Man's Search for Himself
by Rollo May
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Man's Search for Himself is a major book which examines the neurosis afflicting modern men and women in the age of anxiety. Brilliant existential psychologist Rollo May takes us on a quest in search for our true selves and gives us advice in how to live more meaningful lives. He uses parables and and analogies from Greek classics, biblical stories, and philosophical writings to help make his point. This isn't a "Ten Steps to Live a Better Life" type of book. It is a book that thoroughly and powerfully makes us look within ourselves for meaning.
That this book is dated shouldn't make it any less relevant. Lots of books that are read and appreciated today are timeless because they tap into some truth that is the essence of existence in any age. A hundred years from now, will the ideals qualities of humanity be much different from those of "freedom, responsibility, courage, love, and inner integrity"? Are these not the qualities and principals all people live by in any age in time? For sure, there are elements in there that are dated, but the feeling of emptiness always plagues society. It is perhaps a human consideration for every society to feel "emptier" than the one that preceded it.
There are few prescriptions per se. Rather, this is an examination of a life lived well. In May's paradigm, the challenge is to force our inner being to a higher awareness of self-consciousness. He shows us how.
ONE OF the few blessings of living in an age of anxiety is that we are forced to become aware of ourselves. When our society, in its time of upheaval in standards and values, can give us no clear picture of "what we are and what we ought to be," as Matthew Arnold puts it, we are thrown back on the search for ourselves. The painful insecurity on all sides gives us new incentive to ask, Is there perhaps some important source of guidance and strength we have overlooked?
I realize, of course, that this is not generally called a blessing. People ask, rather, How can anyone attain inner integration in such a disintegrated world? Or they question, How can anyone under-take the long development toward self-realization in a tune when practically nothing is certain, either in the present or the future?
Most thoughtful people have pondered these questions. The psychotherapist has no magic answers. To be sure, the new light which depth-psychology throws on the buried motives which make us think and feel and act the way we do should be of crucial help in one's search for one's self. But there is something in addition to his technical training and his own self-understanding which gives an author the courage to rush in where angels fear to tread and offer his ideas and experience on the difficult questions which we shall confront in this book.
This something is the wisdom the psychotherapist gains in working with people who are striving to overcome their problems. He has the extraordinary, if often taxing, privilege of accompanying persons through their intimate and profound struggles to gain new integration. And dull indeed would be the therapist who did not get glimpses into what blinds people in our day from themselves, and what blocks them in finding values and goals they can affirm.
Alfred Adler once said, referring to the children's school he had founded in Vienna, "The pupils teach the teachers." It is always thus in psychotherapy. And I do not see how the therapist can be anything but deeply grateful for what he is daily taught about the issues and dignity of life by those who are called his patients.
I am also grateful to my colleagues for the many things I have learned from them on these points; and to the students and faculty of Mills College in California for their rich and stimulating reactions when I discussed some of these ideas with them in my Centennial lectures there on "Personal Integrity in an Age of Anxiety."
This book is not a substitute for psychotherapy. Nor is it a self-help book in the sense that it promises cheap and easy cures overnight. But in another worthy and profound sense every good book is a self-help book—it helps the reader, through seeing himself and his own experiences reflected in the book, to gain new light on his own problems of personal integration. I hope this is that kind of book.<>In these chapters we shall look not only to the new insights of psychology on the hidden levels of the self, but also to the wisdom of those who through the ages, in the fields of literature, philosophy, and ethics, have sought to understand how man can best meet his insecurity and personal crises, and turn them to constructive uses. Our aim is to discover ways in which we can stand against the insecurity of our time, to find a center of strength within ourselves, and as far as we can, to point the way toward achieving values and goals which can be depended upon in a day when very little is secure.