Victor Frankl Draws a Strange Comparison Of the Psychology of Unemployment to Being in a Concentration Camp

I think it is strange that Victor Frankl talks briefly about the psychology of unemployment in a section of his book Mans Search for Meaning. Most of all it is curious of how he draws a certain comparison between unemployment and the going experience of being in a concentration camp. By all means I don’t want to trivialize the terrible conditions that Frankl and millions of other endured throughout that horror. I mean, unemployment and the holocaust are truly two very distant sorts of experiences unlike each other in every way.

Well, except for one small thing……according to Frankl.

What is Provisional Existence and how does it apply to the Psychology of Unemployment?

Provisional existence is an  unknown limit term analysis

Frankl refers to the life of a concentration camp prisoner as having no limit to their suffering. For the most part the prisoners are never given a date to when they will be getting out.  They live in the camps as if they never will be free.


   “A man who can not see the end of his provisional existence is not able to aim at an ultimate goal of life.  He ceases to live for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life.”

                -Victor Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning


With the end of uncertainty there came uncertainty of the end. It is absolutely impossible to see whether or when this form of existence will end.  According to Frankl the inner life begins to transform.  Things break down; thoughts, motivations, morals, emotions etc. are all once again unclear because of this new being with no properly defined end.

The unemployed man is in a similar situation.  His entire existence is now provisional and he cannot live for the future because the future has no goal to it.  In a concentration camp the struggle distorted time in a way where a day felt like a week and a week felt like a day.

   Have you ever felt yourself staring at the clock at work?Where 10 minutes took forever.  Yet once Friday rolled around it felt like the week had gone by so quick?

Psychology of Unemployment

The struggle inflicted on the working class due to wage labor has become a common struggle.  The institution of work has become so widespread and normalized that a person hardly considers it a cross to bare anymore.

The work day can be thought of in the same sense as the Myth of Sisyphus:


  “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”

     -Albert Camus the Myth of Sisyphus


In Frankls “Mans Search for Meaning” he refers to research which was done on minors in recent unemployment.

The study had shown that Miners had also suffered from this particular sort of deformed and distorted time.  That is to say an inner time.   Frankl concludes that this state is a result of unemployment.

For someone recently finding themselves in unemployment, I think that we need to put our psychology into perspective here.  Victor isn’t saying that unemployment is like the holocaust, but that the human mind is finite in its ability to react.  That the mind reacts to minor trauma as to major trauma.

To be able to rise above this state it is important to try and find meaning in the struggle. Unemployment is looked down upon because in a capitalist society we value only what produces.  We are constantly inundated with market propaganda of commodity enjoyment than when we can’t participate it creates a depression.

If you want to understand a little bit more about finding meaning in this hardship then I’d suggest you buy Frankl’s book “Man’s Search For Meaning” You can buy it Here


Written by Grand Hierophant

The Grand Hierophant

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