The events of life seem to be controlled by a strange inner logic. Our consciousness seems to be tied up in certain patterns manifested as problematic themes of life with which we struggle. These themes appear as painful events with mysterious problems and these events seem to repeat themselves indefinitely until the moment that we fully understand our own part in them.
Generally, personal problems are difficulties in achieving what we want in life. Because deep inside us there is something that we desperately want — the purpose of life — we often seem to face great difficulties. Painful experiences can easily make us change course. We lie about what we want and, in so doing, fail our purpose in life.
When life is painful, it is very tempting to disclaim responsibility and escape. We may run away from the pain, but cannot remove it and we carry it around deep inside us. Then, as we try to return to our original, true course, the same difficulties show up again. The old pains and life lies resurface from the subconscious mind and distort our entire life. Indeed, the subconscious implies that we are not aware of what lies buried there because of repression and denial. The only trace of what we once suffered is the pain, suffering, anxiety, or however way the disturbance is manifested. From this point of view, existential pain is a message to us indicating that we are about to be healed. We are about to pick up something precious from which we once fled. We are about to rediscover something that we still need, now more than ever. In our view, existential problems are gifts. They are gifts that are painful to receive, but wise to accept. We need to meet the soul, take him by the hand, and guide him through the old pain or loss and back to life.
Existential pain is one of our basic conditions as human beings — life hurts.
Many people are unaware of the pain residing in their inner layer. They lead superficial lives that appear to be successful, although they are suffering deep inside their souls. The reason for this division of the individual into superficial layers and deep existential layers lies at the very root of our conscious nature. We can choose and when we choose, we define our own reality. We can choose to live in several worlds at the same time and we can choose to be aware of and attentive to one of these worlds and unaware of and inattentive to another world.
To a great extent, we get away with such divisions as mind and soul or feeling and reason. We function, live our lives, and things turn out the way we want them to, but not always. The existential crisis occurs if we do not reclaim resources and qualities that we have placed in the repressed layers. If we fail, we have to acknowledge that life does not provide us with what we need and want deep down. In the course of weeks, months, or years, a person who experiences an existential crisis may change from being a jolly, extroverted person who functions well into being gloomy, introverted, and socially isolated. It is as though a bomb has gone off in that person’s life. Everything is turned upside down, the most fundamental things in life no longer function. This calls for a radical clearing out, a new orientation in life. Frequently, the person has failed in his present version and needs to renew himself.
Many persons claim to suffer from “stress”, but we do not buy that. Stress comprises two elements (this is the excellent stress model from the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm): discomfort and strain. People complain about the strain, but the discomfort is the problem. There is nothing wrong with being busy, active, committed, and strained — that is human nature — but the discomfort should not be there. It occurs when we act contrary to ourselves.
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.
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. 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.
The experience of existential depression is that the individual comes to profound points of pondering the nature of their own existence and the nature of the world and reality around them. This is something that they cannot simply 'stop doing', as these considerations repeatedly crowd into their consciousness. That they cannot stop doing this usually mystifies and frustrates those around them. There is an often startling and sudden (and reoccurring) awareness that the structures and organizations of life are just phantom and quite relative. This in turn, serves to shake the individual’s sense of purpose, meaning and self-hood in life. This is referred to as an ‘existential crisis’. Such things as death, the relativity of freedom, and contemplation of one’s own small and insignificant place in the cosmos are examples of things that weigh heavier for the existentially sensitive than for most people.
It was Freud who first termed the word ‘ego’ for the structure and containment of self identity and personhood. People with this type of depressive experience are very sensitive people who are able to experience great and almost painful empathy with others; indeed with the entire world as a whole. They have the ability to see and compare the ideal world with how the world actually is, and feel this comparison acutely and constantly. People with existential sensibilities may appear to have a ‘big ego’ to others, because they can be quite outspoken and intense in their presentation. In fact, many are humble and fragile, and are uniquely able to step outside of themselves in order to place their passion (art or service to others) ahead of even their own health.
Apparently, external factors may trigger a life crisis. Sometimes, the problems accumulate in relation to work, the family with children and partner, friends and acquaintances, or the financial situation. Suddenly, immense problems may exist everywhere. Sometimes, we may even experience misfortunes from which we cannot recover completely, like being left by our partner, the death of a child, our home being gutted by fire, or a serious physical or mental illness, which makes us question our entire existence and the meaning of life. Often, the life crisis is not caused by external factors or illness, but rather inner, existential factors. The life crisis is manifested as strange and incomprehensible mental and physical symptoms: the feeling of having wasted one’s life, of not being able to realize our great dreams in life. In short, the feeling of being a failure.
Something is wrong, but they do not know what it is. Colors are no longer bright. The enjoyment of life has disappeared. Nevertheless, the patient is not just depressed. Something has gone completely wrong; something worse than transient depression. Something in life has to be changed completely. When the existential pain breaks through to the surface of the conscious mind, it is unhealthy to ignore it or suppress it from a holistic perspective. The rational approach is to take it seriously, to address it in an analytical and exploring manner and to do something about the situation. A person experiencing a life crisis often needs help to move on. The person needs support to summon the courage to face himself deep down in his soul. Perhaps our person needs the physician to act as a “mirror” that will reflect him and make him see himself with greater clarity.
Treatment for clinical depressions may or may not positively impact existential depression. Existential depression has its source in deep consideration of the nature of life and existence, which can be quite vast and intimidating in implication. In many ways, it might be considered a ‘spiritual crisis’ or ‘dark night of the soul’ that is either a once occurring event, or more often, an episodic and ongoing struggle throughout one’s life.
A special form of life crises is the spiritual crises. They are troublesome elements in the life of the conscious individual, but such crises make sense. We are not quite true to ourselves. We do not lead our lives in accordance with our personal project of life; therefore, problems arise. Spiritual crises may also be insidious; perhaps the patient shows no signs of a mental disorder or external problems. In spite of this, the patient describes a profound sense of meaninglessness or perhaps. even a death wish, which has broken through from the subconscious mind and now demanding the patient’s unremitting attention. The way we see it, this is about spiritual growth, about a side of the patient that has been hurt and has been hidden for an entire life and suddenly demands to be healed. It often requires a vivid imagination to help people in spiritual and existential crisis. There is no conventional treatment and the symptoms displayed by the patients are peculiar, to put it mildly
Those who have not experienced existential depression have a very difficult time understanding those who suffer from it. It is as if most of the people in the world are blind or indifferent to the realities that the existentially sensitive person sees. And this, of course, contributes to the isolation and loneliness that is felt. Others may steer clear of people who experience existential issues because they are frequently difficult to live with. Many are misdiagnosed as ‘bi-polar’ or ‘eccentric’ or ‘wild’. Though most people’s moods change about every twenty minutes, the existential depressive’s mood changes tend to be more marked and outward. People who live with and love these folks will make statements that the existential depressive ‘thinks differently’, ‘feels things more deeply’, or ‘are overly sensitive’. Others accuse them of being ‘pessimists’ or stuck in thinking about morbid things and needing to ‘just get on with life’. It is not uncommon for those who suffer from existential depression to have a life-long feeling of ‘being different’, and are observable as being socially awkward in certain circumstances, while being dramatically the center of attention in others. Making solid plans and commitments to the future, as well and engaging in ongoing positive learning and efforts at gaining insight and solid, stable meaning are keys for existentially sensitive people to remain healthy. Avoiding isolation and working hard and consistently at ‘connecting’ in intimate ways with others seems to help ground the existentially depressed. Balancing their drive and passion for their favored activities with finding and developing a meaningful reality structure is also essential. Self disciplined avoidance of thoughts and behaviors of nihilism become important tools at not just avoiding self destruction, but in attaining a sense of purpose, meaning, serenity, and satisfaction in a life worth leading.