What is Existentialism?
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What is Existentialism?

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

What drives us every day? What do we search for in our lives? The question that comes to almost all of us. the major answer to this most significant question of our lives is rooted in finding the purpose of our lives. Knowing the meaning of our lives and how to reach them acts as a major driving force. Right? This article drives you through the major aspects of the approach called Existentialism or Existential Psychology.

Introducing Existentialism

The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of a new movement in the field of Psychology referred to as the third movement. This movement has a varied number of orientations. It includes most of the aspects other than Psychoanalysis and Behaviourism. This third force is based on the concept of Phenomenology. Phenomenology is research that seeks to understand how people experience them. The major expressions under the third movement include existential psychology and Humanistic Psychology.

Humanism was proposed by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Humanistic Psychology focuses on the subjective nature of human beings while viewing them more optimistically. Existential Psychology or existentialism holds the premise that every individual is free to define the meaning of their lives and direct their lives through their own choices. However, the very significant fact associated with existentialism is that the individual has to accept or have responsibility for any outcome or result associated with the choices made by the individual. Existentialism emphasizes finding a way of life through the choices and decisions taken by the individual.

Roots of Existentialism

It is found that existentialism has its emergence in Europe and the United States of America. Also, found that it had its beginning shortly after the Second World War. Though researchers, philosophers, and psychiatrists namely Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, and Martin Heidegger proposed various aspects regarding existentialism, the significant contribution or the foremost spokesperson for the field of existentialism has been by Rollo May and Victor Frankl.

Main Elements of Existential Psychology or Existentialism

Though many philosophers gave different outlooks and backgrounds regarding existentialism, the core aspect of it was surrounded by the essence of existence. Existentialism is a far and wide concept. This part of the article succumbs to the major elements of Existentialism. This includes:

  1. Existence precedes essence
  2. The givenness of human life
  3. Freedom and choice
  4. Absurdity
  5. Anguish
  6. Forlornness
  7. Authenticity
1. Existence precedes essence

One of the fundamental principles behind existentialism is that existence precedes essence. Here existence means being there while essence talks about what you make out of being there. To put in a simple example: I am a writer- here writer is the essence of my living whereas the word I am denotes my existence in this surreal world. There were many Western philosophies against this idea of existence preceding essence. This included philosophers like Plato and Rene Descartes. This could simply be said that you may have to exist first to be here and do something. Thus, stating that man, himself being there is the precursor in existence while the essence comes beneath.

2. The givenness of human life

Another significance of Existentialism is the concept of givenness or contingency of life. Every one of us has a life or we are meant to exist with the timeline from birth to death. In between this timeline, lies the contingency of certain social circumstances or the so-called social life. This has so many aspects like horror, anguish, uncertainty, etc. It’s the human beings who are the only beings who are aware that they are bound to death anytime soon. And it is it that makes them live with anxiety, dread, and horror most of the time. Every individual has to understand that like life and love, death also has to be treated equally like how the great men treat death. We must learn that dying for a meaningful cause is far better than living a meaningless life.

3. Freedom

The heart of existential philosophy is freedom. It refers to the genuine freedom existing. With freedom, comes responsibility. Existentialism emphasizes that the individual has the freedom to choose his or her goal, work towards it, and make decisions along with complete responsibility for the actions. It is said that the choices we make upon our freedom are what make us who we are. The chaos or tension between freedom and the external determinants would examine the impact on the individual’s responsibility.

Read More: Psychology Behind Goal-Setting

4. Absurdity

This element means that life has no pre-defined meaning or purpose. Existential philosophers believe that there is no meaning to each of our lives before we provide them. We may have made sense of our lives. There is a saying that states ‘anything can happen to anyone in our lives’. Existentialists say that in any condition like trauma tragic event or joy, individuals have to embrace the irrational state of their lives and make sense or meaning out of it.

5. Anguish

Also called dread, anxiety, or uneasiness. It is the feeling that we get to arise whenever we face an absurd situation. At times, the freedom and the choices we make may often lead us to the development of anxiety. Hence, we may have to choose our decisions wisely as it may either lead to enjoyment or it would lead to absurdity.

Read More: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques for Anxiety

6. Forlornness

Forlornness is otherwise called loneliness. At times, freedom would want us to lead a life on our own. This may sometimes; lead to existential forlornness where you get no one to help about or make sense of one’s existence. Individuals at times, tend to experience isolation even in the middle of social connection.

7. Authenticity

Another important concept of existential philosophy is Authenticity. It is the individual’s state of being true to oneself despite the external condition or situation. This philosophy encourages individuals to live life being genuine with one’s values and beliefs.

Read More: Psychology of Assertiveness

Existential psychology or existentialism is the philosophy that offers a lens through which we get to understand human experience. By analyzing and evaluating the major elements of existentialism, we gain insights into the complex life while understanding the meaning of our lives.

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References +
  • https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-existentialism-5667161
  • https://egyankosh.ac.in/handle/123456789/35384
  • https://egyankosh.ac.in/bitstream/123456789/72490/1/Unit-11.pdf
  • https://psychcentral.com/health/existential-theory#main-ideas

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