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What an existential crisis is really about

I have a client who is wondering whether to take the plunge and address the underlying issues that have controlled her behavior her whole life. Up ’til now, she’s acted out in an unhealthy way in order to stay away from the abandonment and neglect she knows she has stored away. The problem has been (as it is for everybody) that avoidance patterns and fooling herself about the consequences of her actions have run her life.

She is finally letting herself see that her behavior is threatening all she’s worked for. What now, though? She asked a question many people ask, “What if I let go of my pattern, face the feelings, then find that there’s nothing there? What if I’m not valuable and wonderful? What if I’m just nothing?”

This is the classic existential crisis – who am I really, when I strip away the distractions and the posing?

I answered her with my tried-and-true answer; that  truly grounding – i.e. experiencing herself kinesthetically and energetically in the moment  – would  provide the foundation for a real sense of self.

But then it hit me. What she was saying was that she was afraid because she’s never connected with reality. She doesn’t know how to be in the real world, because she has always felt she needed to rely on her protection pose. Her attempts to avoid pain have kept her locked in some unreal thoughts and beliefs, distorted her view of herself, the world around her, and even her perceptions. The crisis is that she doesn’t know how to see what is real – in her feelings, about who she is, and in the situations she encounters.

The job will be to see that reality is much less painful, and much more rewarding, than is her protection pattern. The patterns that we use to avoid pain keep us stuck in the past, and in pain, because we’re acting on the buried belief that the world is still the same as it was. Freedom comes when we’re able to transform our self-defeating patterns, and our old beliefs, to center in our core, and relax. Then we experience peace.