“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want. I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas, and principles. Although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child. I feel quite independent of anyone.” Anne Frank.
An existential crisis refers to feelings of unease about meaning, choice, and freedom in life. Whether referred to as an existential crisis, or existential anxiety, the main concerns are the same: that life is inherently pointless, that our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, and that we all must die someday.
Existential anxiety arises during transitions and reflects difficulty adapting, often related to losing safety and security.
For example, a college student moving away from home or an adult going through a difficult divorce might feel that the foundation on which their life was built is crumbling. This can lead to questioning the meaning of their existence.
I hear more people asserting that we are approaching not only the end of the United States but of humanity. There seems to be a pervasive feeling that there is no future. What accompanies this dismal way of viewing life today is that life has become meaningless. Perhaps this is the real reason there are ever-increasing numbers of mass shootings. There is a term for this sense of emptiness, and it’s anomie.
Anomie is defined as personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty. It comes from a lack of purpose or ideals. What is fueling these awful, empty feelings? People often cite such things as climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s increasing military might, economic problems, racism, the Pandemic, social media’s negative influence, and the prevalence of guns in our society.
None of this is to suggest that these problems are unimportant. Instead, it’s a mistake to retreat into the hopeless belief that life has no meaning. It’s incumbent on each of us to find meaning in life. Existential psychotherapy aims in that direction.
Finding meaning in life is fundamental to finding a purpose or set of personal goals for ourselves. It is also vital to transmitting our values and meanings to our children.
In feeling that life has no meaning, people transmit that hopeless way of thinking to our children.
Values and Ethics
An essential part of the meaning in life has to do with values and ethics. The University of Texas defines values and ethics in this way:
“Ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.
“The term values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act. They serve as a guide for human behavior.
People are predisposed to adopt the values they are raised with. People also believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.
Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.
Still, other values are sacred and are moral imperatives for those who believe in them. For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth. Sacred values will seldom be compromised because they are perceived as duties rather than factors to be weighed in decision-making.”
From Politico Magazine:
Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, or extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, and often rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts.
What’s different from traditional suicide is that the self-hate turns against a group. The hate turns outward. They ask themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group, women, religious group, or are my classmates? There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety.
Taken from an article published in Politico:
Making Life Meaningful Begins at Home:
An important fact deeply connected to mindless violence and meaninglessness is that we must begin with young children by teaching the essential values of morals, ethics, respect for life, and empathy for others.
Empathy for the plight of others is very positive and powerful. In it, the empathetic person can imagine being in the place of the troubled person and feel what they feel. In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one suffering. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy because of feeling what the other feels.
None of this implies that there is anything wrong with empathy. Simply put, we need a combination of empathy and compassion to be most helpful to people.
The theory behind existential therapy helps people explore life’s difficulties from a philosophical perspective. It suggests that your source of inner conflict is the confrontation you have with the issues of life. Instead of looking back into your past, look at the here and now. Try to get meaning out of any given situation. In doing so, you can end the fear of the unknown that grips you way too often. The bottom line of this therapy approach is to encourage you to take responsibility for your success.
America and American families must face the existential crisis among young people. If not, mass murders will continue, and racism and other forms of intergroup conflict.