An existential crisis is a state of panic or feeling of intense psychological discomfort resulting from a sense of being alone and isolated or that one's life has no purpose or meaning.
It is quite similar to the sociological concept of anomie. It has also been likened to a mid-life crisis. The implication of an existential crisis is that the crisis iteself stems from some sort of existential realization or understanding. The essence of who one is and why one exists is believed to have not been defined before birth. By contrast, in non-existential belief systems, like religious ones for example, the essence of what it means to be human is largely held to have been predefined before birth, usually by some sort of supernatural being or group of beings. A certain lack of faith in such belief systems is typically a prerequisite for an existential crisis. Basically, however, an existential crisis is the sudden awareness of not knowing what one's life is all about that creates the crisis state.
Those who are not in a state of existential crisis can peacefully accept either that the essence of their existence has already been defined by some sort of higher power or that their life in fact has no meaning. One who is experiencing an existential crisis cannot accept either view. Instead, that person is faced with the paradox of believing that their life is important on the one hand while at the same time perceiving that human existence itself is without meaning or purpose. It is the resolution of this paradox which makes the crisis go away. Some believe that the solution to resolving the paradox is a belief in some sort of supernatural explanation, while others hold that an individual can define for himself what his own meaning and purpose is on this planet. There are many more ways and variations on how to handle an existential crisis, however. One may decide, for instance, that thought is pointless and existential truth or security cannot be obtained through it. Others may decide that it is not important to know what happens or how things work, all that is important is the present. The failure to resolve an existential crisis sometimes leads to suicide.
Existential crises are sometimes triggered by a significant event or change in a person's life. Usually the event in some way makes the person reflect on his or her own mortality. Typical examples of such events are the death of a loved one, a life-threatening experience, one's children moving away from home, or the reaching of a certain age.
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