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Existentialism

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Updated January 27, 2009

Definition:

Existentialism is a philosophical approach to understanding human existence and experiences. It is based on the assumption that individuals are free and responsible for their own choices and actions. Hence, we are not victims of circumstance because we are what we have chosen to be.

Gerald Corey, journal article and book author as well as Professor Emeritus of Human Services at California State University at Fullerton, provides the following basic dimensions of the human condition according to existential thought:

The Capacity for Self-Awareness -- Through self-awareness, we can reflect and make choices.

Freedom and Responsibility -- We can choose among alternatives and shape our own destinies.

Striving for Identity and Relationship to Others -- We want to preserve our own unique identity. At the same time, we need to relate to others and to nature. Failing to develop our own identity can result in failure to establish mature and healthy relationships. Failing to develop ties with others can lead to loneliness and alienation.

The Search for Meaning -- Humans struggle to find their purpose in life. Without purpose, the world we live in seems meaningless.

Anxiety as a Condition of Living -- Anxiety, in the existential sense, is an unavoidable condition of living when confronted with death, freedom, choice, isolation and meaninglessness. It is necessary to learn to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. This results in movement toward increased self-confidence and decreased anxiety.

Awareness of Death and Nonbeing -- If one fears death, he or she also fears life. By grasping the inevitability of death, one gains the motivation to live life fully and with meaning.

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