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Existential Crisis?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Existential Crisis?Recently, a reader posted this comment in response to an article of mine entitled, "Loneliness, A Deadly Disease."
The article and all responses to it can be found at the following URL:

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_index.php?idx=119&d=1&w=5&e=15057

"Existential crisis?

One day I caught my reflection and the first thoughts I had were; What happened? Who put me here? Why? And from that moment on my mind has been in turmoil. Constantly looking for something that so many intellectuals over 3000 years still could never define and never will - because it doesn't exist. There is no reason. Human life has no more (or less) reason to be than any other form of life. The only difference our species have over others is our intellect, and look where that led us! We're on the cusp of our own extinction, after all the evolution our species went through and we're still behaving like the cave people we started out as.

My point is, Human's are ultimately transitory. Like the Dinosaurs we will disappear and then what will it all have meant? Perhaps the World needs to catch its own reflection, until then love will never unite us."

Discussion:

I do not share the commentary's gloomy assessment of the world or of life. Part of the reason that I do not share this point of view is really the topic of the article he was responding to. In my view, all life has a purpose and an importance.

The topic of the original article was loneliness and the fact that its a toxic disease. That is what brought me to the book I quoted in the article and that I want to direct the reader's attention to now.

James J. Lynch, Ph.D. published a brilliant book several years ago called, A Cry Unheard (Bancroft Press, 2000).
"What is particularly significant about the message Dr. Lynch conveys is the fact that loneliness is caused by our failure to communicate, engage in discourse and be committed to each other and to community."

In my opinion, there is no real existential crisis if people are involved with one another and with the community. If a person has difficulty communicating and finds himself isolated it is almost inevitable that an existential crisis will occur. Under these lonely conditions, many people experience depression and a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness.

In actuality, what I am suggesting about having meaningful social connections goes back to one of my favorite psychologists, Erik Erikson. In writing about his psychosocial stages of human development from birth to old age, he stressed both a sense of growing individuality and social interaction as we go through life.

The great psychiatrist, Irwin Yalom, MD, states in many of his auto biographical books that death becomes less fearful when we know we have influenced others in a positive way. It may be that a person who is depressed cannot appreciate the positive impact they have had on other people.

There is no doubt that many people feel lonely and isolated. I receive messages from some of them through postings or thru E.Mails that they are frustrated with their inability to meet friends and form relationships. Some of them are recent college graduates who find themselves without the structure of school for the first time since kindergarten. Others are always at a loss about how to make friends. Also, there are those who anxiously avoid social situation out of fear that they will be rejected if they go out. Some people self isolate because they are convinced that they are not likeable, or that they never know what to say when they are in the company of others.

The dilemma they face and the question they often ask is, "What can I do to change the situation?" There are always a few who have given up and state that they believe nothing can ever change.

In my opinion, as a therapist and as someone who is well read in psychology and psychoanalysis, human beings have an unlimited capacity to improve their lives. To begin to change things it is important to find motivation. Even a person who is depressed and anxious can reach out for help and begin the process of growth and development. This is where psychotherapy comes in.

Today, there are many forms of psychotherapy. For example, one of the most effective types of therapy available for people with depression, anxiety and social avoidance, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Psychodynamic therapy is also available and found to be helpful. Sometimes, depending on the individual and their problems, medication is prescribed as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

The main point is that help can be obtained for those who are feeling isolated, lonely and alone. No longer are these conditions that have to remain permanent. All of us need one another and all of us learn and benefit from each and every person we meet.

There is a Talmudic quote that reads something like this: "To save one life is to save an entire universe.

Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD