Endings and Anxiety

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Mortality Lurks in the Background

Many of us have a really hard time with endings. Why? Because they remind us, consciously or unconsciously, of our mortality. Death is what all endings have in common. Even in those many endings where physical death isn’t imminent symbolic death still is. The prospect of symbolic death cues off painful feelings of existential anxiety, the same existential anxiety that’s cued off by the prospect of actual death.

Common Reactions to Anxiety

Existential anxiety often compels us to act in unhealthy ways, especially when we can’t or won’t accept that we’re experiencing it. In the case of endings, two of the most common reactions are to try to maintain the relationship with the entity in question despite the fact that it’s time to move on or to act in hostile and destructive ways towards the entity in question in the misguided attempt to make moving on easier on our psyches.

What we’ve got to understand when confronted by endings of all kinds is that they aren’t necessarily good or bad for us but just a normal part of life. Most endings lead to new beginnings, and some of these new beginnings leave us in a happier, healthier place than we were before. It’s the existential anxiety cued off by the endings that put us in tunnel vision panic mode and make us believe that the ending is very bad for us indeed. Therefore, the unconscious reasoning goes, this ending must either be avoided at all costs or if it can’t be avoided then the entity thought to be causing it must be punished.

Saying Goodbye and Moving On

But saying goodbye and moving on doesn’t have to be an experience filled with hostility and aggression. This all starts with having the courage to recognize the existential anxiety bubbling up within us for what is. We have to realize that this existential anxiety is our responsibility, that it belongs to us and no one else, even if the circumstances that cued it off were outside of our control. By breathing into our existential anxiety and clearly seeing the lurking terror of mortality behind it we can become more graceful and compassionate in the face of changing circumstances.