“Life cannot be lived nor can death be faced without anxiety. Anxiety is a guide as well as an enemy and can point the way to authentic existence. The task of the therapist is to reduce anxiety to comfortable levels and then to use this existing anxiety to increase a patient’s awareness and vitality.”
~Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy
Feelings of fear and anxiety serve to keep us safe. These feelings can also stifle our ability to fully live our lives. Our lives are safer because of fear. That is because, at its roots, fear is part of our genetics and biological imperative to survive. Fear and anxiety are signals we receive of problems or dangers. This helps us recognize these threats and motivate us to cope and deal with them. This form of fear and anxiety is good. However, there are many times fear works against us. When fear is more perceived, distorted, and out of portion to what is causing it, it makes our lives poorer.
Fear and anxiety can make our lives poorer because fear too often leads to avoidance.
Here are some ways we exhibit fear and anxiety:
- Evading responsibility for our acts.
- Avoiding identifying that we have choices.
- Attempting to avoid anxiety and play it safe.
- Avoiding real intimacy with others.
Instead, we attempt to stay busy so we don’t become aware of our fundamental aloneness and the finiteness of our own lives. The result is what existential theory describes as “neurotic anxiety”. This type of anxiety is not good and too often keeps us stuck and sitting in a therapist’s office looking for answers.
As a developing existential-humanistic therapist I like to explore with some of my clients the possibility that their life choices are opportunities, not problems and sometimes “life happens” and we will all experience deaths, accidents, and/or terrible traumas. These sometimes-unavoidable life events force us to become aware of a problem, our own mortality. This awareness can lead to despair or avoidance, but can also help us to reconsider how we live life and cause us to accept responsibility for the direction of our life. This is called existential anxiety.
When we accept and work with our existential anxiety it can make us aware of the “bigger picture”. This helps us steer an effective path through life, and become aware of separations from ourselves, others, and the world allowing us to live life more fully.
About Bradd Buckingham, M.A., LPC-R; Resident in Counseling:
Bradd is currently a resident in counseling providing counseling services at our Fredericksburg location. He is actively pursuing his license in Professional Counseling (LPC). Bradd is a recent graduate of The University of the Cumberlands with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He completed a demanding internship working with individuals and couples at Fredericksburg Counseling Services.
Bradd specializes in working with individuals with complex trauma, personality disorders, anxiety, and depression and can offer a safe environment for individuals and families in the LGBTQ community, as well as individuals with a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.