From Despair to Hope: Healing Trauma Wounds in a Journey Through Existential Angst

It is only when we have faced the absolute worst that life has to offer that we can begin to appreciate the good moments. This was the lesson that Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard learned after enduring a series of tragic events in his life. Kierkegaard came to see these experiences not as something to be overcome, but as something to be transformed.

In 1838, Kierkegaard’s mother dies unexpectedly. This event is followed by the death of his father just two years later. Kierkegaard is left with a large inheritance, but instead of using it to live a comfortable life, he donates most of it to charity.

Kierkegaard then turns his attention to his love life. He becomes engaged to Regine Olsen, but breaks off the engagement just months before the wedding. Kierkegaard does this not because he doesn’t love her, but because he feels that marriage would compromise his freedom and ability to pursue his philosophical work.

These events might have broken a lesser man, but Kierkegaard used them as fuel for his writing. In works like “The Sickness Unto Death” and “Either/Or”, Kierkegaard explores the existential angst that comes from facing life’s sorrows head-on. For Kierkegaard, it is only through accepting the darkness within us that we can find true meaning in life.

Introduction to Existential Angst and Kierkegaard’s Works

Existential angst is a feeling of dread, anxiety, or terror that may occur in response to an awareness of the human condition. It is often characterized by a sense of isolation, powerlessness, and meaninglessness. Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who lived in the 19th century, is considered one of the fathers of existentialism. His works explore many of the themes associated with existential angst, such as death, freedom, and choice.

Exploring the Depths of Despair in “The Sickness Unto Death”

In his work “The Sickness Unto Death”, Kierkegaard delves deep into the despair that plagues humanity. He examines the various ways in which we can fall into despair, and how this despair can ultimately lead to our downfall. Kierkegaard offers a way out of this despair, however, through faith in God. By recognizing our need for God, and surrendering ourselves to Him, we can find hope and meaning in our lives once again.

The Paradox of Choice in “Either/Or”

The paradox of choice is a central theme in Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or”. The book is structured around the dichotomy of the aesthetic and the ethical life, with the main character, A, living an aesthetic life focused on pleasure and sensuousness, while Judge William lives an ethical life focused on duty and service to others. A confronts the paradox of choice when he must decide whether to stay with his current lover or marry his fiancée. He realizes that either choice will lead to a different life, and that he can’t have both. This leads him into a deep existential angst, as he questions the meaning of life and his own identity. Ultimately, A decides to marry his fiancée and live an ethical life, but the paradox of choice still haunts him.

Finding Hope Through Suffering and Despair

When we are faced with suffering and despair, it can be difficult to find hope. However, Kierkegaard believes that it is through suffering and despair that we can find our way to hope. He argues that when we suffer, we are forced to confront our own mortality and the fact that our lives are ultimately finite. This can be a frightening prospect, but it is also an opportunity for us to realize the importance of living in the present moment and making the most of our lives. Kierkegaard believed that by facing up to the difficult truths about life, we can find a deeper sense of hope and meaning. In his view, despair is not something to be avoided at all costs but rather an essential part of the human experience.

Trauma, for Kierkegaard, is a wound to the soul that can never be fully healed. It is an event that interrupts our lives and shatters our world view. In the aftermath of trauma, we are left with a feeling of profound emptiness and despair. We may try to numb our pain with drugs or alcohol, or engage in risky behaviors in an attempt to escape our suffering. But eventually we must face our trauma head-on if we want to find healing and meaning in our lives again.

Kierkegaard believed that the only way to heal from trauma is to confront it directly. This means facing our fears, accepting our pain, and learning to live with our scars. It is a difficult and often painful journey, but one that can ultimately lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Applying Kierkegaard’s Ideas to Everyday Life

Kierkegaard’s ideas can be applied to many different aspects of life in order to help individuals find hope and meaning. For example, his idea of the “leap of faith” can be applied when making major life decisions. This means that instead of basing decisions on logic and reason alone, one must also listen to their heart and intuition. Trusting one’s gut feelings can lead to a more fulfilling life experiences, even if the outcome is not initially clear.

Another way Kierkegaard’s ideas can be applied to everyday life is by living in the present moment. This does not mean forgetting about the past or future, but rather being fully engaged in the here and now. Enjoying simple pleasures, spending time with loved ones, and savoring life’s moments can help alleviate existential angst and create a more joyful existence.

Finally, Kierkegaard’s thoughts on death can also be helpful in facing the end of life. Instead of seeing death as an ending, it can be viewed as a new beginning. This perspective can make it easier to come to terms with one’s own mortality and appreciate the time that is given during life.


Through his writings, Kierkegaard has provided us with an insightful exploration of the journey from despair to hope. In examining our relationship with existence and the world around us, we can recognize the various forms of existential angst that arise within us and learn how to confront them. By accepting our own finite nature, embracing uncertainty, and cultivating a healthy perspective on life’s difficulties, we can begin to move toward greater meaning and joy in life. As Kierkegaard so eloquently put it: “Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.”

Case Example of Existential Angst

stuck - angst exampleI often work with clients who struggle with existential angst on a pathological level. They stay stuck because they are not willing to give up certain possibilities when they make a choice. Here is a simple example.

A male client I once had wondered why he could not stay loyal to any woman he dated. When he entered into therapy, he was approaching his 50s and was still moving from woman to woman in his dating life. His longest relationship was about 5 months. He wanted to settle into a rewarding relationship with a woman, and he had dated many wonderful women throughout his life that he knew would have suited him well as potential life partners. As he discussed his dating life, he told me that he would lose interest in a woman he was dating because he felt he was missing out on other possibilities with women that might suit him better. “I know that the woman I am dating now is a wonderful person, but what if there is someone better out there?” he would state time and time again. Eventually, he would either break things off with the woman he was presently dating or he date other women behind her back (a behavior with which he morally struggled). He would start to date other women, and the pattern would start again. Eventually, he would meet a woman he really liked, commit to her for a time, and then feel restless (that existential angst).

Because he was not willing to come to terms with giving up other potential partners when he decided he really wanted to stay committed to a woman he met, he kept himself in a stuck pattern he did not want to be involved with – serial dating, some might call it. While many individuals enjoy dating, this particular client’s desire was to settle into a committed relationship, and his existential angst kept him stuck in a situation that troubled him a great deal.

As we worked together, we discussed the need to give up potential choices when a certain choice is made. He had to come to terms with this limitation in his life because, after all, he was a human being and this existential truth was not something he could change. He understood that he had two choices at this point: come to terms with giving up other choices (other women) when a choice is made (a relationship) OR stay stuck in angst (serial dating). This realization was extremely helpful for him to attain, and he was able to move forward in his life as we continued to work together.

It was a process, but for in order to be authentic, my client had to understand that he was free to make choices but that he was also inherently limited by the choices he made (and this limitation is the natural state of existential angst).  From the limitations he realized as he decided upon a course of action, he had to make compromises (after all, he could not truly settle into a monogamous relationship with a woman and also date other women, could he?).  In essence, the goal of therapy was for him to understand the limitations of human existence and learn to function well within that structure.