Throughout one’s life man interweaves and interchanges between the polar extremes of success (+) and failure (-). It also becomes apparent that one experiences different levels of meaning (+) and despair (-) at various periods in one’s life (Pattakos, 2007).

Take for example Christopher Reeve, who was successful within a societal context and had a purpose/meaning in his life. Mr Reeve would in this case fall into quadrant B (Pattakos, 2007). This quadrant represents the balance between success and developing a purpose in life, a balance we all strive for. But what happens to the highly successful, affluent businessman, who is frustrated with his job, and lives a life devoid of meaning?

Logotherapy's principles ascertain that a lack of meaning in one’s life, generates a feeling of emptiness called the Existential Vacuum (Frankl, 2004). This concept developed as a result of Frankl's experiences in numerous concentration camps. Frankl emphasized that this absence of a meaning worth living for, mainly manifests from a state of boredom. Frankl stated that “people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning” (Frankl, 2004,p. 142). This feeling of emptiness can act as:

A) A driving force to discover a meaning in one’s life
B) A trigger to the development of existential neurosis particularly aggression, depression and addiction (Adamczyk, 2005).

Noogenic Neuroses do not emerge as a result of conflicts between drives and instincts but rather are cultivated from existential frustration (Frankl, 2004). Individuals will try to compensate for this lack of meaning by submerging themselves in passive entertainment or engaging in activities or behaviors that provide some satisfaction, in the hope that eventually, they will receive a sense of ultimate fulfillment in their lives. Frankl refers to this as the “Sunday neurosis” (Boree, 2006, p.3) This behavior can lead to the development of neurotic neurotic “vicious cycles”, such as obsessions with cleanliness or fear-driven obsessions. However, this approach will not satisfy the void they experience in their lives (Boree, 2006, p.3).

The neurotic vicious cycles originated from a concept Frankl called anticipatory anxiety: the idea that an individual is so concerned and consumed by the thought of receiving anxiety-related symptoms that unsurprisingly this fear becomes a reality (Boree,2006). For example, if a person is afraid of achieving a low grade on a test, this fear inhibits them from performing well on that test , and causes a fear of tests to emerge which allows a vicious cycle to develop (Boree,2006).


A second variation is Hyper intention: this occurs when an individual tries too hard which impedes their success at something (Boree,2006). For example, many people who suffer from insomnia will continue to try to fall asleep, using a range of different approaches, but it is inevitable that by trying to get to sleep they are actually preventing themselves from sleeping and so the cycle continues (Boree,2006).

think-2.pngAnother similar idea is hyper reflection: this refers to the idea of over thinking. This theory maintains that when a person believes strongly that something will occur, the possibility of it actually occurring is very high, as their belief influences their actions (the self-fulfilling prophecy) (Boree,2006). For example, Frankl encountered a woman who had negative sexual experiences as a child but developed into a well-adjusted, healthy adult. However, when she came into contact with literature in this area, it divulged that her experiences as a child should be impeding her sexual experiences as an adult. Subsequently, she began experiencing problems in this area (Boree,2006).

Frankl also explores an issue which he thinks affects many people within society today: the abyss experience. This feeling of uselessness and pointlessness which stems from the idea of the existential vacuum, where a persons life is devoid of a meaning (Frankl,2004).


Frankl uses the term the " Mass Neurotic Triad"to refer to aggression, depression and addiction. Frankl illustrates how these symptoms emerge from feelings of futility within one's life. Annmarie Von Forstmeyer conducted a study which observed that 90% of alcoholics suffered from an "abysmal feeling of meaninglessness" (Frankl, 2004, p. 144). Stanley Kripner also observed from his research with drug addicts, that 100% believed that "things seemed meaningless" ( Frankl, 2004, p.144).Frankl reinforces the point that if one's life is deficit of a meaning, man may engage in negative behaviors in the hope that they will satisfy their feeling of emptiness (Boree, 2006).
Frankl also maintained that people suffering from anxiety-related disorders such as Obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression were actually experiencing existential anxiety (Boree, 2006). The individual Frankl observed, is unable to conclude that their life lacks a meaning and as a result the individual focuses on a problematic area within their life to ironically give meaning to the sense of meaninglessness in their life (Boree, 2006).
The key principles of Logotherapy were not designed to address the more severe psychoses such as Schizophrenia, however, Frankl believes that his therapy can be used as a tool to help "short-circuit the vicious cycles" (Boree, 2006, p.3).

Viktor Frankl talking about meaninglessness in one's life
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