When my children were younger and learning about their world, they asked many questions. When I told them to do something, they habitually asked me, “Why?” Early on, I answered, “Because I said so”—there’s just no reasoning with a three-year-old. As my kids grew older, I expanded my answers to help them understand my intentions, and they accepted my justifications—most of the time.
It shouldn’t be surprising that we question why certain things happen in life. I believe that humans are different from other species. We actively seek to answer why instead of only reacting to the various stimuli in our environments. I’m not saying we’re always better than other animals, but we have been given an opportunity, by grace or evolution, to better ourselves.
The answers to why depend on the context of the questions. We may want to know why the sky is blue, why we feel ill, or why someone acts a certain way. Sometimes we can find the answers from books, professionals, or experimentation. Other times, we might not find the answers at all.
Not knowing the answers can make us feel like we have no control over our lives. When faced with unanswered questions, we may have to seek our souls or religion for guidance and comfort.
I’ve been asking why more frequently lately, especially regarding people’s behavior and emotions. After reading today’s fortune, I considered the work and theories of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Viktor Frankl, which make up the Three Viennese Schools of Psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy uses psychological methods to help people change behavior, increase happiness, and overcome problems. Most psychotherapy methods involve talking one-on-one with a therapist, but some can work in a group session.
Each of the three schools of psychotherapy takes a different path to explain what motivates behavior, and I’ll try to break them down in a simplified format.
Freud theorized that our human psyche, or personality, results from three component interactions. These components are the id – “the pleasure principle” (primal or instinctive impulses), super-ego – “the moral principle” (what society deems as proper), and the ego – “the reality principle” (our compromise between our id and super-ego).
According to Freud, these interactions happen in the unconscious mind, and most people aren’t aware of them. He also states that our biological drive and social expectations must integrate as we grow if we want to have a mature and responsible personality.
Adler: Individual Psychology:
Adler leaned toward an individualistic approach because he believed that every human personality is unique and indivisible, but he also thought the social element was an “all-important” factor.
He claimed that our behavior was motivated by our personal desire for superiority because we are born inferior and weak. Unlike Freud, there was an emphasis on conscious thought and social determinants. To put it simply, our behavior was determined by our rational decisions to place us in a more advantageous position in the world.
Our motivation for success and power can be helpful in our lives. Unfortunately, our attempts to become the best versions of ourselves can lead us to an inferiority complex if with don’t have restraint.
Frankl and Logotherapy:
After suffering many years in a concentration camp, Frankl brought us the school of logotherapy (from the Greek logos, meaning “reason” or “principle”). This school is based on the idea that our behavior and motivation are driven by our search for meaning in life. His therapy focused on the premise that we all face some suffering in our lives. Our suffering is not what causes us despair, but our lack of hope and the feeling that we have nothing left to live for when we are suffering.
Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), that the paths for finding meaning were:
- Experiencing reality by interacting authentically with the environment and with others,
- Giving something back to the world through creativity and self-expression, and
- When faced with a situation or circumstance that we cannot change, we change our attitude.
Frankl believed that “our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.” He also thought that when individuals couldn’t find meaning in their lives, they turned to a pursuit of pleasure or power to fill that void.
Interestingly, these three schools of thought show a sort of evolution of psychotherapy. They each focus on a different aspect of human emotions but grow from a primal unconscious drive to one of mature, purposeful motivation.
Why do people do what they do? Are they struggling with their primitive psyches? Are they seeking power amongst their peers? Or are they simply lacking meaning in their lives and need a purpose?
When I compare these different scenarios above, I see the first two as visceral instinctive reasons, physical and psychological. To me, they appear animalistic in their characteristics. I see the third as an enlightened or intellectual reason, which would separate us from our primal tendencies.
I can’t say which school and their reasonings are correct, but as I stated earlier, I believe we have been given an opportunity to better ourselves. That betterment comes from understanding ourselves and using that knowledge to help others.
If we look inside ourselves for the answers to why, perhaps we can find meaning behind our motivations and begin to aim for purpose in our lives.