, friendship and love are possible targets in most situations.

Personal and community development are about learning how to respond to life situations meaningfully. Personality and culture are developing in the right direction when there is a process put in place involving the search for meaning. Most of the times to find the right answer to the world problems requires a search for the best option, since it is very difficult to get it right at the first attempt, with subsequent initiatives required, to respond adequately to the same or unprecedented problems.