Updated: Sep 24, 2021
As I work primarily with existential therapy in practice, I thought I would write some short articles on some of the common existential themes I work with. For this article, it was a no-brainer to start with one of the most prominent and salient concepts I encounter, that of ‘meaning’.
Existential thought for the most part says that we are ‘meaning making’ individuals who have the choice and responsibility to live authentically guided by the meaning we create in our lives. The meaning we create may also help explain our individual differences in reactions to adverse events or circumstances. Loss or questioning of meaning may also play a part in some of the distress we feel as we struggle to identify a purpose or meaning for our place in this world at certain times.
What am I doing? Am I doing it right?
Some days, we just wake up and ask ourselves some pretty difficult questions about where we are in life and we’re not really sure of the answer…. Or even how to obtain that answer.
But we’re not going to dig deep into those kind of questions now, but I feel it might be good to look at a pretty basic example of how we can ascribe meaning to small events in our lives and how that can influence our perception of ourselves, our situation and the choices we subsequently make. The meaning we ascribe to our lives and the events and facets within it can certainly have a major impact on our experience of them and in turn, how we proceed now and into the future.
Because meaning is motivational… it gives us a reason why.
A very simple example of this can be explained through highlighting the difference in experience between two people who fail an entrance exam into a profession they have been working hard to get into.
If the first person (we’ll call Bob) was to speak of himself as a failure, a hopeless person, and considered all of his hours of hard work to be a waste, the meaning he has ascribed to himself and his situation would probably see his motivation to continue on this path diminish. This in turn could possibly lead to Bob turning his back on his dream profession and searching for an alternative path, even against his inner wants and wishes. In a bigger picture context this could seem like a pretty big decision for him to make on the back of what may really only be a pretty minor setback. His meaning is “I am not good enough because I failed, I mustn’t be cut-out for this”.
Ok, so person number two (we’ll call Jack) has also failed but instead of considering this a failure, he has a passion to work in this profession and considers this event merely a roadblock, something he needs to work through. As you can see, this is an entirely different outlook on the same event although as you may have also noticed, one that allows room for growth, learning and motivation to continue on his desired path.
Jack does not dismiss the event or the result, but rather integrates it into his experience and allows himself to move forward. He may choose to hit the books harder, get some extra tuition and prepare more diligently for the next intake and give himself an improved chance of making it through. His meaning is “I was not good enough this time, but this is simply a setback and I know there are things I can do to fix this”
Now as I said, this was an extremely general and basic example but I’m sure you can see how powerful our meaning making can be and also, how much power and responsibility resides in our choices. This really is about you, your life and your journey…
If you feel you are experiencing a stuck-point, life transition or lack of meaning and would like some support from AHRLEE Counselling, you can make an appointment with me here or by calling 0481 291 132.
All the best everyone and take care.