An existential crisis is a moment in which a person questions their existence and begins to think that life has no meaning, asks if this life has any meaning, purpose or value.
This existential void is usually associated with depression and/or a sense of “meaningless life”. Some questions that a person with an existential crisis can ask themselves are: “Will I be forgotten one day? What is the meaning of all my work?
Do you think your life does not make sense? Do you feel existential anguish and doubt? Most people experience an existential crisis when they realize that one day they will die and understand that their life and the days on this planet are not infinite.
For centuries the human being has asked himself, what is the meaning of my life if I am destined to die? It is a question that gives vertigo and that has tried to solve in different ways.
The people of the majority religions – Jewish, Christian, Muslim – have the faith that after this life there is another that will be eternal and that therefore their spirit will always live.
However, most people do not think about death until they become aware of it and begin to reflect on mortality.
When does this happen? Normally with the death of relatives, partners or highly stressful events, such as loss of housing, employment or separation of couples.
After these events, these crises can occur and are often followed by anxiety, panic or depression.
The loss of meaning and hope in the existential crisis
According to the researches and the experiences of humanity, it seems that giving meaning to life helps, a lot, to lead a happy life, to want to move forward and overcome obstacles.
It is remarkable the ability of some human beings to overcome obstacles and not surrender despite all the misfortunes that may occur. However, other people find it more difficult to find that meaning and it seems that when they do not have it, they give up.
Inspiration to overcome an existential crisis. The case of Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl describes this very well in his masterpiece The Man in Search of Meaning. This book deals with his description of Logotherapy and the narration of his experience as a slave in a Nazi concentration camp.
If you currently suffer from an existential crisis and want to overcome it, I strongly recommend that you read it.
Do you know How to Stop Biting the Nails in 10 Steps.
In the concentration camps of the Second World War, some people surrendered, while others survived, despite the low probability of doing so due to the appalling health conditions in which they found themselves.
They ate a piece of bread a day, they wore very little clothes in the middle of winter, shredded shoes, wet and of smaller sizes and the guards or foremen beat them often.
Their situation of bad health was so extreme that their organisms began to consume their own proteins and they literally found themselves in the bones.
There are a couple of particularly remarkable experiences that Frankl comments on in his book:
1-There was a person who dreamed that March 31, 1943, would end the war. However, that date arrived, the person contracted an illness and died a few days later.
Would it be a coincidence? Frankl, one of the most intelligent and trained doctors and psychiatrists I have read, suggested that the death of this man was due to the loss of hope of leaving the concentration camp.
2-He had a patient who had lost his wife and who no longer found meaning in life. Frankl simply asked him a question: What would have happened, doctor, if you had died first and your wife had survived him?
The patient said that his wife would be extremely sad, to which Frankl replied: ” you have saved her all that suffering, but now he has to pay for it by surviving and mourning his death “.
After that answer, the patient took Frankl’s hand and left the office. That is to say, suffering ceases to be in a certain way suffering at the moment in which it finds meaning.
He also describes how some prisoners felt apathetic, without feelings and even some who did not care if the Nazis hit him. They felt so hopeless that they did not care if they were mistreated.
The case of loss of extreme hope of its history in the concentration camps is that of the men who committed suicide by throwing themselves at the electrified fences.
However, Viktor Frankl knew how to find meaning in his hard experience …
How to overcome the existential crisis
Frankl comments that he often thought about his wife and that is what many times saved his life.
He hoped to see her again, though later he discovered that he had died, as did his parents.
He also found a sense of writing his experiences and his theory about Logotherapy. He already had a book written, but when they reached his first field they took it away. But he did not lose hope and took notes about the ideas he was going to have to write it again later.
To overcome an existential crisis it is necessary that you find meaning in your life and it will normally be based on other people or on objectives to be achieved. That is, you will find a meaning to life through some personal relationship and doing things that please you.
Some people fail to establish positive personal relationships (family, friendship or partner) and set a sense of having power or earning money. However, this could lead to unhappiness and an endless cycle.
The material does not satisfy, which leads to wanting more material things to feel satisfied. This search for material sense can lead to very transient happiness and feelings of emptiness.
Frankl stated the following:
«The meaning of life is always changing, but never stops. According to logotherapy, we can discover this sense of life in three different ways: (1) performing an action; (2) having some principle; and (3) for the suffering. »
The next two points refer to performing an action and having some principle. Suffering refers to accepting that the meaning of life is simply suffering for some reason (like the previous patient who suffered for the death of his wife).
Follow your passion (perform an action)
I am currently going to salsa classes and some people tell me: “Even though I’m with the flu, I came because it’s the best of the day” or “I can not be a day without dancing”.
It is likely that what makes the most sense in the lives of these people is dancing (or at least one of the things that gives them meaning). It may seem strange to you, although it is the reality, when the rest of your day consists of working in jobs that displease you.
Why do some older people get up at 7 in the morning, go to the gym, take a walk and are active all day while others no longer find the sense of living?
In my opinion, it is because they have found new passions to live for. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most passionate and curious men to acquire knowledge, continued working on new projects until shortly before his death.
When you connect with that external passion it will be absurd to ask you about the meaning of life. You will not even understand how it is possible that you did it before.
Personal relationships and work are the keys (have a beginning)
If you have an existential crisis, are you doing something that makes you feel good? Do you do a job that you like? Do you stay with your friends? Do you socialize?
What gives meaning to life is that you feel that you are valuable for something and for someone. Personal relationships and work are the keys. So:
- Find a job that you like and that you find meaning. Would it make more sense for your life to work in an NGO? Or teach teenagers?
- Work your personal relationships. This book may help you.
Understands that life has times
As Viktor Frankl himself affirmed, life is not constantly happy, but there are situations and times when it is normal to feel discouraged.
However, finding that meaning in your life would overcome a situation of deep and constant sadness.