Existential Crisis – how to handle this?
Existential Crisis is the term given to the overwhelming awareness and associated human responses in recognising that there is no meaning to life at all – that your life is merely coincidental, has no purpose, is unpredictable and uncertain, you are totally alone despite others around you and everything you believe is up for question. An existential crisis may develop over time but often happens when life’s events cause you to ask ‘What’s the point in being alive?‘ Sudden death of a family member, senseless violence, terrorist activity or fraud by a government you once believed would never let you down, are all triggers. What triggers you will be unique and if it hasn’t happened yet, you will certainly face existential anxiety at some point in your life.
I remember watching a news programme where a mother had been confronted by her son wielding a gun saying he would kill her if she didn’t give him money for drugs. She replied ‘You might as well kill me now; everything I believe in my life has been totally destroyed by the mere fact of your action now!’ This is an existential crisis. Everything that woman stood for, believed about others and the world, have been so challenged that she can find no purpose or solace in anything.
An existential crisis can be excruciating since you are utterly alone in experiencing, at your core, that you are alone, there is no inherent objective meaning to why you are alive at all, life is uncertain and is meaningless. Any religious or spiritual beliefs are suddenly seen as attempts to stave off his awareness and hoodwink yourself into believing there is a cosmic meaning – now the believer is stripped of this too.
Leo Tolstoy, the famous author, faced his own existential crisis at the peak of his career. Despite accolades for his success, he felt it was meaningless beyond the narrow and sycophantic assuaging of his anxiety that he and his work meant something. To experience such existential angst at the peak of one’s success is terrifying – where do you go from here? You can’t even, as Jean Paul Satre said, fall into Bad Faith by inauthentically believing there is a fixed reality which makes the world certain and predictable and that once you become successful, you will be happy. Once you know that there is no inherent meaning, you can’t use the same self-aneaethetising strategies to assuage your anxiety and cry ‘one day I will find it!’. What if you achieve everything you desire and then realise it is worthless to you? Central to the experience of the existential crisis is the awareness of one’s mortality. Once you become fully aware of the inevitability of your death, existential anxiety arises in the form of existential guilt for not living a life of one’s choice, but rather one of duty and obligation to social and cultural norms that you believe upheld a purposeful cosmic meaning. Now that is gone – what now?
If you are caught in your own existential crisis asking in despair ‘What is this all about?‘, take time to engage with the observer of your life – you! Existential psychotherapy is a tremendous investment in yourself to reconcile the difficult feelings and experiences we must all face in coming to terms with our own Selves. Existential psychotherapy will assist you in addressing your angst and adopt the enormity of responsibility for choosing how to live and fully embrace what Freedom really means. Existential Freedom is the freedom to choose your own Being – without any objective framework to say if those choices are right or whether other choices would have produced better. An existential therapist will not shrink back from the fire by hoodwinking you back into some normed existence – rather, they will journey with you to accept the inevitability of existential angst and live in the knowledge and awareness that you have the power to choose your own existence. They will also help you address difficult life choices, highlighting to you that there are consequences for choosing (epecially when it involves change) but that there are conseqences for not choosing too. All this, without any external parameters of what is right – now that’s responsibility!