Existential crisis  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

An existential crisis is a state of panic or feeling of intense psychological discomfort about questions of existence. It is more common in cultures where basic survival needs have been overcome.

Contents

Description

An existential crisis can result from:

  • A sense of being alone and isolated,
  • The realization of one's own mortality, or the realization that there is no afterlife; or
  • A realization that one's life has no destined, supernatural, or in some cases external purpose or meaning.

It is quite similar to the sociological concept of anomie. It has also been likened to a mid-life crisis. The implication of an existential crisis is that the crisis itself stems from some sort of existential realization or understanding.

In non-existential belief systems the essence of what it means to be human is largely held to have been predefined before birth, usually by some sort of supernatural being or group of beings. A certain lack of faith in such belief systems is typically a prerequisite for an existential crisis. Basically, an existential crisis is the sudden awareness of not knowing what one's life is all about and/or the sudden awareness of one's inevitable impending personal doom.

Cognitive dissonance results when a person is faced with the paradox of believing that their life is important while at the same time perceiving that human existence itself is without meaning or purpose. It is the resolution of this paradox that dissolves the crisis. A typical resolution is a belief in some sort of supernatural explanation through religion; others hold that one can define for oneself what one's own meaning and purpose is on this planet.

Existential crises are sometimes triggered by a significant event or change in a person's life. Usually the event makes the person reflect in some way on his or her own mortality, revealing the repression. Typical examples of such events are the death of a loved one, a life-threatening experience, use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, one's children moving away from home, reaching a certain age, or a length of time in solitary confinement.

Crisis handling

There are more ways and variations on how to handle an existential crisis, however. One may decide, for instance, that thought is pointless and existential truth or security cannot be obtained through it. Or one may conclude that it is not important to know what happens or how things work; all that matters is the present. Others may decide that being happy is the pursuit of life and strive to increase their knowledge base in order to accomplish this.


Literary examples

Prince Hamlet experiences an existential crisis as a result of the death of his father. This is shown especially by Shakespeare in the famous soliloquy which starts, "To be, or not to be: that is the question...".

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Existential crisis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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