I am impressed when a senior age client continually seeks to grow and change while younger people sometimes seem impervious to change. What is the difference between seekers and stagnate-ors?
If I had to land on one all-important factor I would say someone who’s still growing takes charge of her life.
The ability to take charge of one’s life comes from having a sense of integral wholeness.
In Frankl’s view a human being is one integral whole. Elizabeth Lukas quotes Frankl as saying “The human being represents a point of intersection, a junction of the three ‘being’ dimensions: the physical, the psyche and the spirit.” She elaborates: These ‘being’ dimensions are clearly very distinct in terms of functions, yet it would not be true to say that the human being is ‘combined’ out of a physical body, a psyche and a spirit. The human being is actually unity and wholeness. (Logotherapy Textbook, Lukas, p.13)
Similarly Maimonides the medieval Jewish philosopher and teacher par excellence opens his famous work Shmoneh Perakim with “Nefesh ha’adam achat (The human personality is one unified whole), comprised of diverse functions.”
What brings both Viktor Frankl and Maimonide to embrace this vision of wholeness as an essential axiom in therapy and religion, respectively?
In Judaism being “one unity” indicates the presence of free choice. There is one address to turn to for responsibility, accountability and decision-making. Without this axiom the entire foundation of Judaism falls.
This is equally true in psychology. Without a concept of unity, we say that id fights with super-ego. Each part becomes personified as if it had independent power of its own. Frankl saw this as a dangerous aspect of psychoanalysis, where the person is perceived as driven and determined by drives and instincts through cause and effect instead of being self-determining. If there are only battling parts, it’s as if there’s no one home, no master of the house to talk to. In contrast with awareness of unity there are still conflicts but at least someone is home to answer the door.
Hence the way I see myself is critically important to my self-expectations. Viewing myself as determined, I will claim to be a helpless victim of circumstances and of internal drives that render me powerless.
How does the “wholeness” perception influence the course of therapy?
The way I see myself has a strong influence on my ability to change. Moreover, the way I see my client has
a strong influence on my client’s ability to change.
If I see myself as having autonomy and free choice, I will believe that I can choose my attitude towards a situation or towards my own instincts, fears, or whatever. I am no longer a victim. I am capable of taking a stand towards what is going on, of saying this is how I feel, and this is how I think I should relate to this feeling. I am then empowered to say to myself I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to despair. I don’t have to follow the crowd. I don’t have to give in to my instincts. I don’t have to give an answer right away; I can give myself time to think about it. In all of these cases one gets a distinct sense that someone is home to answer the door.
As one workshop participant many years ago told me: She got to a place where she could open the refrigerator, look in and declare: “I don’t have to eat this chocolate cake!” and then close the door.