One of my favorite things to do when I was struggling with becoming deaf was to read books that offered words of encouragement. During the time period of struggling, I had a lot of self-defeating thoughts. Reading books that espoused good thoughts helped me to feel better. Eventually after reading them again and again, I found I was able to start replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. One book that I found extremely helpful was Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. When I was becoming deaf, I was searching for a new meaning to my life. My life, my marriage, my work was set up as a hearing person. Then deafness happened and I was faced with finding a new meaning to life.
Years later, I went back to school to receive a degree in Rehabilitative Counseling. I read the textbooks (referenced below) with great interest and learned more about existentialism and the search for meaning to one’s existence. The basic themes of existentialism were speaking volumes to me.
Self-awareness: As I was journeying to accept deafness, I was striving to know myself better, becoming more aware of my self-talk, and values I held in life.
Freedom and responsibility: I realized I had the freedom to say ” Yes, I will accept what has happened” or “No, I will not accept what has happened”. No one could make that decision for me. It was my decision to make. I also realized I was responsible for the decision I made. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. The choices individuals make through life will determine whether they lead a meaningful life or not. “Even in the worst of situations, such as the Nazi death camps, there is an opportunity to make important life and death decisions, such as whether to struggle to stay alive” (Gladding, 1992, p.95)
Identity and relationship with others: After I finally had that “I am deaf get on with living” moment, I wanted to find other people who were like me.
Search for meaning: Many people who go through the process of becoming deaf find they have difficulty giving meaning to their life. An “existential vacuum” or emptiness can exist with no direction on how to live one’s life newly deafened. The isolation from communication can leave them feeling bored and alone even when surrounded by family and friends. When the existential vacuum forms, noogenic neurosis may rush in and fill the vacuum. This may manifest itself in a variety of neurotic ways, such as depression, alcoholism, and obsessionalism. (Yalom, 1980, p.450)
Anxiety: Journeying through the stages of accepting becoming deaf brings anxiety. Sometimes a healthy amount of anxiety can help motivate a person to change. Anxiety can provide the energy to make different choices and to continue to search for meaning. Normal anxiety is a condition of this search. This tension is normal and is “indispensable to mental well-being (Frankl, 1984, p.127).
Death: Knowing and accepting that our time on earth is limited.
Many people who are late-deafened, became deaf from physical illness or disease. They struggle with the meaning of suffering and how pain and suffering can lead to their growth. As Frankl (1984) stated:
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” ( p.135)
Pain and suffering are not necessary to find meaning to one’s existence. Individuals can find meaning to their lives without suffering. If pain and suffering should occur and cannot be avoided, then embrace it. “When we are no longer able to change a situation… we are challenged to change ourselves” (Frankl, 1984, p.135)
There is no one meaning to life, which all people must accept. Rather it is the meaning which they place on their lives and what they believe is their mission in life. Frankl (1984) stated:
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life, and only he can answer to life by answering for his own life: to life he can only respond by being responsible (p.131)
We can discover meaning to our life in three ways: through our work or doing a good deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward our suffering. (Frankl, 1984, p.133)
“…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us” (Frankl, 1984, p.98)
Those quotes are just a few of my favorie ones from his book. It’s no wonder I have read it many times an how much it helped me to see that deafness gave me more than it took away.
Frankl, V. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Washington Square Press.
Gladding, S. (1992). Counseling a comprehensive profession(2nded.). New York: Macmillan.
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.