What did Frankl learn about human limitation?

In Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl learned that the human capacity for suffering was limitless and that the limits imposed by camp life could be debilitating. Rather than live by escaping into the past, however, Frankl learned to face up to the limitations of camp life and worked to alleviate suffering through psychotherapy.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Frankl speaks introspectively and at length about the human limitations of life in concentration camps. He learned that limits came both from the constrained world of the camps and, paradoxically, from the limitlessness sense of time in camp life.

The physical limits were clear: the prisoners had no world beyond the barbed wire that penned them in. They were faced with suffering lives that were much worse than what they had formerly experienced.

A man who for years had thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering has no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and still more intensely.

At the same time, nobody knew how long they would be in the camps. There was no "sentence" of one year or two years or more. As far as the inmates were concerned, their time at the camp was "forever." This led, Frankl stated, to a situation in which a day, with its moment to moment torments, was endless, and yet the weeks slid by rapidly. He compares it to the fate of unemployed workers, held in limbo, not knowing when or if their normal lives would resume.

The temptation imposed by these limits was to live in a fantasy world of the past so as to blot out the present as if it didn't exist. Frankl, however, took another lesson from his experience of human limitation: he chose to look around him and see how he could help alleviate the suffering. He tried to use his skills in psychotherapy to provide "mental courage" to others.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 24, 2021
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial