Category: 

What Is an Existential Crisis?

People might question their long-held beliefs during an existential crisis.
The world may seem notably bleak and less meaningful during an existential crisis.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
An estimated 80% of blind people have difficulty sleeping.  more...

April 17 ,  1907 :  Ellis Island had its busiest day.  more...

The existential crisis is something many people may face at one point or another in their lives, when the world seems to become less meaningful and purposeful. People may question the inner logic of social systems, of their religion, of everything they have once held true, and they do so while becoming much more conscious of the brevity of life. In brief, the sense of mortality, even for those who believe in a religion positing an afterlife, can become more intense, and the person may feel alone while questing for some better understanding of what it means to exist.

For those who encounter an existential crisis, things can begin feel notably bleak and difficult. Strong feelings of meaninglessness may pervade daily living, creating significant depression. Although the idea of the existential crisis is often used as common language or in layman’s terms, it can be a time of psychic suffering that is intense and produces feelings like suicidality. Many people, when they recognize how empty their lives have become, seek therapy at this time. Psychotherapy is one of the best places to get treatment for such a condition, even if it is not theoretically an illness, because it can combat the feelings of loneliness and help people think their way through these crises.

Ad

There is an entire school of therapy called existential therapy, and its focus is very much on the existential crisis that most people will eventually undergo. Therapists who identify themselves with this school can sometimes have the best tools to assist clients, such as supportive listening and engagement with clients.

There are many psychotherapists who are excellent at addressing this issue. Most therapists will have treated clients who faced an existential crisis. The world of psychology has also produced a number of approachable books on the issue of what it means to exist in this world, and philosophy and the writing of the existentialists can also be of use, since all quest for the basic answers of what it means to exist.

No specific time in life is “set aside” for a person to have an existential crisis. Teenagers have them as they try to define their lives as different from their parents. They occur after moments of trauma or great transition such as losses. The midlife crisis often bears direct relationship to the existential, as people begin to realize half their lives are gone and they question all the things they may have ever believed.

Sometimes existential crisis is referred to jokingly, but such a point in life is no joke and corresponds to painful and difficult feelings. Those who begin to feel anything like suicidality are urged to get assistance. For most people, these crises pass and people find a way to define their lives anew. They may conclude in the end, as do many of the existentialists, that the move away from belief systems actually becomes freeing and that life renews its purpose with each free choice.

Ad

Discuss this Article

anon354261
Post 10

I too have gone through an existential crisis as soon as I acknowledged what it meant. I lived and still live a crappy life with my dysfunctional family of a mentally ill mother and a distant father. I have very low self-esteem because of this and walk the school grounds lonely as the weirdo I am.

It's not weird then, that I get these thoughts of what the blazes is going on. Then, if all you know is tragedy and depression from year 0 (might exaggerate a bit there, but you get my point hopefully), it makes you question everything, really.

But luckily, I have a therapist and we have sessions now and then where we talk about this sort of stuff and it really helps. So thinking that my case would be unsolvable or probably your case too, would be wrong!

anon340500
Post 9

I am currently going through this phase. My therapist says that it was brought on by my daughter's birth two and a half years ago. It is so hard to find meaning to things when you feel so depressed and anxious. That's what is really hard: dealing with the anxiety and not letting my girls be affected by it.

anon329901
Post 7

I went through an existential crisis when I was seven years old. I felt empty and I lost my sense of identity. It was as if my body was merely a vessel for my consciousness. Whenever I saw my own reflection or looked down at my body, while I knew it was me, it did not feel like me. Sometimes I would laugh because the feeling was so bizarre, but I felt isolated, like I had just found some hidden meaning to life and the adults were too busy to see it.

I began recognizing that I was not the centre of my universe. Other people were the narrators of their own lives. I realized I was just a tiny dot on a tiny rock spinning around a tiny star in a vast and unknown universe.

I grew up in a religious family and I attempted to deal with it by tricking myself into believing that I believed in God, even though I didn't. I began following the school of panentheism (unbeknownst to me) and I became a deeply spiritual person. I started having deep compassion for humans and other animals and I loved spending time in nature. I felt like I was some strange spectator looking into a broken society. I had deep bouts of depression because the world was such a sad place and I knew there was nothing I could do.

I also dealt with it through creative means, such as through art, literature, and music. However, because I was so young, my depression was never recognized. I had no words in my vocabulary to vocalize these feelings and I experienced them on my own without guidance. I developed a minor drug habit once I hit puberty and I was an outcast among peers.

People can experience this at any age and I sometimes still feel this way. But you learn to manage once you realize that only you can give your life meaning. No person, substance, or deity can do that for you.

anon201432
Post 5

This is for anyone who wants some help. Wow. This perfectly describes what I went through the last few months. it hit me and it was such a painful awakening. I felt so alone and mad at the fact that I had to find out this stuff by reading philosophy and felt like I dug myself into a cave that I will never get out from. And just like the article said, this was when I personally sought out a therapist. I am 19.

However, being so self conscious and analytical of my emotions, I realized a big thing. It all depends on your brain chemistry. Right now, this stuff does not bother me at all. My brain is more in tune to the reality spectrum and my thoughts are normal, rational, human thoughts such as how I have to take care of this thing, or pay this bill, etc. Before, I thought it was so pointless and everybody was clueless as to how pointless life is and they are all robots that are clueless, and I felt so alone. But now, since my brain is working fine, my serotonin and dopamine levels are "balanced," I guess you could say, and I am pretty content with myself.

I had an identity crisis and my self esteem fell through the ground. I was so suicidal. But eventually I started talking to the girl I broke up with, whom I had missed for so long and caused my crisis. I realized I wanted to be with her and she is my motivation for everything. So now I am conscious of existentialism and life, but I do not think about it. I have other "normal" thoughts. the point of my message is that it can and will pass, it just depends on your mood and your wants/desires in life.

fify
Post 4

@simrin-- Yea, it does sound like you are going through an existential crisis. I was thinking and saying the same things two years ago.

Try and follow the tips in the article. Talk to family and friends and visit a counselor if you can.

Also, try and be easy on yourself. At least you know that anyone can experience this and it does pass. So, tell yourself that it's a temporary stage. And believe that you do matter and your existence is meaningful even if you do not understand it right now.

Stay positive! Best of luck!

SteamLouis
Post 3

I think I'm going through this right now. I feel very depressed and cannot find joy in anything. It seems all meaningless to me. I feel like I'm so unimportant, like a small pebble on the earth. The world keeps moving, people keep living their lives whether or not I am there. I really don't know why I am here, I'm not doing anything important.

Do you think I need help?

ddljohn
Post 2

I agree that the existential crisis tends to hit during transitional phrases and after a loss of some kind.

I have experienced it during major hormonal changes in my life. I'm sure it was not directly due to this. But such phases do bring additional sensitivity to our thoughts and emotions.

My husband on the other hand, went through this after his dad passed away. He started thinking about life and death and the meaning of it all.

I think we need to be extra careful during such times and seek support from our friends and family.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email