|The Barnabas Ministry
Man's Search For Meaning
Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who suffered in Nazi
concentration camps during WWII. Man's
Search for Meaning is about
finding meaning in life, particularly in difficult times.
The book discusses some of his experiences in the
camps, but not for the purpose of documenting the harshness of the
conditions. Nonetheless, there are graphic reminders of how terrible
concentration camp experience was for those who survived.
In telling the story, his perspective is mostly of a
psychological nature. For example, he discusses the stages people went
through when they were imprisoned-- going from shock and fear of making
decisions (for fear that a wrong choice would get one killed) to
numbness, apathy and acceptance.
While the spiritual abuse experience does not compare
in severity or scope to what Jews and other undesirables suffered in
these camps, I found strong correlation between the experiences he
related with those experienced by myself and others in an abusive
church. In particular, the shock about the bad treatment and then the
eventual apathy resonated as I read.
But Frankl's lasting contribution to this genre of
discussion is the way that he and others found meaning even in rotten
Everything can be taken from
a man but one thing:
the last of human freedoms-- to choose one's attitude in any given set
of circumstances, to choose one's own way. (p. 66)
It is this pivotal freedom
which cannot be taken
away that makes life meaningful and purposeful. (p. 67)
Those who have experienced poor treatment, and
those who know about such treatment, are right to seek to expose,
punish those who perpetrate such atrocities. But no matter how many war
criminals are hanged, the individual who survives the situation still
needs to find meaning to it. In fact, in the midst of the treatment
itself, when none knew if they would survive another day or not-- they
had to find meaning every day.
People in abusive or cultic churches can
usually just decide to leave. Not to minimize how difficult this is,
but it does not compare with having all property confiscated, being
captured at gunpoint, being separated from your family and being
forced into a slave labor camp. Yet there is a reality here-- we can
all choose how we will respond to bad treatment beyond these question
of what to do about the perpetrators.
Frankl observed that some fellow prisoners
became ruthless themselves as they were exposed to ruthless treatment
(p. 90). But others found meaning and exercised kindness in spite of
Frankl also realized that there were kind
Nazis even as there were ruthless fellow
prisoners (p. 86). But of course he also recognizes that some of the
prison guards were clinically sadistic.
One other interesting group he discusses are the "Capos," fellow prisoners who exercised leadership over a small number of prisoners. They were among the most ruthless people in the entire camp. Those of us from abusive churches recognize that dynamic-- the first level of leadership is often among the harshest. I suppose this is true in both cases because if the first level leader doesn't "get the job done" (in the eyes of the higher leadership), they will be subject to the same or even worse treatment and loss of whatever perks they have as a result of that role. Hence, they don't ever want to be accused of being too easy on anybody.
After liberation, Frankl continued to analyze
responses of those from the camps. He noticed that people lost the
ability to be pleased as a
result of their experiences and
had to regain it slowly. He also observed that returning to civil
standards of behavior were difficult:
Only slowly could these men
be guided back to the
commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, even if wrong
has been done to them. (p. 91)
In recovering from spiritual abuse, it is
critical to recognize this. There is a tremendous temptation to do
wrong when others do wrong to you. But it is a Scriptural admonishment
reject this temptation. Frankl observes that if we give in to the
temptation, it degrades us
and allows evil to take us "not in the usual way, but through the evil
treatment of others." This is a profound observation.
Many years after the experience, Frankl could
[The crowing experience of
it all ] is the wonderful
feeling that, after all he has sufffered, there is nothing he need fear
anymore, except his God. (p. 93)
Victims of spiritual abuse will find Frankl's
relatively easy to read and concise for this sort of work. The message
speaks to those in the
midst of suffering as well as those in the midst of recovery from it.
All rights reserved.
Comment via email