You Mean Existential Psychology Isn’t Gloomy?

February 11, 2012 humor in difficult times Comments Off on You Mean Existential Psychology Isn’t Gloomy?

One of the joys of teaching Basic Intervention Existential Humanistic classes has been the opportunity to listen to and read the discoveries my students make along the way. The title of the course is in itself a tongue-twister. To explain to one’s friends that “I can’t come to dinner tonight, thanks, I’m attending Basic Intervention Existential Humanistic” has got to be one of the most incomprehensible of responses. “She can’t come over, it seems she’s in some kind of cult,” one can imagine kind friends saying, trying to understand why you’re not available.

What is exciting is seeing how over the course of weeks of reading, discussions, journals, and presentations, the ideas and terminology which had seemed so initially intimidating and irrelevant become increasingly interesting, useful, and indeed energizing.

One of the stereotypes about Existential psychology has to do with the awareness of death. This sounds awfully gloomy.

But the writings of Irvin Yalom, for example, may be about death, but they are far from depressing. In fact, they are so vital in helping give us as human beings the energy and resolve to live our lives authentically in the here-and-now.

Life does not begin once class is over, we receive a diploma, have a child, or begin a new job. This is it. Now, while you’re reading these words. Yalom reminds us that as all living things must die, the tragedy is not death—rather it regret for life unlived.

While none of us can avoid death, we can live more authentically now. We can “avoid the tragedy of the unlived life”.

He writes of clients he has worked with who only really started to live authentically once they’d fully realized that for them, too, life is temporary and its length unknown. Often we have an inkling as to what we really need to do to be true to our heart, our values, our hopes and dreams…..but we delay taking action and keep finding excuses. We decide we’ll do what’s in our hearts later. We’ll live authentically later.

A birthday, a divorce, an illness, loss of a loved one, any or all can remind us that everything is temporary. Including us.

The best Existential Psychology writers remind us of the words I remember from an old Benny Hill skit—“Live every day as if it were your last. One of these days you’ll be right.”

And up until then, you’ll be living your life, not someone else’s.

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