Neurotic Fatalism: Believing You Can't Change Anything

Neurotic fatalism is an existential position that offers few advantages. Since everything is left to fate, there's no need to worry about making decisions. In exchange, freedom and the possibility of achieving a full life are lost.
Neurotic Fatalism: Believing You Can't Change Anything

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 19 November, 2022

Neurotic fatalism is a concept that was originally proposed by Viktor Frankl. However, other authors have identified it under different names. It concerns the idea that we all have a certain way of being and are completely governed by genetics. In fact, according to this train of thought, we’re unable to be anything other than the way we are.

The favorite phrase of those who are prey to neurotic fatalism is: “That’s just the way I am”. They tend to use this expression when someone has asked them to make certain changes in the way they behave. They react by saying “You don’t need to be so aggressive. That’s the way I am and that’s the end of it”.

Viktor Frankl claimed that neurotic fatalism is a typical manifestation of existential frustration. At the same time, this type of posture feeds a frustrated being. It’s a condition in which the individual stops considering themselves as a subject capable of influencing their reality. Instead, they adopt the role of an object at the mercy of circumstances. We’ll explain this in more depth shortly.

Life continually poses questions to man to which he must answer. Every action of his, whatever its relief, is a response. Thanks to each of these answers, the world comes out of the fog a little, to take a certain shape in front of him. To refuse to answer is to reject them in the mist.”

-Nicola Abbagnano-

Neurotic fatalism

Neurotic fatalism is an existential position in which an individual refuses to give meaning to their own life and assumes that it’s the result of external factors or, in any case, is beyond their control. Therefore, it’s a resigned position, yet, at the same time, dogmatic.

An individual in this position believes that ‘fate decides’ the outcome of situations. The most dangerous thing about this attitude is the fact that it supposes a renunciation of responsibility and, above all, freedom. As long as an individual assumes themselves to be an object of destiny, they’re neither responsible for changing their life, nor do they believe they have the autonomy to do so.

It’s even been suggested that neurotic fatalism not only affects an individual, but a complete group, such as a family, or even an entire society. For example, a group may feel predestined to live in war, misery, or injustice. In fact, their existence is limited to circumventing those circumstances that they consider impossible to change.

Characteristics of neurotic fatalism

Martín Baró, another of the theorists who addressed this subject, claimed that neurotic fatalism manifests itself through three aspects: ideational, affective, and behavioral. Let’s look at the traits it acquires in each of these dimensions.

Cognitive component

This refers to the ideas that support neurotic fatalism. It involves rational constructions that explain the posture of passivity, resignation, and frustration. According to Baró:

  • Life is a reality that unfolds according to a destiny written in advance.
  • The possibility of making modifications to that layout doesn’t correspond to the individual.

Emotional component

Neurotic fatalism is also accompanied by a set of emotions that both sustain and result from this existential posture. They’re the following:

  • Fate is accepted with resignation, since opposing it is useless.
  • It makes no sense to be carried away by sadness or joy because emotions don’t change anything.
  • Life is demanding, painful, and tragic.

Behavioral component

In behavioral terms, neurotic fatalism is expressed through the following behaviors:

  • Submission to fate is the most appropriate way to live.
  • Passivity is the best option since action only amounts to a useless expenditure of energy.
  • The only thing that counts is the present, since the past and the future are only a manifestation of destiny.

Frustration as a way of life

Neurotic fatalism, when real and not feigned, can be a huge source of frustration. On the other hand, it does appear to have a positive side. Because when an individual relinquishes their freedom and responsibility, they also remove any uncertainty when making decisions. Therefore, they avoid bearing personal responsibility for any mistakes.

On the other hand, leaving life in the hands of outside factors offers a sensation of false calm. The price of doing this is extremely high and results in a chain of frustrations. As long as an individual assumes themselves to be an object and not a subject, they can’t go further than the chain that binds them. Consequently, they exist but they don’t really live.

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  • Frankl, V. (2010). Neurosis colectivas de la actualidad. Neurosis colectivas de la actualidad, 119-135.
  • Ramírez, J. L. (2000). Homo instrumental: reflexiones (no sólo pesimistas) acerca del dominio de la tecnología y de la renuncia humana a la libertad. Homo instrumental: reflexiones (no solo pesimistas) acerca del dominio de la tecnología y de la renuncia humana a la libertad, 65-87.