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Four existential anxieties and how Humanistic Counselling can support you with them.

At the core of all our fears there are said to be 4 anxieties that are rooted in our existence as living beings. The following ideas are based on a summary of the work of Irvin Yalom, who explores them in more detail. I often reflect on these basic fears and can really relate to them. There is something grounding about knowing that anxiety has a source, due to it often feeling so nameless and without reason, by nature. I can also really see why Gestalt counselling helps to ease them which I will write about in this article. I hope you will also find them useful to reflect on.


1. Fear of being alone

As human beings, we are social creatures and to one extent or another we have always needed the company of others to survive. Sometimes our anxiety is connected to situations where someone close may have threatened our survival. The relationship between client and therapist is important in Gestalt counselling and can be used to model the process of repairing relationships.

We also need to feel connected to others; after-all; we can still feel lonely and disconnected, even in the company of close friends and family. Having someone respond with empathy and being attuned to you, even if they are your therapist can allow you to become aware of the way you form relationships, to gradually open up and express what is really going on for you. You can learn to reach out when feeling anxious and this can combat a pervasive and learned pattern of dealing with things alone. Gestalt philosophy emphasises that human connection is a vital part of our experience.


2. Fear of being insignificant

A second existential fear is that if we were free to truly be ourselves in the world that our presence would still be insignificant; this is akin to lacking a sense self worth. Having your feelings and experiences listened to and validated during counselling can help restore confidence in yourself. It can help you observe that you make an impact on your environment and the people around you. It can make you more aware of your unique qualities and ways of being in the world and support you to take action. We are subconsciously making choices about our actions all of the time but sometimes those choices are based on internal messages from our past, society, family and what others think rather than from your authentic self. Gestalt counselling can help you to build trust in your self and your senses by helping you open up to what is going on for you in the depths of this very moment.


3. Fear of dying.

Any fixed fear of accidents or injury can be linked to a deeper fear of death. This seems like a very natural thing to fear in order to survive but if some adverse / threatening experiences have lead your mind to intensify this anxiety, it can lead to being in a permanently distressed and alert state which is exhausting and where the body and mind are unable to tell apart what happened in the past and what is happening now. In Gestalt counselling, exploring what comes up in awareness in the present moment can help you understand the relevance of your past experiences and how they affect you. You can also try out new, more empowering responses through experimentation with the counsellor. A fear of death is natural and human but mentally living in the past or future takes us away from the richness of our true reality in the present.


4. Fear that our lives are meaningless and don’t make sense.

Sometimes life really doesn’t seem to make sense, incredibly stressful things can happen in succession which are confusing and overwhelming. We can also seem to hold many opposing emotions inside ourselves at the same time like love and loathing towards ourselves and others, crippling fear and explosive anger, a need for control and a need to let go, to name just a few examples - these are confusing but we can navigate these feelings as they are normal and part of being human in all its confusing glory!


Gestalt counselling seeks to understand the context of our emotions better rather than eliminate them. Exploring your past story and how it affects your present can help you understand your reactions to things which sometimes have roots buried deeply in painful experiences. More often than not we develop what are now mental health problems because we were once trying to adjust to situations that were too intense to handle. Once we become aware of how we respond to things that are happening now, we can start to handle them differently.


There is no need to be ashamed about feeling you need or want counselling. After all, life isn't a suffering competition! It's a way to help you see yourself in more positive healthier ways - you may find out things that you never knew before. Seeing a good counsellor has the potential to help you explore and understand anxiety as well as experience new ways of relating and communicating that is helpful in the wider world. Consider counselling and therapy an investment that will pay you back, years into the future.


I hope you found this useful! If you did, please feel free to leave a response or contact me!


Wishing you a good week!


Rhiannon Williams






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