Overcoming an existential crisis

At different stages of life, a person is faced with various emotional outbursts that could provoke an existential crisis. It appears that in some cases, you can identify the events which serve as triggers – for example, an accident, a different kind of loss (for instance, the death of the loved one), illness, loneliness, a decrease in social status, etc.

The biggest question is whether it is possible to overcome the existential crisis, taking advantage of negative and positive experiences. Let’s try to find out in this post by Lucy Adams.

The True Causes of the Crisis

Sad or traumatic experiences are not the only cause of an existential crisis.  Sometimes they may take the form of joyful and positive events like the birth of a child, love, and marriage. The other scenario is when the person feels something has changed inside, and can no longer live yesterday’s life. Very often, an event that provokes the crisis is negligible, but it’s the last drop in the accumulated emotional load.

Thus, the crisis triggers are determined not only by external but also internal content, as well as by the dynamics of the psychological life of the individual, which often remain outside of consciousness, and therefore cannot be controlled or foreseen.

Triggers of an existential crisis

It is necessary to consider the fact that the crisis can be provoked not only by the events of personal history. A crisis can be experienced in extreme situations at a global level. For example, political, economic, social, environmental and natural disasters. If you consider things happening on our planet as the context for the biological, psychological and spiritual development of humanity. Then the relationship between personal and global levels becomes more apparent. Undoubtedly, personal experiences are reflections of the events taking place at the global level. The scale of tragic global events can exacerbate the depth of a personal crisis. 

  • the external characteristics of the crisis may be different;
  • the triggers can have a completely different character;
  • the response to the crisis is specific for the individual.

To understand how to cope with the crisis.  You have to determine its inner essence.  This is the psychological mechanism of occurrence.

Life events

A crisis can arise when life events pose a potential threat to the satisfaction of basic needs.  Sometimes when this occurs the person can’t resolve or escape this threat in a conventional manner. In these circumstances, the essence of the crisis is a conflict. The conflict between the old and the new identity of the individual. Dissolving the familiar past and possible future. Or in other words, who you are and who you could become. The crisis moves a person into a so-called neutral zone, in which the habitual patterns of thinking and behaviour do not work. This state is accompanied by fears of change.  Fears around being different, and breaking away from the usual stereotypes.

Thus, the crisis is a kind of reaction to the situation requiring a change in the way of life, mentality, and attitude towards oneself, the world and the basic existential problems. By the way, any crisis is already laid down in the basic properties of the individual – the desire to develop and improve oneself which means constantly changing.

It looks as if there is someone who wants the person to gain confidence and strength, become more open and tolerant, and get a deeper understanding of life. But, alas, we are too busy and don’t care about personal growth. And this “someone,” after several unsuccessful attempts to make a person think, takes a bold decision and at this very moment, a person gets into a situation that destroys all his habitual foundations and creates a problem from which one cannot escape or solve in a short time.  

How to successfully overcome an existential crisis?

The person is confused and embarrassed; he perceives the crisis as the evil and darkness hanging over his life, as a complete and irremediable ruin.

Well, the key is to learn to meet with the pain, suffering, the proximity of death, etc., not trying to avoid, turn away or soften them. If you learn to take the suffering as part of your spiritual growth, you’ll automatically change its value.

Most psychologists believe that the crisis is the most important prerequisite for personal change, the nature of which can be either positive – constructive, creative, integrative – or negative – destructive, disruptive, divisive.

This implies that there are two main outputs:

  • Take a risk and stay open to new opportunities, overcoming the fear of change.
  • Maintain the existing order of things.

Almost all researchers who have studied the anxiety believe that personal growth and anxiety are inseparable. Often, choosing the need for security and the desire to preserve the existing order, the person ceases to self-develop, limiting or even destroying oneself.

Thus, to develop (and sometimes simply to survive), you need to learn to cope with a variety of critical situations. However, the essence of the crisis causes a person to doubt the possibility of overcoming it. This becomes the biggest problem. The understanding of the need for changes is typical for a non-crisis state. But when the person experiences a crisis, he has a feeling that this will never end and he won’t find the way out. In this case, the crisis is perceived as the ultimate collapse of a life.

Possible negative and positive effects of an existential crisis

Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, dead-end – these are the most typical feeling for any under-crisis person. During this period, the individual acutely feels the absence of internal support. He or she has lost touch with the world and with other people.

The pressure of this state pushes the person to immediate solutions. Among them, there could be suicide, neuropsychiatric and psychosomatic disorders, social maladjustment, posttraumatic stress disorder, criminal behaviour, alcohol or drug abuse, etc. Therefore, the crisis may bring a destructive aspect.  This complicates the process of further growth and development.

On the other hand, the crisis is the ability to change and pass to a new stage of development of the personality. A positive aspect. The crisis may be the opportunity to change something about yourself and your life.  You can learn something new, set new goals and values. An adequate resolution of the crisis gives the opportunity to move to the next stage of development and become a more mature person.

The conclusion

The crisis is both dangerous and an opportunity. It is destruction, and creation, acquisition, and loss. It can signify the death of the old and the birth of the new. Any phenomenon in this world contains its opposite. Our world is dual,  this is like one side of the coin exists only because there is another.

Therefore, when dealing with the crisis, you have to understand that it consists of both periods of destruction and creation, and these periods are natural components of the process of growth and development. You cannot get something without losing something, as well as its impossible to permanently lose getting nothing in return.

The feature of destruction and creation is that when one of them is active, the other remains concealed. Sometimes, it seems incredible, but these two processes happen according to certain laws, and all events are logically connected to each other. The problem is that the person, being inside the destructive phase, can’t see it, and only after passing the crisis, he can understand that gained a lot of experience, despite the fact that during the crisis the experience seemed to be negative.

Due to our perception of life, the process of creation looks much more appealing, and we know more about it. However, understanding and respecting the process of destruction as a necessary stage of personal and social development is a gift we can present ourselves. Yes, the destruction is a gift, as it contains creation, though hidden.

The crisis is a time when the caterpillar has to make a choice of either to stay afraid of darkness or turn into a butterfly.