Frankl once said that the logotherapist tells the patient things he does not want to hear.
Logotherapy challenges people to take charge and be the author of their lives. Someone coming into therapy asking, “Can you fix me?” certainly does not want to hear “Let’s see, how do you think you might take responsibility?”
Yet logotherapy’s challenge is not only in reorienting a person from “What can you do for me?” to “What is life asking of me?”
The greater task that lies ahead for logotherapy is to translate Frankl’s words from English into English, since the meanings Frankl intends are not the meanings commonly used.
Dictionary definitions for words like responsibility, commitment, boundary or freedom are not the meanings Frankl intended.
The feelings that ensue when we think of the words as they are commonly conceived will be very different from the feelings that come over us when reflecting on Frankl’s meanings.
The dictionary definition of responsibility conjures up the idea that we will pay the price for not doing as we’ve been told. Associative words that come up are duty, obligation, demand and burden.
Thinking along these lines I start to feel oppressed, burdened and coerced, that I am caving in to the expectations of others and cajoled into doing what I don’t want to do.
When Frankl uses the word ‘responsibility’ he means that a person is capable of seeing that he is addressed by the situation and has a unique role to play. It is not just something that needs to get done. It is something for me to do in particular.
This brings out very different kinds of feelings. I feel blessed to be given this unique task. I feel important knowing that what I do matters and makes a difference.
Frankl himself understood that people would not comprehend his meaning of the word responsibility and so he called it ‘response-ability.’
A related word is commitment – a pledge to do or a state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person
The dictionary definition makes me feel as if a little bit of me has died. I’ve given up part of my time, energy or money and it’s gone, no longer mine to use.
Frankl’s idea of commitment is the next step of response-ability, or responding to the call. It’s a feeling welling up from the foundation of one’s being. It is an act of devotion, a result of feeling deeply connected to something or someone.
This concept brings up for me warm feelings, a sense of at-one-ness, a calling in the sense of “This is for me to do” or “This is me!” a jubilant “Here I am!”
Perhaps instead of calling it ‘commitment’ we should call it a ‘devotional tug.’
What is a boundary? It’s something that indicates the farthest limit of an area, a border. Thinking of the usual usage of the word we sense our restrictions. I can go until here and no further.
But what if I were to see this boundary as the parameters and structure that delineate my freedom of movement? Wouldn’t I then feel ‘boundary’ as guidance rather than constriction? Don’t go that way; go this way. This is my personal space and my place in the world. This is where I make my contribution, my mark on the world.
Perhaps instead of ‘boundary’ we should call it “delineation of personal emergence.”
Finally, what is freedom? Is it only the absence of constraint in action or liberation from slavery?
Is it not also, as Frankl says, a freedom to do something? Freedom from constraint is, well, freeing. But without something to freely choose and freely love, I am freely dangling in space.
All of the words, these and others are interrelated and they all add up to the picture of how we live our life. It must be understood that logotherapy is not a series of techniques. It is an orientation of how to live one’s life.