It’s all about attitude

I’m taking a blogging vacation. Today I’m starting a series of posts on case studies in logotherapy – to be continued in mid-October.

Foremost logotherapist Elisabeth Lukas quotes many cases in her books by which she explains how logotherapy is applied.

For example, a post-recovery alcoholic client of hers was fired from her job because the woman’s boss considered her unstable.

What would you say to this woman?

Before we answer this question, how would logotherapy look at this case?

People try to cope with reality by seeking homeostasis, a way to balance out the garbage in life by feeling good, which gets expressed as addictions, suicide and delinquency.

The real problem however, is the existential vacuum that’s created when we don’t find any meaning in our lives. We turn into “reactors” or instruments of need-fulfillment. As human beings we also have needs. However the pathology of modern society is that in this scenario the human spirit gets erased.

The human spirit is interested in meaning. There can be no recipe for meaning. Something that holds meaning for one person is not meaningful for someone else. In any event whatever that meaning may be, it has to be something that extends beyond the individual’s self-interest. Choices have to be tied to important tasks and goals.

A basic assumption in logotherapy posits that at least to a certain degree we are free to design our own lives. For someone with a fatalistic attitude all the psychotherapy in the world won’t do a thing. To that person’s mind everything is predetermined by influences from the past. Nothing can be done.

Lukas’ client was devastated when she got fired from her job. She felt: why should she choose sobriety when society thinks she’s a drunk anyway?

Fate – the part she couldn’t do anything about – was the loss of work. Her choice was to go back to drinking or not, to be unemployed or look for a different job.

What was needed was to evoke meaning by questioning her: Was there a goal worthwhile reaching? Was there a value that justified the effort? The goal that the therapist and client found together was to prove to her boss that he was wrong.

After half a year she found a different job. Sometimes she would call Lukas in the morning and say she has no energy to get out of bed. “Okay,” Lukas would answer. “You can spend your day in bed and admit to your previous boss that he was right and you really are not fit to work, or you can use your free will to get yourself up and prove to everyone that their prognosis of you was incorrect.”

Lukas continued to gently challenge her and slowly over time she recovered fully and greatly enjoyed her work.

It’s not always easy to see meaning in a given situation. But a person is always free to choose his or her attitude .

The choice of attitude even in a seemingly hopeless situation is the willingness to draw the maximum out of a situation that cannot be changed and to squeeze meaning out of it.

In addition to all of the other choices we make we can choose to be fatalistic or to believe that we are free to choose our attitude.

What attitude can you choose today?

Batya Yaniger

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