Existential crisis

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Existential crisis, derived from Existentialism, is a perceived sense of harsh confrontation experienced when a human confronts questions of existence and a change in one’s subjective perception their relation to their world.


[edit] Description

An existential crisis can result from:

  • The sense of being alone and isolated in the world;
  • A new found grasp or appreciation of one's mortality;
  • Believing that one's life has no purpose or external meaning; or
  • Awareness of one's freedom and the consequences of accepting or rejecting that freedom.

Existential crisis resembles anomie (a sociological concept), the mid-life crisis is an example. Usually, an existential crisis stems from the person's perception of existence.

Non-existential belief systems, such as religion, astrology, and witchcraft, provide compact and logically irrefutable (i.e. tautological) explanations for human existence often invoking a man-made construct of one or more iterations of a supernatural being. A transition to the realization of the absence of fulfillment via religious faith is one avenue to trigger suffering associated with an existential crisis. This sudden appreciation that there is no afterlife and, moreover, the meaning and purpose of one's life is determined from within, not through a irrational narrative defined by others, inevitably leads to substantial personal growth, with the transition through this critical confrontation with the ‘existential’ world a necessary step of maturation

Cognitive dissonance occurs when the man or woman faces the paradox of believing his or her life important, whilst perceiving that human existence is meaningless and without purpose. The person's resolving said paradox results in the existential crisis. For many, a resolution to this crisis is the abandonment of religious beliefs in favor of a rational, non-superstitious relationship to the objective world just confronted. Analogously, existentialism posits that a person can and does define the meaning and purpose of his or her life, hence must choose to resolve the crisis of existence. The terminal synthesis of the crisis most often results in the appreciation of the only true treasure in the world: the inherent self. Thus the resolution produces an insight to the core moral and ethical values intrinsic to our species, made far stronger by shaping in the external world, and now with the strength, judgment and confidence of character to resist the imposition of codes of others. The rejection of religion as the product of existential crises is clearly consistent with such fundamental questioning.

Existential crisis is often provoked by a significant event in the person's life — marriage, separation, major loss, the death of a loved one; a life-threatening experience; psycho-active drug use; adult children leaving home; reaching a personally-significant age (turning 30, turning 40, etc.), et cetera. Usually, it provokes the sufferer's introspection about personal mortality, thus revealing the psychological repression of said awareness.

[edit] Handling existential crises

There is no one given therapeutic method in modern psychology known to coerce a person out of existential despair[citation needed] (the issue is seldom, if at all, addressed from a medical standpoint). Peter Wessel Zapffe, a Norwegian philosopher provided in his work The Last Messiah, a four-fold route that he believed all self-concious beings use in order to cope with the inherent indifference and absurdity of existence, made up of Isolation, Anchoring, Distraction, and Sublimation:

  • 1. Isolation is "a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling".
  • 2. Anchoring is the "fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness". The anchoring mechanism provides individuals a value or an ideal that allows them to focus their attentions in a consistent manner. Zapffe also applied the anchoring principle to society, and stated "God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future" are all examples of collective primary anchoring firmaments.
  • 3. Distraction is when "one limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impressions". Distraction focuses all of one's energy on a task or idea to prevent the mind from turning in on itself.
  • 4. Sublimation is the refocusing of energy away from negative outlets, toward positive ones. The individual distances him / herself and looks at their existence from an aesthetic point of view. (e.g. writers, poets, painters.) Zapffe himself pointed out that his produced works were the product of sublimation.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • J. Watson, Caring Science as Sacred Science 2005. Chapter 4: "Existential Crisis in Science and Human Sciences".
  • P. Strang, Existential crisis of the dying physician. Lakartidningen, 2004. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  • T.M. Cousineau, A. Seibring, M.T. Barnard, P-673 Making meaning of infertility: Existential crisis or personal transformation? Fertility and Sterility, 2006.

[edit] External articles

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