- Personal Dissatisfaction
- Sense of Meaningless
For the most part, we live our lives doing what we need to do, and sometimes doing things we really love doing. We’re on “automatic pilot” appearing to be reasonably O.K. with our lot in life. But for many of us, this existence will be challenged at some stage by either a crisis (a traumatic event, major hiccough, a tragedy) or a particular life transition.
These crises and transitions can challenge our sense of who we are, i.e., how we define ourselves – how we feel about ourselves. Our sense of self is then compromised or changed. This experience can leave us feeling a sense of personal dissatisfaction, emptiness, and angst – a lack of direction, purpose, value, and excitement. There’s a nagging sense that there should be more depth or meaning in our lives.
We then search to define our true selves, our true nature; who we are as a person, what we have to offer to others, or give to the world. There’s often a deep sense of loneliness and of feeling isolated even with family and friends around. Feelings of not being worthwhile or even insignificant can dominate.
Sometimes this is referred to as an existential crisis or a personal crisis. This usually happens as we age, and as such, this personal crisis has also been referred to as a mid-life crisis. However, these crises have been known to occur for younger individuals as well, particularly with adolescence, leaving school, and commencing university, as well as with other transitional life events, for example, birth of a sibling, parents divorcing, or health scares for parents.
It seems that for those of us affected by a mid-life crisis, the natural progression of getting older can have a strong negative impact. These individuals know they’re not able to do what they’ve been doing before. They are aware of gravity taking it’s course with more wrinkles and saggy bits that certainly weren’t there before. They mourn the apparent loss of their youth and can perceive themselves as less attractive.
Of course, the cliché of the mid life crisis – searching desperately for meaning – can lead them down some unhealthy paths: over-spending on “trivial” purchases, pursuing younger partners, and abandoning loved ones, friends, and their careers.
Other reasons individuals can experience a profound sense of personal dissatisfaction and emptiness are: the death of a loved one; separation from family members through divorce or children leaving home; loss of a job or retrenchment, or a personal failure. Injury, onset of a mental or serious physical illness can factor as well by evoking the fear of their own mortality/sanity.
In addition, greater access to global information about the seemingly endless profound suffering of others, the struggling environment and it’s bleak future, increasing threats of personal, community, as well as global harm and annihilation can also generate these personal crises.
Often underlying the onset of these particular crises is the long-standing tendency of putting other’s needs first, as well as trying to live up to other people’s expectations. Their own needs, desires, aspirations, and indeed, personal feelings have not been given the importance they deserve by themselves and/or others.
This deep sense of emptiness and personal dissatisfaction manifests itself in constant questioning/commenting about one’s past, present, and future. For instance:
“There must be more to my life than this”
“Why do I feel so lonely when I have people who love me”
“What is the meaning of life, why am I here”
“Who am I really”
“How should I live my life”
“I don’t think people really understand who I am”
“I’m really boring, I never have anything interesting to say.”
“Why didn’t I do things differently in the past, I’d be happier now if I did.”
Other signs that someone is experiencing such a crisis are that they recognise and dwell upon the stark reality of their own mortality, that they will die one day. To them, their age carries increasingly more importance. Coupled with this is a self-reassessment of their lives and feeling overwhelmed. In the throws of this dissatisfaction, they can become very sensitive to the world around them, displaying a deep felt emotionality when they didn’t before.
Tears seem to flow more readily, especially when reading a sad book or watching a poignant movie. It’s not uncommon for the person to rummage through self-help or inspirational books. An over-worriedness about their health can also develop. There’s a desperate search for meaning and purpose in their lives – looking for deeper connections with people and the world around them can also become extremely important.
This sense of personal dissatisfaction and meaninglessness that befalls so many of us, is something that we can change.
There are ways to find meaning in life as well move beyond feelings of dissatisfaction – to find a sense of meaning, purpose, and value in our lives once more. Many resources exist in our communities for individuals struggling with feelings like those described above.
If you feel you may be experiencing an existential crisis, even a mid-life crisis, the first step towards finding some relief is to recognise you are indeed going through such a crisis. Community libraries and bookshops as well as counsellors, psychologists, and other health and complementary therapists have many resources that can help you find some sense of clarification.
Knowing that there are reasons for why you’re feeling the way you are can be very liberating. Realising that many others are going through what you’re going through can be reassuring. You’re not alone in your suffering. These resources, which you have discovered for yourself, can open you to the myriad of possibilities available to reacquaint yourself with your personal power. Following is a description of some tips or strategies that can really help.
- Finding something to believe in. Something to ignite your passion in yourself and the world around you. Volunteering, further education, physical activity – getting fit or joining a sporting team, creative pursuits, just going out and being involved in whatever matters to you as an individual.
- Look after yourself through healthy eating and exercise. Treat yourself as someone you value and like.
- Focus on the positive things you have in your life, spending time each day doing the things that bring personal enjoyment and satisfaction as well as being with those people who make you feel good about who you are.
- Use your 5 senses to really engage with the beauty and wonder of the world we all live in.
- Challenge any negative thinking you have in your mind – replacing these upsetting thoughts with constructive, reasonable ways of looking at things.
- Practice mindfulness each day so as to remember to notice what’s actually happening as your life unfolds. Develop an acceptance of what’s occurring, thereby reducing unpleasant feelings and allowing you to interact with the world in constructive, positive ways. Mindfulness allows you to control the activity of your mind rather than the mind controlling you.
- Create the right conditions so that you don’t emotionally or physically harm yourself or others.
- Explore the reality that thoughts are not the problem, but it’s how we attach meaning to them, defining reality and who we are via this attachment. Thoughts don’t define who we are because they come from our conditioning, our society, and our habitual reactions to experiences.
- Learn assertiveness skills and explore being more assertive more and more each day.
- Modify catastrophising, jumping to conclusions, comparing yourself to others as well as taking things personally.
- The roles we play, our personal and family relationships, occupation, hobbies, past, education, social standing etc. do not define who we are as a person. Examine this notion more deeply for yourself.
- Let go of all the “shoulds” in your life. Move beyond both the unrealistic standards you set for yourself and others, and the others’ expectations of you. Particularly, let go of trying to change what has already happened, either in your mind or practicably because you can’t. Embrace the mystery, unpredictability and adventure of life knowing that within the parameters set for you, your life’s course is in your hands and under your control.”
- Help others without compromising yourself, and open yourself to others and the positive and loving things they can bring to you.