Existential Crisis: Beyond Suffering

· April 28, 2019
Existential crises are opportunities to connect with your inner self and transform so you can find your true path.

There are times in life when you feel exhausted and you find yourself asking the “big” questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Am I doing the right thing? What happens when I die? Everyone has had this kind of existential crisis at some point in their lives, although the specific questions they ask themselves might vary.

An existential crisis can happen at any point in your life. Existential crises happen to both rich and poor people. They don’t seem to be related to material wealth.

They tend to happen when you feel like things are out of control. It’s like everything that you felt sure about is suddenly unstable. Like all crises, an existential crisis brings suffering. However, you can find meaning in the crisis to go beyond your pain and suffering. Let’s delve a little deeper into this.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

-Viktor E. Frankl-

A sad woman crying alone.

What Is an Existential Crisis?

An existential crisis refers to those moments when you question your own existence. They tend to happen unexpectedly and affect the way you see life. In these moments, you ask questions that can shake the foundations of even your strongest convictions.

Existential crises tend to bring on a whole slew of thoughts and feelings. In other words, they affect the cognitive and emotional plane in an intense way. Dealing with so many new sensations and perceptions can be exhausting, which is why so many people consider them negative.

What’s more, existential crises are often related to identity crises. When you start to doubt who you are, you also start doubting everything and everyone in your life.

How to Detect an Existential Crisis

The main characteristic of an existential crisis is a feeling of emptiness. This might not be exclusive to this particular experience, but it is common. Some other symptoms can help you figure out if you’re having an existential crisis or not:

  • Lack of meaning. Your life has no direction. Your personal life and the world lack any kind of significance.
  • Feeling of uncertainty. You feel insecure and you question life and death, good and evil, etc.
  • Emotional instability. Unsettling thoughts and feelings come over you.
  • You can’t deal with your emotions. You don’t know what to do, who you are, or what purpose anything serves, so it’s hard to accept your responsibilities and make decisions.
  • Dissatisfaction.
  • Insomnia.

Of course, the symptoms vary from person to person. After all, each human being is unique and has unique experiences. What’s more, it’s important to point out that an existential crisis can happen along with other mental disorders such as depression. However, that doesn’t mean that having an existential crisis will necessarily lead to depression.

Using the Crisis to Your Benefit

While an existential crisis can certainly be exhausting, you can use it to your benefit. It’s all about seeing things from a different perspective. You have to value your potential and use it to make things better.

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl emphasized this way of looking at an existential crisis. He proposed that people have the ability to rise above difficult situations and overcome adversity. To do that, you first have to find meaning in that particular situation and in existence in general.

In fact, Frankl created logotherapy, a type of psychotherapy that argues that the driving force for human beings is the search for meaning. He also considered each person unique and incomparable, which means that each individual’s process will also be unique.

A woman walking barefoot.

Victor Frank’s Logotherapy

This type of therapy helps you figure out your purpose in life and consequently helps you find meaning. The key is to move beyond suffering and see your existential crisis as an opportunity to explore who you are and move forward.

Logotherapy has been around for a long time and continues to be effective. One example of logotherapy in modern psychology and psychotherapy is this study of Iranian students and depression.

Logotherapy can also help you stop seeing yourself as a victim of this onslaught of emotions. Instead, you can seize the opportunity to improve your resilience. In other words, your ability to overcome adverse situations.

If you change your perspective, you’ll be able to see concepts, ideas, and resources that you might have missed before. In addition, if you accept that crisis is an intrinsic part of life, your anguish might be replaced by serenity.

Getting through an existential crisis without any scars is almost impossible. So, instead of wasting your effort, try accepting it, exploring it, and figuring out why it happened and where it can take you.

Existential crises are part of life. Learning how to deal with them is a personal process, but seeing them as learning opportunities is a healthy strategy for all. The most important thing is to transcend your suffering and doubt so you can come out of the crisis stronger than ever.

  • Gengler, J. (2009). Análisis existencial y logoterapia: bases teóricas para la práctica clínica. Psiquiatría y salud mental, 26(3-4), 200-2009.
  • Frankl, V. (2015). El hombre en busca de sentido. Herder Editorial.