Existential Psychology


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When most of us think of the word ‘responsible’ what we are really thinking of is ‘culpable’. “Who’s responsible for this?” When something goes wrong the natural inclination is to assign blame to whoever the offending party is and then hopefully feel that justice has been served.

But responsible actually comes from the Latin root Respondere, which literally means the ability to respond. In other words, responsible is response-able. The distinction between the popular understanding of the word and its existential definition is not a small one because it lets us focus on positive attributes rather than guilt or the unwanted pressure of being in charge.

Some people tend to shy away from responsibility. They don’t want to deal with the burden. But actually responsibility is a uniquely human trait and increasing it in your life is a mandate from an existential point of view if you are interested in growth. By widening your circle of responsibility you are also widening your freedom to act because freedom and responsibility are inseparably intertwined. If you are not aware of all the various ways you can respond to a given situation then it follows that you have less freedom than someone who is.

How do you go about increasing your responsibility? One of the best ways is to bring more of your unconscious processes into conscious awareness. This is best accomplished by going to therapy, meditation, or reading psychology. One book we highly recommend that was written in the psychoanalytic tradition and still has a tremendous amount of relevance today is Karen Horney’s ‘Neurosis and Human Growth’. It marks the culmination of a lifetime of thought and practice devoted to understanding unconscious processes and is a fascinating look at the reasons we often think and act without being consciously aware of what we are doing.

We place a very high premium on freedom in the U.S., which is what makes it so ironic that we often try to escape from responsibility. The only way to really insure that you are free in your life is to be more consciously aware of the true origins of your thoughts and emotions, increasing your ability to respond.