Existential depression

It’s a question about myself, but I thought it might interest you:

“Sometimes I suffer existential depression in which my thoughts question the validity of feelings. I have thoughts like, ‘How can feelings be a reliable guide to what is right or important to do when they are just my feelings? Does what I do or don’t do really matter in the grand scheme?’ I suppose part of me wants a guarantee that my actions would have some larger or lasting significance or value besides feeling like the right thing to do at the time, but this doesn’t exist as far as I’m aware. I don’t know of any way of dealing with this state of mind besides waiting for it to pass. Is this something you’ve ever encountered?”

What you call existential depression is depression resulting from the defense of self-attack, using existential themes.

Self-doubt and minimization: “How can feelings be a reliable guide to what is right or important to do when they are just my feelings?”

Self-doubt and self-devaluation: “Does what I do or don’t do really matter in the grand scheme?”

Self-doubt and self-devaluation: “My actions have no larger value unless they last beyond my lifetime.”

Underlying messages: 1) “Your feelings are unreliable, so you should hold yourself back”; 2) What you do doesn’t make any difference, so you shouldn’t do anything; and 3) Your actions have no larger meaning, so there is no point to acting.”

These forms of self-attack could be addressed in therapy, so that you recognize these defenses and also find out what feelings are being warded off, and toward whom they belong. These self-attacks are just sneaky cuts to the soul.

But let’s suppose you think this is reductionistic. You might think, “Jon, these are existential realities. Aren’t you reducing existential issues to a psychological category?” The problem with this argument is that there is a beautiful antinomy here, which is missing. That missing antinomy tells us that there is a psychological issue. Without keeping you in further suspense, here is the antinomy spoke by the great teacher Ramana Maharshi:

“Insofar as I am nothing, I am knowledge.

Insofar as I am everything, I am love.”

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