Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D. is the Founder and President of Potomac Psychiatry, ranked “Best Psychiatry Care Provider in Maryland” in 2020 by Global Health & Pharma. He has been named a Washingtonian Magazine “Top Doctor” for each of the past eight years. Dr. Kehr is a best-selling author whose works have been read by over 800,000 people in 206 countries. In 2020, Dr. Bruce Kehr’s blog was ranked #2 in the nation among mental health-related blogs. Dr. Kehr’s book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Ease Emotional Pain and Find Self-Love, is an Amazon Best Seller in the self-help categories: Happiness, Counseling, Healing, and Self-Esteem.
In previous blogs I wrote to you about existential crisis in teenagers, and in young adults. Now let’s focus on how this crisis may present later in one’s adult life, and provide additional tips to untangle one’s heart.
When Andrew arrived in my office, he was visibly uncomfortable. Occasionally wringing his hands, averting his gaze and shifting in his chair, he looked ready to walk out of the session at any moment. He was in so much distress, and it appeared as if he were about to jump out of his skin. At age 30, this was Andrew’s first time in therapy and he had no idea what to expect. He felt ashamed about being in my office, having prided himself on being able to solve his problems on his own, and felt embarrassed as he described his feelings of depression, panic, and loss of purpose in life. To ease his discomfort, I asked Andrew if he enjoyed listening to music.
I love music, especially for the therapeutic, healing potential it holds. It is a universal means of expressing the human condition. I use it at times in my practice, particularly as a way to reach patients who initially find it difficult to express their emotions. As we begin therapy, they may find it easier to relate to feelings that are poignantly portrayed in the lyrics of certain songs than to relate to me. In addition, music may help a patient access certain emotions and memories that were previously buried in their unconscious mind.
Andrew said that he loved listening to music, and we talked about some new Indie bands for a few minutes, like Tame Impala and St. Lucia. We even listened to a few of their songs like “Let it Happen” and “Closer Than This,” respectively. This helped break the ice and we were able to establish a tentative rapport and connection.
I then steered our conversation toward what he was feeling and what had brought him in to therapy at this particular time in his life. These were the feelings we identified:
- A longing to find someone to love, with the recent breakup of a long-term relationship
- Loss of meaning and purpose in life
- Hasn’t achieved any meaningful accomplishments
- Hasn’t attained the financial success as he had hoped for and was unsure about whether his career choice suited his personality
- Suffered from panic attacks and feared death
- Lost his faith that God was watching over him
- Felt that his life was random and chaotic
I assured him that we could work through these feelings and fears and reestablish meaning and purpose in his life. Andrew asked me how long it would take to clear up his condition, and I told him it would take some time – probably 6 months to a year. The length of time would also depend on his willingness to honestly and openly share his feelings. And that he would have to work hard to truly examine himself and dig into his past to enable him to move forward. We started therapy and began the journey to heal and untangle Andrew’s heart, with me as his companion.
Regardless of your age, do you find yourself wondering, “What have I been doing lately that has any meaning? What is the point of my daily struggles?” Or thinking, “Does my life have any purpose?” And if not, “Why not just end it all?” These kinds of thoughts can be quite unsettling, disturbing. When you question your very existence and feel that your life no longer makes any sense, and that there is no comfort or solace to be found, you may be going through what therapists call an “Existential Crisis.” This type of crisis can occur at any stage of one’s life including adolescence, early 20’s, and even mid-life and late-life years. In each stage, it may present in the form of an identity crisis, where one fails to resolve the particular developmental challenges of that particular stage of life, as described so eloquently in the pioneering work of Erik Erikson related to Identity and the Life Cycle.
If you are suffering from these emotionally painful thoughts and feelings, you may isolate yourself, feel depressed and moody, and think of suicide. If this describes you, seek professional help as soon as possible from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Don’t despair and feel hopeful – you can work through these feelings and reestablish your foundation of beliefs, purpose and dreams.
Establish Purpose in Life and Pursuit of Future Goals
Dealing with an existential crisis requires a concerted effort to examine and redefine what matters most in your life, and what brings you satisfaction and happiness. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy can help provide an emotionally safe environment within which to explore yourself more deeply, answer key questions, resolve conflicts, and forge a new identity.
Untangle Tips to Resolve an Existential Crisis
- Don’t Go It Alone: If your instinct during this time is to withdraw from others and isolate yourself, fight those tendencies, and seek out friends, family, or a therapist. Their emotional support can nourish you by providing love, compassion, and empathy when you most need them.
- Develop a Plan: Recognize that changes in your social group, home life, education, and work may be necessary to rebuild your life and provide more happiness. This may involve breaking old connections to establish new ones that bring more satisfaction and less “drama.”
- Find Meaning: Allow yourself the space to search and identify what is important to you at this moment in time.
- Identify Your Impact: Be cognizant of how your interpersonal relationships grow and change and impact other’s lives. Focus on those relationships that are most rewarding, and leave behind those that are emotionally destructive.
- Focus on Being Creative: Find opportunities to express your creativity. Music, art, literature, or any other activity that allows you to express yourself will help you further define yourself and find greater purpose.
A Tip to Untangle Your Heart™
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Existential Crisis in Teenagers
Existential Crisis in Young Adults
Help Prevent Suicide in Someone You Care About
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