What Causes People to Develop Anxiety – According to Frankl

May 22, 2014

What Causes People to Develop Anxiety – According to Frankl

Frankl’s concepts are based on finding a meaning or purpose in life.  He has stated that all life circumstances have meaning, even the ones that are hard or make us miserable.  He goes on to state that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.  What does this all mean?  In basic terms, it means we may not have the power to control the circumstances into which we are thrust, but we do have the power to control the way in which we think about those circumstances.

Frankl used his views to look at and discuss treatment options for several mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and neurosis.  He also used his views to help terminally ill patients.  His thoughts regarding mental illness were if we could simply recognize the purpose of our circumstances, we could (possibly) master our mental health issues.  Let’s explore this further.


Take anxiety, for example.  Most people develop anxiety issues in response to unknown circumstances – death or contracting a terminal illness, for example.  This could also be known as what Frankl refers to as “anticipatory anxiety” – the belief that what the person thinks in his or her mind will manifest itself in the physical sense.  This tends to form a vicious cycle for the person, because the “anticipatory anxiety” – and subsequent stress – generally leads to symptoms of some type.  And these symptoms tend to solidify in the person’s head that what they have believed to be true actually is true – causing more anxiety.  A self-perpetuating cycle has just been born.


How do you stop this cycle?  Through the use of logotherapy (Frankl’s theory of existential psychotherapy), one can obtain relief from their mental health ailments.  Logotherapy is based on the idea that one must surpass negativity and negative belief patterns that hold us back.  It helps us to view our life circumstances thought different eyes, and it allows us to accept the situations that our beyond our control.  Although logotherapy embraces a sense of empowerment, it is actually is letting go (and thus relinquishing power) that we find purpose and meaning.


The following three techniques are recognized and used by proponents of logotherapy – dereflection, paradoxical intention and Socratic dialogue.  We will discuss each of these now.


Dereflection is generally the go-to technique if a person is overly obsessed with any one particular issue; these issues tend to center on the self.  Usually through guided sessions with a trained therapist, the person learns to redirect his or her focus from the self and onto other people or situations.  Typically, the person is asked to think about the meaning of something that is more important than the issue that is bothering them.  Through the use of the dereflection technique, people learn to focus on meanings and values rather than their own self-pity.


Paradoxical intention is the technique of requesting the things in life that we fear the most.  This is especially effective for people who suffer from anxiety and phobias; because their fears can be paralyzing, they especially need to get those fears under control.  Through the use of humor, people wish for or request the situation they fear the most, which usually has the effect of removing the anxiety from the said situation.  This generally happens because by focusing intensely on the situation, the person starts to realize the irrationality of it, thus eliminating (or at least decreasing) the fear itself.


Finally, Socratic dialogue is a way of listening to yourself, asking provoking questions and finding meaning in life or a situation through your own words.  It is Frankl’s opinion that we all hold the answers to our own questions and solutions to our own problems – if we simply dig deep enough.  This technique is especially effective for people who might have lost their direction or focus in life; by tapping into your own inner dialogue, you allow yourself to rediscover your motivation, your life goals and your purpose.  This is a great tool for putting life back into perspective.


It’s also a great tool for overcoming anxiety, depression and other mental health ailments.  Although these conditions can and are (at times) based on chemical imbalances, many times they are simply a condition of life circumstances.  And we, as people, are not solely to blame.  Everyday, we are bombarded with images of negativity – on the news, on social media, even by our own friends and family.  It can make it difficult to keep up a positive attitude; however, that is exactly what the techniques are designed to do.  They allow you to refocus your mental energy into positive physical pursuits.  Give it a try – you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelotuscarroll/6847105674