People are said to be intellectually superior and the most complex of all the living things that walk here on earth. We know how to think, perceive, infer, solve problems, feel, understand, express, able to achieve experiences, broaden social bounds, and all the likes within the capacity of the different aspects installed in our being.
With all of these abilities at hand, we can shape the person we become. Choices are conscious drives and it serves as the determiner of our freedom. Either we get liberated or imprisoned by it. Experiences are either controlled or uncontrolled. We don’t always get to choose what we experience but we often have the choice on how to respond on what we experience.
When pain is experienced by an individual, defenses arise. In order to deal with conflicts and problems in life, Freud stated that the ego employs a range of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings (i.e. anxiety) or make good things feel better for the individual (Saul McLeod, 2009). On the other hand, George Vaillant further elaborated and classified defense mechanisms into 4 levels that emphasized its degree namely:
Negative experiences are inevitable. Anxiety is an essence of life. Mental health is determined not on the absence of anxiety but instead on how one could keep him/herself intact even with its presence. It is with the way on how we respond that we can say that anxiety has been a catapult for life or a quick sand to nothingness.
Sitting down with people whether in counselling/therapy sessions, psychological assessments, or even as casual as a friend confides his/her thoughts and feelings, if there is a term such as “clinical eye” which refers to an inference coming from one’s behaviour on how a practitioner in the field of psychology could tell that an individual is disturbed even by seeing him/her the first time, then, I can adopt this and say that it is with the “clinical ear” that I hear whether the words that comes out of a person’s mouth is from the authentic being that they are or it is the defense mechanism that starts talking. Some people become the pain that they have experienced. Others are like walking Great Wall of China because of the long and thick walls they have built to protect the vulnerable inside of them. Talking to people like this brings me to an imaginary vision walking inside these walls, opening doors after doors, only to find a child crying in the corner.
I have thought to myself, is it really pre-disposed in this individual’s personality to be strong or is it the walls of defenses that got too thick? The thicker the walls of defenses the more fragile is being protected inside. Well, personality and the choice of defense mechanism may be correlated.
Other than relevant experiences, defense mechanisms can also shape who we are now. It is basically not the pain that make us or break us but rather the defenses we put up once it was experienced because pain is humanity’s baseline for personal progress or regression and not all mechanisms are mature. It may be true that these mechanisms are unconscious in nature that’s why the need to recognize how we handle things could make us discover a lost self hidden behind thick walls when a certain defense mechanism is overly utilized. When these mechanisms are aroused in the conscious level then, we get to put our feet back firm on the ground of reality in order to make choices and eliminate unconscious immature defenses to know how to adopt better ways to surmount a conflict.
The ability to break walls of defenses when needed is therapeutic. To be transparent with ones hurt, pain, and vulnerability takes double the strength than by persistently putting up walls brick by brick and yet nothing gets resolved other than just continues barrier construction that moves one’s self away from authentic living. To have someone comfort and nurture the vulnerable being within to mature, preserves the core personality of an individual freed from the perplexity of pain adopting appropriate defenses for personal growth.
But not all that we fear and gets scared with develops into what we call “Phobia”.
What is Phobia?
Phobias are defined as extreme or irrational fears, often persistent, that compel sufferers to avoid the object or situation to which their fear is connected (Fleming, 2017).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – fifth edition (DSM-V) categorized it under the Anxiety Disorders and follows a name “Specific Phobia” (300.29).
A specific phobia relates to a particular stimulus that causes fear, anxiety or avoidance and results in intense distress for the sufferer (Fleming, 2017).The criteria remained unchanged from its fourth revision (DSM-IV).
The criteria are as follows:
The individual suffers from a persistent fear that is either unreasonable or excessive, caused by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation.
Exposure to the stimulus usually results in an anxiety response, often taking the form of a panic attack in adults, or a tantrum, clinging, crying or freezing in children.
The sufferer recognizes that their fear is disproportionate to the perceived threat or danger (not always present in children).
Individuals take steps to avoid the object or situation they fear, or endure such experiences with intense distress or anxiety.
The phobic reaction, anticipation or avoidance interferes with the individual’s normal routine and relationships, or causes significant distress.
The phobia has persisted for a period of time, usually six months or longer.
The symptoms cannot be attributed to another mental condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Specific Types of Phobia (DSM-V):
Natural Environment Type (Ex: heights, storms, water)
Situational Type (Ex: airplanes, elevators, enclosed places)
Other Type (Ex: phobic avoidance of situations that may lead to choking, vomiting, or contracting an illness; in children, avoidance of loud sounds or costumed characters)
Causes of Specific Phobia
The antecedents that trigger the development of specific phobia could be various. Dr. Kevin Fleming (2017) cited in his article discussing about specific phobia and its probable causes:
Traumatic experiences – Individuals who have a traumatic experience in childhood may begin to make associations with related situations or objects in adulthood. For example, someone who is bitten by a dog at a young age may develop a fear of dogs in later life. Learned behavior –The family environment may be a cause of specific phobias – being around relatives who have particular fears, or deal with anxiety in a certain way, is thought to influence children and may contribute to the onset of phobias. Genetics –Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to having an anxious personality, making them more prone to phobias. Fear response – Having a panic attack or other pronounced response to fear or panic in a certain situation can lead to feelings of embarrassment or fear of a repeat episode, which over time may develop into a phobia. Ongoing stress – Over the long term, stress can result in feelings of anxiety, depression and inability to cope in certain situations, which may progress into a phobia.
Living with phobia magnifies a seemingly non-threatening situation, object, animal etc and turns it into something big to make someone trembles at his/her knees and causes certain dysfunction in a person’s daily living.
There are numerous interventions that could help alleviate the symptoms of specific phobia such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, Relaxation Techniques, Hypnotherapy, Mindfulness, and Medications.
The following case presentation is based on a real client who has lived with a specific phobia from childhood called “Pediophobia” otherwise known as,”Fear of Dolls”.
Exposure Therapy was applied as the main intervention to help the client overcome the irrational fear of dolls.
Client “JC” (male) was 25 years old during the time when the therapy program was applied to his case. He described himself as a generally sociable and a happy person. He is also a type of person who is easily scared and startled when surprised.
He doesn’t have any recollection of traumatic events associated with dolls when he was a kid. He also doesn’t have any family member who has anxiety disorder.
All that he knows was when he was young they have a doll named “Jay-R”. He recalled that he felt like this doll is going to blink, talk and move whenever he looks at it. He emphasized how the eyes of dolls are so scary for him. Most especially, the porcelain ones.
Whenever he sees dolls, he would just immediately close his eyes, screech, feels paralyzed yet there’s a strong desire for him to run away from it, develops rapid heartbeat, nausea, and would beg to tears for the doll to be taken away from his path even if it is far away from him.
Exposure therapy was offered to “JC” to help him come out strong from his phobia. Exposure therapy is classified as a Behavioral Therapy. The person undergoes various phases where the behavior is modified through systematic desensitization as the person gets exposed with the feared stimulus.
There are 3 phases included in his exposure therapy program. But, before the first phase began, he was taught to do relaxation techniques called the progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing so that he could apply this when he encounters strikingly high anxiety levels as he gets to face his feared stimulus. In this way, he can manage his own anxiety by calming himself down. He was also oriented to rate the aroused anxiety level from 0-10 (0 = no anxiety and 10= strikingly high anxiety level) as the feared stimulus gets presented and after intervention was applied to it to know if there are changes in the anxiety level of the client. Attained positive behavior were always given differential reinforcement through verbal praises and physical gestures such as giving a tap on the back, high-five or even a hug. Worksheets were given to the client as a follow-up tasks every after session so as the effect will carry on and be generalized even outside the therapy.
The first phase was the “Imaginal Exposure.” This kind of technique is helpful most especially if the exact stimulus paired with a traumatic event is no longer available to be utilized. In this phase, the client was asked to close his eyes and imagine to go back in time when he first encountered the doll “JAY-R.” He was directed through various steps as he was asked to do certain actions such as going inside the room where the doll is, walking near the doll and touching it. Each of the step were rated by “JC” as to how much anxiety is building up in him. He was asked to stay in the moment together with the feared object and asked to stay on a thought about what dolls really are – which is they are just inanimate, non-threatening toys for children. This was done so as the magnitude of the feared object will be deemed insignificant to help the client break irrational thoughts. Concept of Hypnotherapy was also applied before he was asked to open his eyes and go back in reality.
The second phase was establishing “Fear Hierarchy.” This is the phase where pictures and videos of dolls where presented to the client. The hierarchy starts with images that were less anxiety-provoking towards the client such as showing a seemingly cartoony image of a doll going to his most feared ones – porcelain dolls’ pictures and lastly, a video of dolls. The client was asked to stay with the image, for him to not close his eyes as the therapist assured the safety of the environment and of the client himself. Cognitive restructuring through dispute was also done by asking questions to the client such as, “Are the dolls really moving?”, “Are they going to attack you?” etc. The client was asked to verbally answer the questions to stimulate rationalization. Each picture was asked to be rated by the client from 0-10 based on how much anxiety was aroused by it. Stimulus that were on the high anxiety arousal rate was utilized for further exposure until his anxiety level decreases.
The third phase of the exposure therapy done to the client was the “In-Vivo Exposure.”This was the most anxiety provoking of all the phases because the client is now faced with the actual feared object. The client was first oriented about the last phase before entering the room with dolls. The client was guided inside the room and as he saw the dolls, he bursted in tears and trembled. He started to close his eyes and uttered, “They are looking at me!” The therapist did extinction of this behavior so as not to reinforce it rather, he was guided and encouraged to open his eyes and to look at the dolls from a distant and was assured that he is in a safe place. Once again, cognitive restructuring assisted through dispute was utilized by asking questions to the client to negate irrational thoughts. When the client successfully did it and reported to have had a decreased anxiety level, he was asked to come near the dolls and sit with them on the sofa. The anxiety level of the client shoots up once again and he started to cry and felt nauseous than ever. The therapist sat along the dolls to demonstrate how non-threatening they are. After a while, he decided to open his eyes and slowly touched the dolls. Reinforcement was instantly given to the client through praise and encouragement. He even started to carry the dolls one by one. After being able to do this, he said that he felt dizzy and passed out for a few minutes.
When he was awaken, he started to look and touch the dolls instantaneously as if his passing out seemed to be like a reset of his system. He reported that his anxiety level has zeroed out gradually. He even asked for his picture to be taken with the dolls hanging around him – something that he wouldn’t do within the bounds of his phobia.
We discover wider rooms in our potentials when fear is kicked out. We realize that thriving and not just merely surviving is possible even when vulnerability to fear is present. Even if phobia is beyond fear, the person itself is still beyond phobia. It all starts with a conscious decision that we are able to overcome what our minds conceive as our limits.
Suicide is defined as an intentional induction of one’s perishability.
It’s etiology are various but the most known causal factor is mental health problems that take about almost 90% of the suicide cases. Generally, the most known mental disorder that is directly connected with suicide is Major Depressive Disorder – a mood disorder that is characterized by pervasive depressed mood for most of the day and loss of interest in doing things that enables the person to function in his/her day to day activities.
It has been long studied about the genetic, cognitive, behavioral, psychological experiences of people that predispose them to the feelings and thoughts of suicide. Socio-cultural factors were also explored and one of it is the role of religion in the suicide experiences of people who attempted it. We will look through the lens of subjective experiences of people on how they attribute such acts towards their religious beliefs.
In a qualitative study conducted by C.S. Akotia et al. (2014) entitled, “I Have Sinned”: Understanding the Role of Religion in the Experiences of Suicide Attempters in Ghana, they have explored the various subjective factors that instigate the feelings and thoughts within the religious context of committing suicide. It stated that Ghana is a country which religion has a direct influence in the lives of their people such as in the way they gave religious-related names to their children and business establishments. 68% of the population are Christian, 15.9% are Muslim while the rest fall under either traditional religion or no religious affiliation (Ghana Statistical Service, 2010). With this in hand, suicide is strongly condemned. The “informants” as to what the study has addressed them to be, were 30 patients (12 men and 18 women) between 18 and 46 years of age admitted to hospital following a suicide attempt by means of self-poisoning with various substances (C.S. Akotia et al., 2014)
The common ground of informants’ view of their lives that also served to be the lens where their suicidal feelings and thoughts centers in a religious context is the “Acknowledgement of God’s superiority and ownership of life.”
“I see it as a sin. I know God is the answer to everything. Whenever you have patience, you always end up being successful. I did not have patience and I just sinned” (woman 2).
“I feel it’s not good… I should have taken it to God in prayer. I have sinned” (woman 1).
The statements made by the informants show how well they have understood that it is a sin to commit suicide and that life is precious and worthy to be preserved as they recognize that God owns our lives and He is therefore, the only one who has the rights to take it away from us.
The researchers found 2 emerging themes that surrounds the subjective experiences of people which are the understandings and reactions to their suicidal act that were either in “accordance” with God or in
“opposition” to God.
The majority of the informants understood their suicidal experiences in “accordance” with God or their religious beliefs. The sub-themes here include:
Failure to Fulfill Religious Obligations– wherein people seems to have construed experiencing good things in life by serving well within their responsibilities in church/religious practices hence, not being able to fulfill obligations could bring dire consequences.
“I feel it [suicide attempt]…it will not help me. I should have taken it to the Lord in prayer” (woman 1).
Guilt Feelings– the fruit of realizing that one has not served well under religious obligations.
“ …and I was crying because I was feeling so guilty before God. I felt so guilty … after I did that” (woman 3) and “I wish I never did what I did…but it has happened” (woman 4).
Condemnation of Self– it is demonstrated in a way when one has realized that a suicide attempt is against God’s law.
“I know that God is against some of these things…a person killing himself when life is from God. I think I should not have done this because God will not be happy with me …” (man 2).
“Thou shall not kill! …my judgment won’t be easy … this is because I took my life. So it’s not good” (woman 4).
Seeking Forgiveness – it is a way to reconcile one’s self by realizing the sin committed.
“Me, I have said that God should forgive me because I know that it is a sin. Even the Bible says it. So I prayed over it that God should forgive me” (woman 4).
Few people seem to have negated their religious system and expressed negative feelings thinking that their devotion to God was in vain. The sub-themes include:
Blaming God for not Helping – a feeling when one has given his life to God and expects to be saved from tribulations, but ends up finding him/herself in the same miserable situation.
“…I bought the drug because I was thinking that for me who has given my life to God, some things should not be happening in my life, and every day…I wanted to end it all. All the things happening to me, I believe God should have fought for me but that did not happen” (man 1)
“…but I also think that God should have helped me or maybe saved me from this trouble. I keep asking why… why he will not help me out” (woman 5).
Expression of Anger and Disappointment in God – a feeling when one has realized that God seem to have abandoned them in their sufferings.
“…I am angry with God. It’s like I am angry with God…at times you go to church and get all the encouragement and you ask God to give you something that will bring you some peace within your heart and I don’t get it …”(woman 6).
The findings could differ from culture to culture but we will be able to see a glimpse of how beliefs could either aggravate or alleviate suicidal behaviors in general since religious beliefs in various sects are homogenous in many ways as they are embraced in a specific country. The study has presented the essence of the implication of their study by mostly focusing on integrating professional help through educating religious leaders on how to better assist those members who seem to have suicidal crisis within them.
Religious involvement could create belongingness and acceptability that connects an individual to a sense of social-relatedness. But, it could also harm mental health when the interpretation of the belief translates itself into something that creates division to one’s self, learned helplessness, and conditions of worth.
Beliefs especially one that is connected to devotion to a Supreme Deity presents a complex and divergent implications where many could benefit while at the same time harm others.
It is with caution that we choose what to believe and to believe with a balanced and in-depth understanding of what we choose.
“I Have Sinned”: Understanding the Role of Religion in the Experiences of Suicide Attempters in Ghana.
By: Charity Sylvia Akotia, Birthe Loa Knizek , Eugene Kinyanda, and Heidi Hjelmeland
Have you ever tried to ride the roller coaster? It is a thrilling ride that brings you up,… down,… then, circles you around in various directions. It gives you mixed feelings of anxiety, excitement, fear, and in the end even nausea.
Imagine not getting out of the same cycle…
Imagine experiencing abrupt and intense moods that bring you up,… down,… then circles you around in confusion…
…Imagine having Bipolar Disorder.
Bipolar Disorder is a type of mood disorder that brings the sufferer to the extreme polarities of mood – the manic and depressive. There are various types of Bipolar and Related Disorders namely Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Cyclothymic Disorder and substance/medication induced Bipolar Disorders.
Bipolar I is characterized by the classic manic-depressive that comes along with a great challenge in regulating these moods and impairment in functioning. On the other hand, Bipolar II is characterized by hypomania and depression. The difference of Hypomania and Mania is the duration of the euphoric mood and severity either in symptoms or impairment.
Cyclothymic Disorder is given as a diagnosis to those people who experience at least 2 years (for adults) and at least 1 year (for children) of seemingly unspecified hypomania and depressive symptoms.
Finally, the substance/medication induced bipolar disorders. The causation of this disorder comes from drug abuse or medications being taken by a certain person that creates instability of mood and symptoms that could qualify any bipolar spectrum mentioned above.
Being retracted on extreme moods is no fun. It is exhausting. It is frightening. And it drives you in confusion.
What is it really like to be bipolar? It is not just merely being happy and sad but, it pulls you to extreme form of happiness which is called “euphoria” that could drive a person to do impulsive and dangerous behaviors that puts a person in much risk due to beyond heaven-positivity that one might feel. Then, it pulls a person to the rock bottom of mood which is called “melancholia” that could make a sufferer have feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and helplessness – eventually, leading to suicidal ideation.
It is still with lack that Bipolar Disorders are understood by merely quantifying it using diagnostic books of mental disorders. It could be through the subjective experiences of people that we may be able to further grasp what suffering from Bipolar means. Here are some real people who cooperated and courageously told their personal experiences riding the roller coaster ride of Bipolar Disorder. These people belong in a certain Facebook group in the Philippines that supports those who are afflicted with Mental Disorders. It is with consent and anonymity from the following people that their words have been made possible to be included in this blog.
“For me, having Bipolar feels like living in two worlds wherein you feel happy having this disorder (referring to effects of mania) and the other is suffering physically from taking medications continuously (from its probable side effects). But then, when you recognize you are already in that kind of world, people see you as someone who is not normal.”
“It feels as if you are in a roller coaster. Hahahahaha. You have abrupt mood changes. When you feel hyper, it goes beyond the ceiling. You feel anxious having the need to do something – anything. But the difficult part of it is that you cannot concentrate well because you are easily distracted. And when you are on your down time, you feel like you are not in your real self. You keep on sleeping and it is either you don’t have appetite or you eat impulsively because it feels like there is emptiness to fill within you. It is also difficult to maintain relationships because of the unstable decision making that goes with your abrupt mood changes. These often leave you misunderstood.”
“In my experience, there are times that I get hot headed when things get repetitive, I get irritable at people who doesn’t listen to me. Then, when I see something good and funny, I laugh it out. And when I hear someone say something bad about me, I hide the pain to myself. My mood changes abruptly, good thing I could cope with it though it is difficult. I know that there are other people that notice my attitude, but I don’t give a damn about them since I am not close to them.”
“When I was still not diagnosed and didn’t know anything about mental illness, I enjoyed too much of mania, feeling productive and invincible. But it’s difficult when you are in a depressive mood. If I could just pass this feeling on to others just so they could understand it, I would have. It was in 2014 that I accepted and studied about moods, meds, triggers, etc. Somehow, I have known it better along with my strength and weakness. It is a gift and a curse on itself.”
“Bipolar Disorder is a part of who I am but never defines by it.”
People suffering from Bipolar Disorder may seem to ride in an endless roller coaster ride of moods, but help and treatments are available. This disorder may include irksome symptoms and impairments but, when these people decided to get help that’s the time they took back the life that was once in captivity of Bipolar Disorder. These people testified that the end point of life is not suffering but hope.
Acceptance is the key to mental health wellness for sufferers that will serve to be a gateway to breaking the stigma – the stigma that burns bridges of understanding about what mental disorders are all about. It is time to speak up, and by what it means is that if you are secretly suffering from a Bipolar or other mental disorders, you start building your bridge by seeking help – a bridge where both sufferers and non-sufferers will be able to walk together in support and understanding of mental disorders.
The life of these people who continue to live despite of their Bipolar Disorder proves that humans have the capacity to thrive over adversaries that once held them down. It seems to have given them a new perspective to ride along the roller coaster as something that equipped them with essential lessons, holding a new perspective that though it might bring them up,… down,… and to circle them around, the experiences they get out of it turns to be an advantage rather than the opposite.
Break the stigma.
And build bridges of understanding that will connect you to a support system that will help carry the weight of your burden for fast recovery.
Then, you will see the indispensable trace of life lessons that will enable you to help and see hope spark in others. The same hope that will burn yours even bigger that will make you aspire that maybe one day, you will just get to see yourself looking at that roller coaster ride from afar.
These are just some of the manifestations of anxiety as I talk to this very familiar being. His thoughts made it to appear as if the world is ending tomorrow. His actions were determined by an impending doom that is unlikely to happen. He seems to have kept a friend, a nosy one, whom he let himself to be a part of.
Anxiety serves to be a primitive survival instinct embedded within our minds. It keeps us alert from danger. It helps us to solve problems. And it is what makes us feel alive. Yup, anxiety creates more meaning in our lives than harm depending on how we utilize it. If there is nothing to be anxious about, then meaning cannot exist. Having an anxiety disorder feels like having a broken safety alarm system. It will create panic in you even though it just calls for a false alarm. No real danger, no real threats but, it could make you feel as if something menacing is about to happen.
This person that I talked to has been affected psychologically and cognitively by thinking, “I’m no longer safe! I have to escape! I have to live! This could not be happening to me now! Then, he starts to feel confused with the rush of thoughts that come into his mind. It is followed by physical sensation of fear and anxiety. His heart pounds fast, he trembles, he starts to feel lightheaded, he gets these hot/cold flashes flowing through his body, he perspires, and his legs feel jittery. His whole perception settles in as if the danger is happening now. His mind creates a pattern of worry after worry. After he resolves one anxious thought, his nosy friend whispers another. It victimizes him as if all the bad news in the world will chase him and eventually, get him. His friend overly warns him of the things that won’t probably fall in one place where he is, but trusts him anyway because of possibilities.
In the event of his anxiety, the possibility and our vulnerability to experience everything is what escalates it. It starts to take advantage of his desire to control things that are happening in his life. He is having a difficulty to let go because he wants to be prepared of something that hasn’t even happened yet, then again, because of possibilities.
He goes, “I’m afraid I won’t be prepared when something bad happens”
He sounded as if letting go will only create fear within him because of the insecurity it could bring. His mind automatically switches to a “fight or flight” mode even in the absence of a real jeopardy. He sees right through himself, a fragile being and therefore, he should protect himself.
As I hear all these seemingly reasonable notion, I started to feel frustrated and whispered in my thought,
“Why do you just seem to hold on to the negative possibilities? Doesn’t that ring a bell that something faulty is wired in your mind?
Then I go, “All of us will experience possibilities. But, one will not experience all the possibilities.”
I continued, “When you went back home from somewhere did you encounter an accident?”
“No”, he uttered.
“When you woke up in the morning, were you dead?”
“No”, he said again.
“When you checked your bank account, did you lose all your money from a hacker?”
“No, I didn’t”
“And now, did anything in your thought as of the present actually happened to you?”
He responded, “No… not to me but someone experienced it and that is scary because of the possibility that it might happen to me as well.”
As I listened to his answer, I took a deep sigh and said,
“The possibility they experienced is not the same possibility you will experience. Let go of possibilities because it will always be unknown. Live your life and stop living in the misery of others. Accept vulnerability and you will be flexible in facing the anxieties that come with living. Grow in the present and your future will be nourished. Though you may face trials, you are a human being capable of actualizing. You will grow and move on. Be in the moment of your existence.”
He responded with silence. Then, I saw the both ends of his mouth gradually stretching upwards as it collide with his cheeks – a smile builds up. We looked right through each other’s eyes for a moment. Took a deep breathe, nodded at each other as if we came to a clear understanding and had a last glance.
Then, I walked out leaving the mirror hanging beside our staircase.
“All existing things are born for no reason, continue for no reason, continue through weakness and die by accident… It Is meaning that we are born; it is meaningless that we die.” – Victor Frankl
It has been a classical existential crisis to derive an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” It is a long forth dilemma imprinted in our being. Yet, no definite answer has been standardized because meaning is in its nature, indefinite.
As I lay back with my head comfortably laid upon the one-sided arm of our sofa, I suddenly felt a seemingly extra-mundane dissociation from myself. I started to question myself, “What makes me as me?”, “What is inside of me aside from my physical anatomy?”, “Why do I have a being as such?”…”What is this life that flows through me and why it has chosen me to live?” The more I ponder about it, the more agonize my being feels so as I can’t answer my own existential questions to myself.
Some people believe that our life has been pre-destined by a Deity even at the time of our existence in the world. As if we are programmed to follow through it as we get intimate with the Creator. Others choose to follow a life out of the bounds of God. Is being lost in life just secluded in our disbelief in an Almighty Deity? Or is it that we just force ourselves to believe in a God who is powerful, supernatural, perfect – the total opposite of our imperfect humanity because we want to escape existential truths of how life is, and instead, live in a delusion in an image of a Savior?
Regardless of our beliefs, creating meaning is subjective. Frankl is claiming two things: First, humans have a will to meaning. Second, meaning does exist in the world and it is up to us to find it.The productivity and destruction of our lives depends on our hands. This means that, despite of how we think our lives turned out to be a mess, we are still accountable on how we give meaning to our relevant experiences in life even if they are the worst ones.
Experiences are inevitable but creating meaning is a choice. Embracing existential truths about meaninglessness means, you don’t have to point fingers at someone on how your life turned out to be. We are accountable for our own lives on how we create meaning even during the times when we feel that we are in the rock bottom. Knowing that meaning comes along with the pace of our existence, all that we have to do is to pick the most appropriate fruit that will give life to our being and the point here is to be selfless. Existentialism may seem to be a narcissistic philosophy but it goes way more than discovering self-centered purpose.
The primary problem for many people is not about pursuing the meaning they intend to follow through but rather how to find meaning that will suit them. Irvin Yalom and Victor Frankl derived some ways on how people will be able to deal with their existential neurosis that could give path and meaning to their ever searching soul such as through helping others in need, dedicating one’s self for a certain cause, becoming creative with one’s given abilities, being optimistic through adversaries, believing in God/adopting a religion that will pull yourself out of selfish goals, living your life to the fullest that could involve embracing sufferings and lastly, self -actualization.
Having meaning in one’s life is not just an automatic urge nor will it fall from the sky. Creating meaning is just like writing a story on a blank paper – only then you give meaning to the paper itself. You justify its purpose by creating words that will make it beautiful for someone to read. Same should be for our life. Our beings are empty vessels and it is up to us on what to fill it.
Even in the most meaningless points of our lives, meaning lies somewhere. Creativity has no bounds and it includes creating meaning even to the most painful moments of our lives. We don’t stop living. Not until we accept meaninglessness.
So, reflect on your life. Introspect. Look back on how you have used your being to something that matters that made you feel the life in you by the way you created something out of nothing. Think about how you can give meaning to your present life and turn the table of your situation by becoming creative like how you mold a seemingly formless clay to a beautiful sculpture. Look forward to a selfless you that will eventually put meaning into others’ life by the way you embrace the meaning you have chosen.
Base on your perspective, pick the most appropriate suffix in this sentence .
“My life is meaning(ful/less).”
Done? Now, take time to reflect on your life on why you have chosen such.
Life does not start on how you make it.
Rather, life is how you thought about it. Life starts within the bounds of your mind and then, you make life happen.
No doubt. It is full of things that will break you… or make you.
Life is either a curse or a blessing.
The outcome of how it turns out depends on how you have used every anxiety that has stricken your being. Yup, that’s right. Anxiety is essential to fully experience the life in us. It is something that is connected with our very own existence. You embrace it, then it solidifies your being. Avoid it, then it chases you right into the pit of nothingness.
There is no point in living if life is all too good.
Anxiety has its primitive essence back when cavemen have to fight off beasts that prey on them, find ways on how to obtain food, find shelter, and how to avert other people posing as a threat to them. Basically, all was done in the name of survival. Thanks to anxiety that gave all the essence to know how it’s like to feel triumphant to keep living.
Rollo May is one of the prominent personalities in Existential Psychology that re-molded the definition of anxiety of what it has used to indicate. He eyed upon anxiety as a threat to our core values in which a man identifies himself and at the same time, something that could propel our existence into meaningfulness. Anxiety is the distortion of our individuality. On the other hand, values are the rails that keeps our life on track when it seems our being gets derailed on where we are heading. May addressed 2 types of anxiety namely: Normal anxiety and Neurotic anxiety.
Normal anxiety is not more than what the term itself indicates. It is proportionate to the threat that stimulates us to feel anxious. It is not being repressed and it could be recognized on a conscious level. It is the type of anxiety that is essential in our being. We feel a sense of accomplishment as we embrace normal anxiety. It is also something that strengthens our coping skills to face different levels of afflictions that is pierced together with our existence. For example, we face normal anxiety as we deal with our day to day life dillema such as working on a project at work or at school, finding a decent job to sustain financial needs, making major life decisions such as how to raise a child, recovering from painful life events, etc. These are all essential experiences that comes with “actual” living. These are things that doesn’t need to be blocked from our consciousness therefore, recognizing the need for it to be straigthened out. Devicing a way to solve these hurdles in life makes anxiety beneficial because it activates our potentials to use our skills imprinted in our being. It is what catapults our life experiences to a higher level of understanding on how to live.
But, what if a person denies the need to recognize the anxieties that one has to carry along with living? Then, this goes to the second type of anxiety that Rollo May addressed – Neurotic Anxiety. It is the total opposite of normal anxiety whereas, it is disproportionate to the threat and it involves repression. It wards the potential of the person to explore one’s being therefore his/her essence of existence stagnates. For example, if a person who has experienced bad relationships in the past (normal anxiety), becomes hostile to others even to the point of evading intimate relationships, branched out distrust to an even larger circle of social connections because of the relevant past, then anxiety in this circumstance, was not dealt accordingly. It has even created impairment in the person. An indication that, instead of progress and creativity that are supposedly being actualized in a person, psychopathology develop due to defenses that this person has unconsciously put up.
There’s seemingly a thin line that separates normal anxiety to transform to neurotic anxiety. The key in handling anxieties is to recognize it at first hand on how it is operating in our lives and how it has affected us. May said that we are capable of surmounting anxiety as long as the values that we hold are stronger than these threats causing anxieties.
The point here is, anxiety at its most normal form is healthy. We must be constructive on how to face the piercing anxiety that comes along our existence. Its transformation from normal to neurotic anxiety depends on how we have handled it when it came upon us. It stays beneficial when recognized and taken appropriate actions to turn it into a different form that ends in productivity. But once ignored, it nourishes neuroticism, which eventually results in psychopathology. Absolute freedom from anxiety is impossible. We just learn how to live with it.
Acceptance should be the face we show towards anxiety. It may not be the answer but it can be the solution.
After all, the most beautiful stories are of the people who has dealt anxiety in a way that it has turned the table of misfortune as an advantage for them.
So, are you feeling that your anxiety-causing situation has beaten you up?
Well, it’s now the time to turn tables.