Existentialism

The central idea of existentialism is to live an authentic life and discover the purpose and meaning of life. The constant pressure of being influenced by others, societal pressures and material and physical conditions renders us helpless in connecting with the true self. Ultimately, finding ease and purpose despite the travails of life remain our priority. Finding your purpose starts with owning and taking responsibility for decisions, actions, and emotions along with the consequences. 

The opposite approach, that is, allowing external influences to guide and inform decision making has the ability to result in a lack luster life. Since humans don’t exist in a vacuum and interactions with other people play a central role in development of existential thought, understanding and defining your relationship to and with other people is key to being an active agent in decision making. The balance then in living an authentic life, that is, the balance between agency and connection is to engage and respect the subjectivity of others whilst defining oneself with respect to others.

Understanding our existence and by extension existential thoughts requires contemplation as opposed to rigid, mechanical ways of thinking. Contemplation attempts to seek meaning of the self as opposed to deriving meaning from external sources and involves independent thinking. The notion of focusing on the self, confronting long held beliefs which are maladaptive and taking responsibility instead of blaming others elicits anxiety. However, the anxiety is necessary for developing the authentic self.

Within the therapeutic environment exploring the authentic self can take many forms such as reflective questions that challenge current thinking patterns, mindfulness strategies designed to connect with the self, exploration of interpersonal values, engaging in creative activities, and developing psychological flexibility.