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Personal-Existential Fundamental Motivations

The strict application of phenomenology in psychotherapy led to the discovery of the basic structure of existence — the personal-existential fundamental motivations. They are called personal- existential fundamental motivations, because the first three turn around the personal foundation in existence, whereas the fourth is the answer given to the requirements of the world, a truly existential factor in our Dasein. A prerequisite for the realization of existence is the continuous dialogical exchange with the outer and the inner world (Langle 19.99, 2016). A closer look at the reality with which each human being is inevitably confronted, and which needs to be fulfilled to come to a full life, reveals phenomenologically four fundamental existential structures, the four dimensions or "cornerstones of existence" (Langle 2011, pp. 4off):

  • The world in its factuality and potentiality,

  • Life with its network of relationships and feelings,

  • Being oneself as a unique, autonomous person,

  • The wider context where to place oneself and the development through one's activities opening one's future.

1. Personal Existential Analysis PEA

EA can be defined as a phenomenological psychotherapy aiming to help patients to gain a free emotionality, to find authentic inner positions and to come to a responsible way of expression and action with oneself as well as with others and things. The central method for that purpose is called “Personal Existential Analysis (PEA)”. The result of a successful existential-analytical psychotherapy can be indicated in living with inner consent to one’s own acting and being in a dialogical exchange with one’s world.

EA aims to install the free and responsible person as the acting (and not merely re-acting) centre in its own life. It therefore tries to mobilise the person’s decisive potentials (Jaspers) based on an activated emotionality (Scheler) and a dialogical exchange (Buber) with the situational (inner/outer) givings (Frankl).


Its approach is phenomenological, which means fundamentally open to whatever the patient is actually moved by and dealing with. EA works with the subjectivity of both, the patient’s and the therapist’s. In focussing the patient’s (often unconscious) decisive potentials, it confronts them with his/her personal responsibility. This process goes mainly along with finding and clarifying emotions which accompany the experiences, for they are the basis for any realization of freedom by making decisions. Having freed the emotional experience, the person can find his authentic positioning and his attitudes towards the world and towards himself/herself. Thus regaining his/her own essence he/she is enabled to answer the world in a selfaccepting manner. This, in short, is the purpose of PEA (Längle 1994). PEA works at the level of the subjective (i.e. personal) experience and activated emotions, which includes perceptions, evaluations, attitudes (decisions) and possible actions to the situation.


PEA is based on Frankl’s theory, but goes methodologically far beyond Logotherapy. It implies a turn toward  the patient’s inner experience, which leads away from the logotherapeutic concentration on the outer world of duties and offerings of the situation.


In this paper is presented a particular part of a therapeutic conversation which has been chosen in order to show a typical procedure of PEA. In this section of the therapy, the main emphasis has been given to the practical handling of an overwhelming situation. As a consequence a great part of the treatment consisted of finding an adequate mode of behaviour. This special part of the treatment dealt therefore more with behaviour than with experience and motivation, which would be more typical for a psychodynamic application of the PEA.

The activation of personal basic functions within the frame of an actual life situation has also therapeutic effects on the ability of coping with conflicts of the past, as will be shown. In the following case, the PEA aimed at finding and practising means and ways to a better realisation of the „personal potential“ in everyday life.



A brief description of PEA


As most readers may not be familiar with the PEA, a short summary of this method is given (for detailed information see Längle 1989, 1994). The PEA consists of three main steps, preceded by a descriptive phase:


PEA 0:   DESCRIPTIVE phase. The patient starts with a DESCRIPTION of the situation. This informs the therapist about the problem. He, on the other hand, makes sure that the report is clear, complete, realistic, and free of contradictions, interpretations or fantasies. While the patient is informing the therapist, he experiences a reactualisation of the situation.

PEA 1.  Recognizing something in its worth or value, insofar as it speaks to us. This is often a challenge demanding action on our part. To see what a situation provokes in us means to recognize the situational meaning involved.

PEA 2.  Harmonizing. Bringing the perceived value, challenge or meaning into accordance with one's inner reality, i.e., examining the consistency with the rest of our values, with attitudes, abilities and capabilities and with our conscience.

PEA 3.  The final step in the development of motivation is the inner consent to one's own active involvement. This consent and the act of harmonizing the new value with inner (already existing personal) reality leads to the presence of the inner person in one's actions. It brings up the integration of the new value and the person himself into a wider context (meaning).



By following these steps, it is highly probable for a person to obtain a sense of fulfilment in his or her existence in general, as well as he or she can find clues for acting within the situation itself. The method can help to improve the potential for a dialogue and therefor the capability of true encounter which is fundamental for developing one’s own existence (Buber 1973; Plessner 1950; Scheler 1980, 1991; Strasser 1954).

2. The Method of Capturing Meaning (MCM)


Längle first published a method to capture meaning in 1988(a) under the name of „Steps to Existential Meaning” (p. 42). It was the practical experience with patients searching for an existentially fulfilled life, or a (new) meaning in life, that led to the development of this method. Frankl’s definition of meaning and basic theoretical considerations prepared the way. Frankl (1982, 68-73) compares the perception of meaning with that of Gestalt – with the difference that a possibility appears to the perception of meaning (instead of Gestalt) and sets itself off from the „background of reality“. He thus defines meaning as „a possibility in front of the background of reality“. This already contains two important elements for the finding of meaning. One is meaning’s character of reality and its relation to circumstances we find ourselves in (environment and psychological and physical conditions of our human existence, like age, gender, personality etc.). Possibilities for existential meaning are disclosed in front of this background of reality. What is predefined by reality is perceived and accepted as real. Perception of reality sets the frame to where meaning can be found in a situation.

The other element that constitutes meaning, according to this definition, is the possibility we perceive. „Possibilities“ are not yet determined; they are ways of behavior that can be realized or things that can happen. They open our view for the future leaving room for creativity and fantasy. Fear and hope accompany these possibilities and, if they concern a person’s behavior, challenge us to decisions.  So possibilities require freedom on the part of the subject. Freedom thus constitutes a second element for meaning.

Concerning the process of realizing meaning, Frankl writes (1984, 202): „We fulfill the meaning of our being here – our being here is filled with meaning – always by realizing values“. So it is not enough to find out about possibilities; these possibilities should also be important and significant values, which draw us. This is the third constitutive element of meaning that is part of the method to find it: The feeling of values or emotionality.

The fourth element results from the fundamental existential attitude, the key to finding meaning. According to this fundamental attitude in Frankl’s existential analysis, being human means being in question and living means giving an answer to the questions of life (Längle 1987, 1988b, 10). Frankl (1982, 72) says it like this: On should „give the question for the meaning of life a Copernican turn: it is life itself that is posing us questions. It is not up to us to ask, it is we who are asked by life and should answer it  - should answer for it re-sponsibly. The answers we give, however, can only be concrete answers to concrete ‘questions of life’. Their answering comes through our being responsible, in existence we ‘realize’ the answering of it’s own questions.“ Again we are reminded here of this moment of openness, which is necessary for the finding of meaning and gives access to reality. But this openness is now seen from another perspective: being questioned and finding meaning by answering life’s questions – by acting responsibly.

These four constitutive elements of meaning are now put in context with theoretical concepts of acting. According to these concepts every worthwhile and meaningful action begins with the perception of what is given and its conditions. This is followed by a process of evaluating the possibilities, which orders them in a hierarchy of importance and significance. This in turn forms the basis for decision, for choosing between the possibilities and for resolving their realization. Finally, we realize the possibilities by acting.

Finding meaning is a sequence of these four steps (outside of intuitive „inspirations of meaning“, when meaning dawns on us or surprises us in a flash immediately and often unintentionally – a phenomenon we cannot approach methodically but which the psychology of creativity has been describing in similar processes for quite some time). These four steps are mostly realized spontaneously in every day life and are usually not conscious. In detail the four steps of capturing meaning follow these contents and processes (Längle 1988a, 43f):


1. The first step of capturing meaning is about the ability to perceive existentially relevant contents. This relevance comes through determining the facts and their conditions. This is the beginning – requiring the subordination of the „sub-ject“. The possibilities are to be found among the facts, leaving the conditions of the situation open for the person involved. This first step of finding meaning serves the gathering of information, preparing the material for the following steps. Special care should be taken that ideas, wishes, hopes and learned patterns of behavior are not mixed with contents of perception.


2. Possibilities for action are not equivalent and differ in many ways: whether they are in tune with one’s own concept of life, in the difficulty of their realization and in their consequences. For this reason possibilities (as potential reasons for action) should be weighed against each other and in their entirety. This process happens intuitively by feeling their value. E.g.: There are many ways of dealing with a partner. We can bury a conflict in silence, act it out somewhere else, appease, address it etc. The best and most meaningful possibility in the eyes of the person deciding cannot be merely figured out and logically deduced, but must be essentially felt.


3. What is (subjectively) recognized as „right“ and felt as „good“ does not necessarily lead to action. Thoughts and feelings do not determine action. Whether we act and the way we act still needs to be decided on. This is an act of the person’s free will, who gets involved in the situation him-/herself. A deliberate decision (mostly subconscious and spontaneous) is „saying yes“ to one of the possibilities at hand. What happens in this „affirmative act“? One’s own value is added to the value of the situation. This act of realizing self is the basis for forming the situation. This in turn relies on the way we understand ourselves and on our self-esteem as well as on the way we understand the world. Our own concept of life, of what should become and of the way we understand ourselves, is part of the decision. It enables us to enter into the situation and makes us ready to act (acting is not just reacting to a stimulus, it involves decision and affirmation, which can happen consciously).


4. Besides cognitive and emotional processes, realizing what is intended is part of existential meaning. For this we need to find means and ways, methods and strategies, activate and finally try them. We choose these means mainly from previous experiences, often supplemented by the experiences of others. In psychotherapy various psychotherapeutical methods can be used here. It is relatively easy to talk about possibilities of meaning. Realizing them, however, brings decisions close to home: Now we have to do what we decided. Only by entering into the situation, by getting involved with something, does existence happen. In this step we open ourselves again to the world after a moment of reflection and approach it. We ourselves are the price we set for fulfillment of meaning - our reward is fulfillment of being, is fulfillment of life.

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Tab. 1: The Method foe Capturing Meaning (MCM) according to Längle (1988a)

with an overview of its 4 steps.

The structure of the Existential Scale (ESC) also follows these four steps of realizing „personal-existential competence“. Every step is examined in terms of use and development. Every step has a basis in Frankl’s anthropology. By naming the subscales of the ESC after their anthropological emphasis, the test was connected to the anthropology. This should be help in operationalizing and handling the abstract anthropologic terms practically. On the other hand the steps for capturing meaning are integrated anthropologically and can be understood in their existential dimension, because they are part of the theoretical system. The relation of the anthropological theory to the methodical steps becomes plain to a large extent.


You are singed up!


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