Existential Psychology


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When I picture self-actualization the image that pops up is a field of brightly colored, widely varied wild flowers thriving in the summer sun. People are more vibrant when they feel comfortable in their own skins and when their endeavors and relationships provide personal meaning. We inherited a major stumbling block in our growth with the widespread cultural idea that humans are naturally wicked, that rules need to be firmly set down to keep us from acting out the worst parts of our natures, that we need to be punished for our many transgressions.

When people get the chance in an open, supportive, loving environment to explore and express their true Selves the vast majority are anything but wicked. They bloom like flowers, becoming happier, more compassionate, more interested, more confident, and more outward focused. It’s attempting to control them and viewing them as wicked that twists them into something they are not. Then the people and organizations who have done the twisting point to their behavior as examples of what human nature is and why control is necessary.

In order to thrive growth is a prerequisite for all living organisms. Humans are no different, but in addition to our physical growth we have to attend to our psychological, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth too. The routes are different for each of us. Some people feel stuck and don’t really think that growth is an option. They are who they are. They view themselves and their personalities as static.

A simple change in mentality can open up new possibilities, which is that none of us have to be unchanging if we don’t want to be. Our behaviors and how we choose to be in the world influence who we are at a core level by creating, strengthening, or deteriorating neural pathways in the brain that correspond to these thoughts and behaviors. In a way our thoughts and behavior are one. Your thoughts influence your actions, while stimuli from your environment and your corresponding actions influence your thoughts.

The first step in choosing to grow towards a more authentic version of who we are is considering whether our situations afford the emotional and physical security necessary to safely explore all of the various ways of being and all the possible paths of growth. We have to feel a basic level of safety in order to take the risk of stepping outside of ourselves, opening up to new possibilities.