Existential Angst – Breakdown or Breakthrough?

Existential angst is the name given to the awareness (through lived experience) of one’s existential condition. One who experiences existential angst comes face to face with the existential limits of their existence. For example, through the experience of eg. uncertainty, meaninglessness or endings or death, the resultant anxiety reflects their aloneness in making sense of their existence. As each of us proceed through our lives, we are bombarded with challenges to the fixed ways in which we define ourselves and our worlds. The unpredictable nature of others’ behaviour or our own challenges us to embrace the co-constructed nature of our phenomenal selves. We can either choose to resist through unrelenting attempts to restore the status quo or we can choose to see ourselves as ‘works in progress’.

Resisting the existential nature of our existence can lead to breakdown whereas embracing the anxiety of our unfixed selves offers breakthrough to a life well lived.

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Existential Angst – Breakdown or Breakthrough? — 7 Comments

  1. Resisting and embracing.
    Easy words to say – but what does this actually mean in daily moment-by-moment existence? What is the action to take? What are the thoughts to think and not think?

  2. It can be very challenging in our day to day experience of life to stand ‘in the fire’ and consider existential realities such as aloneness, nothingness and existential anxiety. Certainly the reality of facing these existential givens can be a deeply painful process. There is however something very liberating when we take a philosophical perspective on life – embracing that all of our experiences contribute to our lives – not just the pleasant ones. It is my experience, both personally and professionally with clients, that when we look back on painful or unpleasant times, these are the ones through which we grow the most. Through them, we have the experience of re-defining our values and purpose in our life and can choose not to squander our precious time.

  3. Beautifully said, Clare. It is those moments of fear, anxiety, grief and threats to survival that have propelled human beings to make incredible scientific discoveries, craft mind-blowing technologies and create breath-taking works of art and music. And, more importantly, it is often the unpleasant, painful experiences that make us aware that we have FEELINGS–the one qualifier for being Human.

  4. It seems to me that Clare is talking about her personal experience. It sounds like something I am starting on the journey towards. But, Lestine takes this smiple journey of discovery of ourself (myself) and turns it into an amazing accomplishments which are acknowledged by the world for their breakthrough and contribution to the scientific, artistic world.
    Is it not as significant that the discovery and journey leads to a clearer understanding of how my own experiences contribute to my life. Whatever my life may be. Is there not value in a single life, beginning to find meaning and make sense of what trial or unpleasant time they have been through? Why does it have to have some significance in the rest of the world. Can my one life not change to affect only me? Or affect someone else of whom I am not aware?

  5. Is this an on-going conversation or am I too late? I’m applying for a job in AOD youth work and thought that after 30yrs in health then it’s about time that I put myself out there; I’m an existentialist practitioner but what is required in the application is a somewhat mechanistic approach, something …….. measurable.
    Youth, now, today, especially the disenfranchised, have a difficult path to tread and my approach is first, to validate their existence.
    Thank you for the comments above – I’ve shamelessly plagiarised.

  6. Pingback: Going Meta « The Narrative Imperative: Tell Stories or Die

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