What is an Existential Crisis?

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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.


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.


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Post 13

The more we educate ourselves the more tools we will have to deal with emotional distress. We will if we keep ourselves open to others make new friends and learn many new things. We will be taking positive steps toward our future and make deposits into our mental health bank that we can withdraw at a later time when needed. You are never as hopeless as you think, when depressed you are never as boring, unattractive, or undeserving of happiness as you think.

Everyone has value and life is to be celebrated because we are all part of God's creation and have value even if we chose to ignore our strengths at the time. If all else fails you need

a good swift kick for wallowing in self-pity while denying the world of your God given talents. If you feel like your in a rut, then change your circumstances and get out of it. Don't have money, get a job, any job to start. Don't have an education? Then enroll in a Community College to start. Study and don't be afraid to ask for help if you feel you need it. Soon you will forget why you were so depressed in the first place. Good luck!
Post 12

I would like to respond to Post 3 above. Some people maybe you maybe not you, like to be depressed because they don't feel worthy. I have been to the pits literally of depression, I continued downward thinking I could find the bottom and then work my way back upward again. My advice is don't do it. There is nothing in depression but more and deeper depression. Someone said above to go easy on yourself, and that is excellent advice. Maybe you are going through a temporary down where you find things to be unsatisfying, maybe your job doesn't challenge you, look for another one. Maybe you are in a bad relationship, my advice is try something different with that

person that you haven't thought of before. If after you have tried everything maybe you need to find someone else, it happens. I have quit several unsatisfying jobs, went back to school and got much better jobs with more opportunity. If you need to return to school, think about what you would enjoy doing and go do it.

Just by changing your circumstances, you will find it many times changes how you feel about yourself. The more education you have the more you will start to understand what it is you want to do with the rest of your life.

If alcohol or drugs are a factor, you have to give them up because they will magnify any feelings of impotence in your life. There is no answers in the bottom of a bottle nor in a pill, they won't make you smarter, richer or better looking and over time they will ruin any good relationships you may have had. If at all possible go back to school, if you need a GED, get that first and go on from there, and someday you might just find you are doing something more important that you can imagine now. Hope this helps!

Post 11

After returning from Vietnam, I questioned everything I thought I knew about life. For the next 15 years, I self-medicated but held everything in. Part of it was I cut myself off from family and friends while overseas since I didn't think I would be coming home anyway. It was my way of dealing with what I had to do for the next year, I shut off all emotions and thought I would pick them up if and when I returned to the "World." I had one near death experience where I gave myself up to my fate and the act of turning my life over to God, fate, whatever you choose to call it was liberating. I was

running from a mortar round but tripped and fell in the sand with my fingers just touching some sandbags and I thought if I could get over them I would be safe.

But then it occurred to me in those brief seconds that how did I know that maybe I was running to my death instead of away from it, and maybe fate or God was saving me by my tripping. At that moment, I accepted the fact I couldn't run away and if God or again Fate wanted me to live or die I would leave it up to him.

I felt a peace come over me, that I no matter what happened it was not up to me any longer. The fact that God did not want me dead but I accepted his judgement kept me from being ever scared again for the remainder of my tour. But what I couldn't do was pick up my emotions after laying them down for the better part of a year. I felt absolutely nothing about family and even my girlfriend, not feelings of love or even caring what they thought or wanted.

I slipped into a world of drugs and alcohol for the next fifteen years. It didn't end until I was married and divorced and hit rock bottom when I got fired from a dishwashing job for eating too much, which is why I took the damn job in the first place, because I was hungry. I had 3 glasses of milk and 4 or 5 pieces of toast throughout the day. It was then I decided to quit drinking and smoking, and went back to college.

I had quit drugs three or four years after checking into a VA hospital for substance abuse. It helped get me off drugs by realizing some of the thoughts I was having were shared by other Vietnam Vets. No one ever mentioned PTSD during my more than 3 months at the hospital but was later diagnosed as having had it.

I couldn't understand why I would have PTSD because I was a crew chief on a Low Observation helicopter who maintained them, but did volunteer to fly as observer flying over 70 times over hostile territory. I volunteered my last 60 days for the infantry because I had friends in the infantry. We flew out during the day and was back at camp at night. One thing I should mention: I needed glasses and shouldn't have been doing either of those things because I was near-sighted. I asked several times for glasses but was never able to get them. I always felt safer at night when on guard duty because I felt that put me on a even playing field with the enemy because they could see only about as well as I could at night. Whether that was true or not I always preferred to fight at night. Not sure going to war and not being able to see contributed to my PTSD, but maybe.

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!

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.

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 center 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.

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.

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!

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?

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.

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