Søren Kierkegaard first introduced the concept of existential angst when he described a man standing on the edge of a high cliff. He felt a fear of falling along with an irrational urge to intentionally hurl himself over. After realizing that he had this option, he felt existential angst. Angst or the “dizziness of freedom,” as Kierkegaard called it, is the burden of making moral choices and is a natural consequence of free will. Since Kierkegaard, many existentialists have taken on this concept in their philosophical writings.
How does existential angst apply to our day to day lives?
In essence, existential angst comes from knowing that we will eventually die. We are mortal, and we will all inevitably expire. This is not a bad thing as angst can motivate us to continue to change and to develop as human beings. However, it goes both ways and it can create pathological behaviors and thoughts.
Beyond the global concept of death and dying, existential angst enables us to realize the helplessness of being human and that life intrinsically limits all of our possibilities. Think of it like this – when individuals make a choice, they must give up other choices. While we all have the freedom to choose, freedom of choice is limited to action. That is, we cannot choose our actions’ consequences.
The realization of the necessity to give up one choice because another choice is made is THE key factor in the process of existential angst. To be truly well balanced, individuals must strike enough of a balance between themselves and the limiting world to a point where they are at ease in their current circumstances. If they can do this, they are positively adjusted in their situations and live more authentically. If they cannot accomplish this, they become stuck, often bouncing from the possibility of one choice to the other without moving forward in their lives.