Psychology Articles

Existential Crises

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The Chinese use the same symbol for crisis as they use for opportunity. This is a pretty deep revelation that could really only come out of the paradoxical philosophical thought of the East. We in the West tend to try to avoid crisis at all costs. We fear change and want smooth sailing in our lives. The truth about a full blown existential crisis is that you will have been experiencing signs and symptoms for a very long time, but you probably have ignored or minimized them.

Any time we feel conflict in our lives, conscious or unconscious, existential anxiety will start to bubble up. We all become adept at suppressing it and ignoring its important message, probably in part because we know paying attention would mean having to make difficult choices about our current practice of living.

Existential crisis is really about conflict. If you were truly out of choices then there would be no uncertainty, and therefore no reason for anxiety. But most of us are not sufficiently aware of the many choices we do have in our lives. One of the most important areas of unconscious conflict in the 21st century exists between superficial values of wealth, power, and prestige and actual needs for authentic human connection that can never be met through these channels.

Regardless of the conditions that elicit your existential crisis, at bottom your Self is calling out to you, letting you know something is not right about your situation and urging you to face it. By becoming more consciously aware of smaller cues of existential anxiety you can avoid the more severe crises. It’s kind of like taking your car in for a checkup and oil change on a regular basis, where problems get caught and fixed before they compound.

We try to avoid anxiety and existential crises because they are painful and scary, but we can also view them in a positive light and actually welcome them into our lives. You have deep wisdom about the conditions that are necessary for your happiness and well-being, although much of this wisdom is probably dormant or unconscious. It’s hard to listen to what we really want for ourselves when there are so many competing and compelling voices out there telling us what we want for ourselves. But part of self-actualization is following your own compass and spending the time to listen deeply to your Self. When we don’t listen to our Selves we know on a deep level that we are self-made prisoners to the desires and ends of other people or structures and we experience conflict. All humans strive for greater liberty and growth and when we feel these paths are denied us we become sick. Existential crisis is a the full blown illness but also contains within it the cure.