Neither experts nor ordinary people come to a complete agreement on the definition of an existential crisis and the concepts hidden under it.
Speaking existentially, the crisis is a part of a human being. Those who are unfamiliar with the crisis are also unfamiliar with the passion for life.
But does it mean an existential crisis is something everyone must face to bring the life to a higher level?
Existential theorists recommend considering the crisis as new opportunities. Regardless how much the person is touched by the current state of affairs, there are always two sides of the coin – pain and opportunities. A positive achieved through a negative.
How We Overcome an Existential Crisis
Dealing with the crisis may be divided into 3 stages. Let’s consider each one separately.
#1 Befriend Feelings and Emotions
The crisis often causes severe and varied feelings not only when it occurs but a long time after. Grief, anger, guilt, shame, despair, anxiety and other feelings that come to the surface adjust your mind and affect your behavior. Thus, the most important thing is to realize and accept these feelings as a part of the self.
Although you may express the accumulated feelings (no matter how – there are no rules for such things), they will always be a part of you. Accept the fact that feelings and emotions are a part of your personality.
According to “Existential Counselling in Practice” by E. van Deurzen-Smith (1988), the most common feelings are pride, envy, anger, fear, grief, guilt, desire, hope, love, and joy. Each of these feelings has both destructive and constructive side.
Feelings are an integral part of us – they do not live an independent life and are completely subordinated to our conscious and subconscious. Try to understand the effect of the currently experienced feelings on your future life, and adjust yourself to avoid feelings that bring negative consequences.
According to “Existential Foundations of Medicine and Psychology” by Boss, M. (1994), there are the following important basic human feelings:
- Passion: love/hate. All of us are focused on these two great passions.
- Restrained joyful serenity – a harmonious happy feeling of openness and enlightenment, when a person strikes up a relationship with people he meets and at the same time recognizes the existence of the subject as an individual.
- Anxiety – a basic feeling that the existence is endangered.
- Sadness – a feeling that occurs when a relationship with a loved one (or an important object/subject) is destroyed.
According to Boss, a person who recognizes these basic feelings gets the opportunity to exist openly, i.e. to be completely psychologically open to everything around.
However, the openness may be distorted, narrowed or blocked. If this happens, the mood takes a distorted form. For example, a person may experience a blind rage, instead of hating openly. Or panic when stumbling upon a mouse, instead of openly admitting the fear of death.
If to apply Bosse’s and E. van Deurzen-Smith’s theories to things happen during the crisis, we may come the conclusion that every of us needs: a) to experience many different feelings, b) to find a common language with the feelings and learn from them about the present and the future life.
Open yourself to feelings, question the basic feelings, and you’ll be able to meet freely the relationships and situations arise.
#2 Redefine Your Basic Concepts
When someone becomes the object of cruel or horrifying traumatic episode, his openness to the world cannot be saved. Some of the things going on are so desperate that our consciousness just can’t accommodate them. It usually occurs during the rape, robbery, traffic accidents, natural disasters, torture, and in other severe circumstances where good and disgust merge into one, as in the cases of incest or abuse at home.
Threats, blows, physical pain, thoughts carried in the mind, feelings and observations – much of these can’t be realized and pushed out into a subconsciousness. However, step by step, the individual must recall the details (What had happened? What were the circumstances? And so on). General experience shows that it is very important to recall the situation in details.
When a traumatic event occurs, an individual is usually faced with aspects of his personality, which are in conflict with its fundamental beliefs. It’s also called cognitive dissonance.
Thus, an important part of the recovery process is re-checking your beliefs and presuppositions. Do you really believe the only thing matters is the respect/brave/money/intelligence/etc? Answer yourself fairly and update your mindset.
Wrong deep-rooted beliefs may block not only the memories that have been rejected during a specific event but also the possibility of being able to accept important aspects of the world openly. Therefore, by coping with an existential crisis, you may come up with new basic beliefs and open a new era of self-development.
#3 Take Senselessness as a Given
A sense you see in things is deeply personal and must remind you the fact that our life is senselessness. The universe does not set goals. The existence is meaningless by definition.
Thus, the best approach is to perceive “senseless” things as something necessary, although it has brought misfortune. It may open new previously hibernated facets of your personality, which otherwise would have never developed (for instance, creative and artistic talents).
Accompanying Criticism as an Inevitable Instrument to Redefine Your Personality
Crises hurt us. But do we have to avoid them because of it? Should we strive for a life free from crises? There’s no simple answer. To some extent, it depends on how an individual deals with crises.
The existential crisis should not be held passively. It should lead to criticism that must change your attitude towards reality. It involves the adoption of an independent perspective on the course of events and validation of claims of people.
The criticism is when truth separated from falsehood and genius from stupidity. Criticism may help you to elevate yourself above the mass and becomes a free, responsible individual.
However, you can’t become more critical towards your basic beliefs only by the means of your own efforts. You do need help in the form of a fair shake from the outside. Criticism does not appear as a result of the smooth development.
An existential crisis greatly contributes to the world progress. A critical look at what is happening in the world is paramount for the world society. The critical understanding can be achieved only by surviving an existential crisis.
With the development of the biochemistry, our brain can be freed from crises. But whether a trouble-free life will be deep and saturated enough? Will people feel that they are alive? And how will the individual be differentiated from the mass?
The existential crisis is painful, but it brings us a chance to experience the world, find ourselves, clarify our mindsets, and take responsibility for our lives.
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