Healing Emotional Trauma
Reflections from Victor Frankl
Victor Frankl's writings offer much for healing emotional trauma. As an Austrian neurologist/psychiatrist who lived through concentration camps in Nazi Germany, he has both personal experience and scientific/medical insight to reflect on his experience. The first part of his book contains memories and analysis of his experiences in the camps. He believes he kept himself alive during those grueling days on faith that he would one day see his wife again.
An often quoted line from Man's Search for Meaning is, those who have a 'why' to live, can endure almost any 'how'. Frankl explains that humans have the capacity to say yes to life in spite of pain, guilt, and death. This is because humans have the "capacity to creatively turn life's negative aspects into something positive or constructive (p 139)."
About a year after John died, I remember being with a young man who's girlfriend had just been killed in an accident. He commented that at least I have a son to live for--he had nothing to live for. It is true that for healing emotional trauma, we all have to find our own reason to go on living.
One story that stands out to me from the second section of Frankl's book tells of when he was working as a psychiatrist again. He was working with a elderly gentleman who was grieving the loss of his wife. They didn't seem to be making much progress toward healing until Victor asked him if he could think of one good outcome of his wife's dying before him. The man eventually came to the conclusion that he was glad he died first because his wife would not have been able to live without him, and she would never have survived the grief. This was a turning point for this man as he realized his grief was his last gift of love to his wife.
Of course the journey for each of us is to find our purpose for life beyond the loss of a loved one. This journey is never easy, but is certainly a most important one.
Here are a few more important quotes from Frankl's book:
"Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." p.104
"The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected." p.157
"What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment." p.171
"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible." p.172
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