Being and nothingness: Owning life


There is a school of thought in psychology called Existential Psychology. Many of the concepts originated with the writings of Nietzsche and other existential philosophers. More recently, Irving Yalom, among others, has developed the concepts into a way to work with clients. He has written several books which are essential to many in the field, especially his books on group therapy and his foundational book, Existential Psychotherapy.

The appeal of this approach to both clients and practitioners can be found in how it humanizes the therapeutic relationship and empowers the client to change. It also fits in well with the cognitive behavioral approach in that both models have an emphasis on working collaboratively with the client in the therapeutic endeavor.

This approach emphasizes:


Essentially, we have the freedom to make the choice to be the author of our life if we take responsibility for our own well-being and happiness.

Many people get stuck in the same loop over and over again wondering how they can get rid of their old behaviors. They may have had a difficult childhood, a problematic romantic relationship or a history of substance use problems. When you can’t get out of a pattern you feel trapped and powerless.

But the key to changing things lies with you. The person, circumstance or thing that you are struggling with has had an effect on you in the past whether it be yesterday, a week ago or 20 years ago. The happiness you may have today and in the future depends on how you face this challenge in the present moment.

If you want to change something it is important to take responsibility for your part in perpetuating the problem. Only you determine who you are and how you react to life’s vicissitudes. All day every day you are making choices even if you are laboring under difficult circumstances. There is always some freedom within these circumstances to make different choices. This is how we change, little by little.

Ultimately, we come into the world alone. We create our identities as we move through life. We find meaning through our relationships and our place in the world; this is the impact we have. It is important to always remember that we only have a finite amount of time to make it happen. Let’s not miss the opportunity to make this life our own.

Doggie do or doggie don’t?

I lost my temper yesterday. Despite all my efforts to “become a better person” over the last many years. I made a mistake. I was justified or so I thought. The person I spoke to rudely had her dog in the grocery cart. She was the second person I saw while I was in the store who was doing this. We are in California, after all. I blurted out, “Even if that is a service dog it has no place in a grocery cart!” She and her friend just looked at me blankly and said, “You have a nice day…”.

I felt terrible afterwards. A message that might have been communicated to the manager escalated into a mini-tirade. Really, who am I to judge? Where do I get off as an enforcer of the rules? How can I call myself a person who helps others if I cannot be civil in my communication?

When something like this happens I attempt to see what my responsibility is in the situation. What it comes down to is control, isn’t it really? We all want the world to be like us, to live by the same rules and conventions. Yet, if this were to happen we would all be bored and boring. The differences in people, cultures and countries are what makes us want to engage with the world.

So this is my lesson. Handle it differently next time. I have certain assets and liabilities. I speak out for those who can’t speak out for themselves. This is good. But I also take on causes that are really none of my business. Like dogs in grocery carts………