Tag Archives: reading

The Psychological Relevance of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

The motto of Holocaust literature, in its horrifying but electrifyingly necessary recount of the suffering of Jews particularly in concentration camps, is ‘never forget’. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, wrote his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ in the spirit of not only remembering the Holocaust but also in moving on, with his philosophical musing and discussion regarding his own form of existential analysis called logotherapy.

Essentially, the purpose of this book is describe and analyse the psychological reactions of the average concentration camp prisoner as well as to elucidate the development of logotherapy stemming from Frankl’s own experiences in such concentration camps where he was separated from and lost his father, mother, brother and wife, having been ‘stripped to naked existence’ (Frankl, 1984 pp.7). These experiences influenced Frankl’s philosophical thoughts which were the foundation upon which logotherapy was developed as a means of therapeutic intervention.

The book is divided into two parts i.e. ‘Experiences in a Concentration Camp’ and ‘Logotherapy in a Nutshell’. In the first part, Frankl narrates various experiences as he was transported from different concentration camps including the daunting Auschwitz to less perilous rest camps. One of Frankl’s major arguments in this part of the book is that the psychological reactions to life in a concentration camp are summarily divided into three distinct phases.

In the period following an inmate’s formal admission to the camp, the characteristic symptom is that of shock in this first phase and under certain circumstances it may even precede the formal admission. The second phase, when a prisoner is entrenched in camp life, is that of apathy or the blunting of one’s emotions which are primarily centred on preserving one’s life. Apathy, notes Frankl, acts as a protective shell for the inmate who was constantly surrounded by an environment characterised by perpetual illness, violence and maltreatment. Finally, the third phase is that of depersonalisation, upon liberation from the death camps, which is described as ‘unreal, unlikely, as in a dream’ (Frankl, 1984, p. 96).

The second part of the book focuses on the concepts and principles of logotherapy.  According to Alport (1984), Dr. Frankl asks patients who have suffered from torment why they do not commit suicide and based on their responses he identifies something worth tying their lives to. For a widow, her life could be tied to her children or for a struggling artist it could be his or her especial talent. Hence the object and challenge of logotherapy is ‘to weave these slender threads of a broken life into a pattern of meaning and responsibility’ (Frankl, 1984 pp.7).

While Man’s Search for Meaning was written in a different historical period with a climate quite different from that of the modern world today, it still remains relevant and can be connecting to various fields including health psychology, clinical psychology and social psychology.

The impact of hope for the future on one’s survival was described in the novel where it was described that a senior warden had a dream that the Second World War would end on March 30th, 1945 and this dream gave him hope that he would be free. Yet, when the date drew closer it became apparent that the war would not end and they would not be liberated. This was a devastating blow to the senior warden’s hope and belief, making him vulnerable to illness and unfortunately he succumbed and passed away on March 31st, 1945. The same ramifications of mental strength and hope can be seen in the fight against cancer. In health psychology studies, it has been found that chemotherapy is only effective in a certain portion of cancer patients since their psychological makeup such as depression and hopelessness affect their fight against the disease. This is how Frankl’s experience is reminiscent of the biopsychosocial model in health psychology where health is determined by not merely biological factors but also psychological factors of an individual.

Frankl also made keen observations regarding prisoner identity. He wrote, “The authorities were interested only in the captives’ numbers. These numbers were often tattooed on their skin, and also had to be sewn to a certain spot on the trousers, jacket, or coat. Any guard who wanted to make a charge against a prisoner just glanced at his number; he never asked for his name.” (Frankl, 1984, p. 19). This observation is relevant to the study of identity transformation among prisoners, applicable to the modern world. In fact, this has been a studied in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo wherein the jailers would command the prisoners to repeat their respective numbers, drilling it until the number was synonymous to their selves and some prisoners equated their numbers to their identity so quickly that they even began to sign their letters using their numbers as opposed to their names (Alvarez, 2015). This synonymy is not necessarily only in prison set ups but also in large educational institutions such as universities where students are assigned roll numbers for official purposes and on spending significant time identifying themselves through these roll numbers, there may be identity suspension.

Frankl maintains that one can remain true to his or herself and find meaning within their life. However, he contradicts this by writing, “…I saw the plain truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I struck out my whole former life.” (Frankl, 1984, p.27). Can it not be the case that there are dual lives and respective identities at play and that meaning in pre-prison life can be different to post prison meaning? Schmid and Jones (1991) studied prison identity and found that there indeed was a duality of selves i.e the coexistence and conflict between an individual’s ‘true identity’ prior to being admitted into a maximum security facility and the prisoner’s ‘false identity’ within the prison. Hence the stability of meaning is not guaranteed since even the concept of self is not a single stable entity.

Suffice to say, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is an interesting read for psychology majors because of the plethora of connections that can be made to other theories and phenomena in the field and in understanding how  Viktor Frankl’s harrowing experiences have been transformed into a means of therapy, perhaps his own sublimation of personal trauma for the betterment of society through his existential philosophy.

Carousels

To new beginnings in familiar places…what goes around comes around.

7th June, 2016: We wheeled ourselves into a haphazard circle on a sunny afternoon in the midst of reddish dirt and wisps of dried grass. The breeze swept carefully tucked hair and long dresses up ever so slightly, teasing us all, playful. We turned like a merry-go-round in third gear, a carousel of chit chat about us. There’s just something about small talk, especially when it no longer feels so small…

8th June, 2016: Old faces in new places have made me feel somewhat dizzy, a retrospect looming. I’m beginning  to feel like the world is a little pocket, occasionally stuffed with the old acquaintance or childhood friend who once played pretend with me, scribbling with crayons just outside the box. Coincidences are funny and it’s quite a jest to welcome, even if it’s met with some old-fashioned and long learned apprehension.

9th June, 2016: An unconventional end befell my collection of books stored away in boxes 575 kilometers away, in the form of insects with an unfortunate appetite for moist pages…dampened by the careless faucet left leaking in the upstairs flat,water dripping its way down the cracked cement. Sometimes it’s better to forget rather than be maudlin and so I’ve taken to technology for my reading, an artifice in its screen and font adjustments, replacing the paperbacks and hardcovers. Although it warmed up to me, I think I like to romanticize the past and the people boxed away in it, love them as I do.

10th June, 2016: The sound of clanging forks and chit chat is the perfect backdrop for a bit of light reading, as a cup of tea sits upon the table. The breeze is dotted with drizzle as the finished paper cup threatens to totter over just shy of the large windows. Perfect weather can make for less of a dull time, ticking away in an otherwise unoccupied hour here and now. A recipe for renewal.

11th June, 2016: Thumbing pages of books and notepads has become second nature, a tell tale sign of my mind wandering. A friend asked me if it calmed me down but quite the contrary, I think it makes me feel all the more elated, alive with ideas and quaint possibilities.

Motivation for Kids

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I drew these for my friend’s sister who teaches the first grade. It’s for her classroom! It was fun to draw these and reminded me of all the lovely colourful posters and things in class when I was a kid. As we grow older, our classrooms become more bland which I despise. This year at uni, I’ve been stuck in a room with a ceaseless noisy fan and cramped space so I guess I took all those nice and spacious rooms for granted 😦

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Unembellished Quotes from The Bell Jar

I say unembellished because Sylvia Plath narrates the descent into a nervous breakdown in such a raw, outspoken manner, refusing to sugar coat it for those of us who would find it depressive. Why? Because it is depressive and there’s no other way about it. I salute Sylvia Plath for this book peppered with thoughts you wouldn’t find in any other…

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

I suppose this could apply to the twenty something’s quarter life crisis where life is opening up at your feet and the future seems so multifaceted. It’s as if you can picture all the versions of you in parallel universes but remain indecisive, rooted to that spot on the ground. You could be a psychologist who paints on the weekends or a writer who doesn’t drink a drop of scotch…which parallel universe do you belong to? Or you could be nothing because you never decided quick enough and life closed those doors for you, showing you the way out quietly.

I felt myself  melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I’d never seen before in my life.

The city hung in my  window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well  not have been there at  all, for all the good it did me.

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.

I had the impression it wasn’t night and it wasn’t  day, but some lurid third interval that had suddenly slipped between them and would never end.

It flew straight down from the sky in drops the size of coffee saucers and hit the hot sidewalks with  a hiss that sent clouds of steam writhing up from the gleaming, dark concrete. (Rain)

The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end. I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks…

This is what the dawn of graduation and real life must feel like. No longer sitting in a classroom, slumping down on your desk, lazily scrawling notes as the professor drones on and on. I think we may hate it now and find it tedious but one day, we’ll be begging to come back and just be. Because maybe the real world won’t let us.

My mother hadn’t  let us come to  his funeral because we were only children then, and he had died in  the hospital, so the graveyard and even his death had always seemed  unreal to me.

I thought that if my  father hadn’t died, he  would have taught me  all about insects, which was his specialty at the university.

Then I saw my father’s  gravestone…I couldn’t understand why I was crying so hard. Then I remembered that I had never cried for my  father’s death. My mother hadn’t cried either. She had just smiled and said what a merciful thing it was for him he had died, because if he had  lived he would have been crippled and an invalid for life, and he couldn’t have stood that, he would rather have died than had that happen. I laid my face to the smooth face of the marble and howled my loss into the cold salt rain.

This is the most real thing I’ve ever read about losing a father and I could relate. The blurred the reality of his death and unable to gain closure because you never went to the funeral or cremation because you were too young. The wondering what you’d be like if he were still here, what he would have taught you…

Maybe forgetfulness, like a kind of snow, should numb  and cover them. But they were part of me. They were my landscape.

It seems nice to forget the terrible and only remember the good but they’re all part of you no matter what. I like the way Plath likens people to landscapes. If someone were to paint your landscape what would it look like? An ever green woodland, a frozen forest or a barren desert?

It wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat — on the deck  of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok — I would be sitting under the same  glass bell jar, stewing in my  own sour air.

How did I  know  that  someday — at college,  in  Europe, somewhere, anywhere  — the  bell jar,  with its  stifling  distortions,  wouldn’t  descend again?

To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.

Depression described as a bell jar is thought-provoking and that’s the best way of describing this book as well. It truly changes your perspective. It certainly did mine.

April 2015 Reading Round Up

Junk by Melvin Burgess

After reading Melvin Burgess’ Kill All Enemies I was interested to read more of his books. Junk was the title that clearly stood out. Skimming through Goodreads reviews, it sounded like the perfect read since my fascination is held by books of a controversial nature what with the drugs and teenage pregnancy. Besides it’s content, the fact that it’s UK YA had me sold. Junk is about two teenage runaways named Gemma and Tar who start a love affair with heroine while living on their own and with a few friends named Rob and Lily. The story is told from multiple characters points of view, in keeping with Burgess’ style and what I love about his books in the first place. The struggle with addiction feels real and investing to read in this way. One thing I’ll always remember from this book is when Lily is breastfeeding and still continued to take heroine, injecting the veins between her breasts. The description of the damage done to her other veins is good enough for drug abuse PSA. Junk is raw and unapologetic, though I must say I was waiting for even more serious consequences to befall the main characters, it still is an interesting read.

Verdict: It took me two days to read the book and that says it all. Grab a copy!

InuYasha Volumes 10- 24

Sango is one of my favourite characters in the series and I’ve always thought she and InuYasha are alike in demeanor so when they fight each other in the 10th volume, I found it interesting. Once the misunderstanding between the two of them is cleared up, she journeys with Kagome, InuYasha, Miroku and Shippo, the last to join the gang. Her emotional torment stems from the loss of her family and Naraku controlling her brother Kohaku. Apart from Sango, I was excited about Koga’s introduction and his recurrence across these volumes. Koga and InuYasha’s enmity is an interesting dynamic, always quipping with one another and fighting over Kagome. I like how they’re allies who refuse to admit it (or are in denial about the fact). The most interesting developments in these volumes is how InuYasha transforms into a full-fledged demon and loses all sense of reason, becoming a killing machine incapable of controlling himself. This leads to the discovery of why his father entrusted him with his sword Tetsusaiga. I enjoyed the little filler story arcs in these volumes like that of the monkey demons and Shippo’s love interest.

Verdict: These volumes delve deeper into the characters pasts and stories, peppered with the usual amount of action that makes it interesting.

*Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K Rowling

This is my favourite book of the series!  Check out my re-read post about it.

Verdict: Do I need to actually say it? READ!

* Re-Read Challenge

The Re-read Challenge: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

When I first read

I hadn’t been in on Harry Potter from the get go, only having jumped on the band wagon after the first three books were published so the Goblet of Fire was the first of the series that I had to wait for in agonising anticipation and boy was it worth it. I devoured the book in less than four days and was already itching for more.

What I remember

With the first three Harry Potter books  I was completely familiar with Hogwarts but the Goblet of Fire expanded the world of magic from just Hogwarts to an international world cup and to the introduction of other magical academies like Beauxbatons and Durmstrang through the Triwizard Tournament. The Quidditch World Cup was an exciting start to a game changing book in the series. Not only does the magical world seem more concrete but it also seems more dangerous because of the ominous emergence of Death Eaters and the return of Voldemort. That was why I found the fourth book so intriguing when I first read it!

Why I want To re read

As I’m re reading the entire Harry Potter series it’s inevitable but since the Goblet of Fire is one of my favourites I was eager to revisit it!

How I felt after re reading

The Triwizard Tournament is brilliant as far as I’m concerned. It’s such a a great way to break the tedium of the school year and read about so many new things and new characters like Mad Eye Moody.

Sirius is a great god-father and it’s nice to read about he and Harry keep in touch through out the year, finally a parent figure for Harry to confide in and look to for advice when he really needs it. Of course, what makes it even better is Dobby working at Hogwarts. His misunderstanding of how socks are not supposed to be matching is endearing and I love how Ron takes a liking to him as well, giving him his Christmas jumper.

I think Hermione’s efforts in securing wages and holidays for elves is underrated and needs more attention. She’s fighting for what she believes in and it’s admirable, though her determination is frequently met by road blocks. It’s a shame the movie didn’t bother to include this important side to Hermione’s character. She’d make a great lobbyist!

On the down side, I’ll always hate whenever any of these characters fight, particularly Harry and Ron. When Ron disbelieves that Harry put his name into the Goblet and gets jealous of all the attention Harry gets, it marks the worst fight they’ve had so far which leaves Hermione as a referee between the two of them.

Though they have a huge fight in the Goblet of Fire, I still think this is the book that highlights how important Harry’s friendship with Ron is to him. Though Hermione still talks to him during their spat, Harry himself says it’s not the same,  with much less laughter and much more library hours and books. Then when it comes to the second challenge, the most important person to Harry turns out unsurprisingly to be Ron.

Rita Skeeter’s trash about Hagrid being dangerous was what made me angry the most. Poor guy can’t catch a break even though he’s one the kindest character in the series.

While Skeeter is a right old hag who should mind her own business, as we all know, I confess myself disappointed (get it?) that Mrs. Weasley actually believe Hermione was two-timing Harry with Krum. I didn’t think she was that daft to believe such dribble considering she actually knows Hermione. It just highlighted that girls get the brunt of media attacks and people seem predisposed to falling for it.

The drama around the Yule Ball was Romione-centric more than anything else. Ron is a disaster when he sees Hermione with Krum which I feel was a a needed kick in his ego. Harry’s not any better since he’s just glum that Cho went with Cedric. Though I know where they’re coming from, it doesn’t justify how they treat Parvati and Padma at the ball. I’d be mad too if my date just sat around sulking while everyone’s having a good time.

On the lighter side, I have to say I was in splits at times while reading this book. I could not stop laughing when I read this sentence:

Snape stretched out his hands like a blind man and began to move up the stairs… (trying to find Harry wearing his Invisibility Cloak).

I guess I was having too much fun imagining Alan Rickman doing this on the stairs in the middle of the night 🙂

I also had to put the book down when reading about Dobby waking up Harry ten minutes before the second challenge and offering him the Gillyweed:

 Dobby cannot let Harry Potter lose his Wheezy!

How I love that Dobby calls Ron Harry Potter’s Wheezy. It’s just too good. And if you don’t laugh at that then I’m not sure I know what sort of sense of humour you’ve got. Just kidding.

I just love this book so much.

Would I re read again

Would Dobby help Harry no matter what?
The answer to both questions: Of course.

Halloween Reading

I’ve watched enough scary movies for now, so it’s time to reach into my bookshelf and pull out a few good reads in anticipation of Halloween!  These are the books I would love to read this month so fingers crossed!

Sharp Objects- Gillian Flynn

After reading Gone Girl, I found myself hooked to the inherent darkness of Gillian Flynn’s writing so I downloaded the pdf of Sharp Objects. Next I need to get my hands on Dark Places!

Dracula- Bram Stoker

The only vampire book worth reading because the vampire is actually a bad guy not some sparkling, mystic divine handsome creature that the protagonist falls in love with. I’d started reading it a while ago but put it on hold so this would be a good time to resume the literary journey into Transylvania!

The Shining- Stephen King

This would be my first Stephen King novel and I’m sure if Joey Tribbiani was scared enough to keep the book in the freezer it should be really creepy! (I watch a lot of Friends, as you can see.)

The Graveyard Book- Neil Gaiman

It’s the first book to have won both the Carnegie Medal and  Newbery Medal for children’s writing and that wasn’t even what caught my attention about the book. When I’d first seen it in a second hand book store I’ll admit the cover drew me in but the plot seemed so interesting so now I can finally sit down and read it!

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Apart from these, I’ve got some Poirot mysteries and a book on infamous murderers to tide me over this Halloween 🙂

So what books would you recommend for this time of year?

Studying literature

Studying literature is sometimes a funny thing. Perhaps we add meaning to words that were written in a fit of anger or a moment of lust, fueled by fleeting insanity wherein sense is abandoned. If I write that the curtain is red, you could interpret that statement as my anger clouding my eyes in rage till I see everything in a maroon shade, but maybe, just maybe, the curtain really is red.

When preparing for lit exams it is easy to completely dive into the text and interpret it in new ways but then studying is a whole other aspect. Sometimes in the art of critique and studying, we lose our connection to the words and ultimately appreciation.

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Book a Day (Days 21-25)

Day 21: Summer Read

 Journey to the River Sea is a perfect summer read, with the vivid description of the Amazon and the rain forest. Eva Ibbotson, rest in peace, was a splendid writer who left us with amazing books to read so I’d recommend her other books like The Secret Countess and The Star of Kazan.  In fact, I think they’re all perfect summer reads!

 

Day 22: Out of print

I don’t know any books out of print and I’m happy for that because it hurts when something you love can’t be found anymore…much like all my favourite food joints closing down 😦

Day 23: Made to Read at School

I think all books are meant to be read in class when you’re bored and your professor can’t help but go on and on and on about something but right now I’m reading Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief so I’ll go with this one.

Day 24:  Hooked me into reading

I read the DaVinci Code at a very young age of 11 but once I got my hands on it, I would not let it go until I finished it. It’s also the last book I ever got in my home town Ottawa. My mom bought it for me as a surprise at the international airport as we were leaving to move to India. I think it’s safe to say that I was not bored on the journey.

Day 25: Never finished it

Try as I might, I just could not finish reading Lord of the Flies and now it lies in my unfinished pile in the book shelf, where it may perhaps lie forever.

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Book a Day (Days 1-5)

Day 1: Favourite Book from Childhood

I always enjoyed reading Roald Dahl but The BFG was quite easily my favourite of all his books.

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Day 2: Best Bargain

I was feeling a bit low so I headed to the nearest bookstore and lo and behold, I found one of my favourite childhood books on sale. If you convert the price to British pounds it’s exactly 1 pound and a little over $1.

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Day 3: One with a Blue Cover

There’s an interesting and illegal story behind this. A friend of mine shoplifted it and gave it to me as a joke. I still have it…I’m sorry bookshop? If it’s any consolation, I didn’t enjoy the book all that much. It resembled paperback porn, if I were being honest. Anyway, I thought it was funny about the title saying grey and the cover being as close to blue as grey could be. (I didn’t have a proper blue cover.)

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Day 4: Least favourite book by favourite author

I really loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and in all fairness, it did set the bar quite high for the sequels so as a consequence they did end up falling short. The last of the Millennium trilogy was a bit bland for my taste.

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Day 5: Doesn’t belong to me

A friend gave me a copy of The Book Thief that was left on a British Airways flight and her aunt happens to work for the airline and she gave it to me knowing I wanted to read it. I’d just like to tell the real owner that I’m taking very good care of their copy and that you needn’t worry, I promise.

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