Existential School

* Türkçe’si için …

This article is translated from the article published in Bilim ve Ütopya (Science and Utopia, Journal of Culture, Politics and Science) in July (2009), issue (Year: 15, Issue: 181), by Dr. Mutluhan Izmir.

Thanks to improving technology in today’s conditions, we can live more comfortable life than our past ancestors, but unfortunately, we can’t say same thing for our mental health and comfort. Exept some genetic and biological origin diseases, psychological disorders in society is increasing continuously. So, why wealth and various consumption facilities can’t bring psychological relief to people ? The answer of this problem may lie in excessive and negative individualism, shrinking families, disconnection from the production of life, reduction of social cooperation, lack of sense of belonging, and their effect on the people psychology.

Exept the people who has serious psychiatric problems, it’s always wondered how much strong and healthy personality normal people have, and how they protect  their mental health in future events. Is it possible to make more specific mental health and a healthy personality definition for an average person who lives in average living conditions, rather than stereotype personality definitions ?

Person must resist the effects of tensions from internal and external sources for maintain the mental balance.Internal sources are person’s past, present, future, experiences, expectations and perceptions, and external sources are cultural, social and economic factors of his community.

Our emotions vary according to the our current conditions, and we can under the influence of one or more of emotions in a certain period of time. In a wide range of emotions we experience, only anxiety is a part of everyday life, and it exists in everyone more or less. it may be experienced upon due to internal and external sources. If person don’t have a good method to coping with anxiety, then it blocks the person to show a strong personality and a healthy mental state. It means, mental health of an average person depends on level of his anxiety. If anxiety is below in a certain level, then this feeling may provide the driving force and motivation in his life. However, concerns over a certain level, the person’s life begins to interrupt. To keep anxiety in certain level, we use some tools which are called defense mechanisms. If person’s defense mechanisms can decrease the anxiety level, then he become healthy and happy one, or else spiritually unhealthy and unhappy. In addition, person’s defense mechanisms give idea about how strong his personality.

There are some theroies interested in origin of anxiety. The first is the classical psychoanalytic theory developed by Sigmund Freud. Freud observed that physical and neurological findings occur in situations of severe stress. And emplaced in the following formula;

Impulse> Anxiety> Defense Mechanism

Freud suggest that conflict of our inner world which has aggressive and sexual impulses and outside world which prevent to inner world cause anxiety. According to his theory, when we born there is “id” compose our basic instincts and outside world. While getting older, “ego” and “super ego” take place of outside world. Firstly “ego” develops to ensure a sense of satisfaction with the available opportunities, then “super-ego” develops to process this satisfaction without decreasing the person’s reputation in society. These 3 major agent from our inner world clash among themselves. All of these internal conflicts creates anxiety, and if person can’t deal with them, psychological problems start. According to this theory, if person is not treated seriously for his past, he struggles with life-long mental problems. In this analysis, there is no explanation about problems in persons’ adulthood who lived healthy childhood and  who are majarotiy in society. It explains problems of minority of society successfully, who experience special conditions in their childhoods.

The other theory after Freud comes from object relations theorists; Sullivan, Horney, and Fromm. According to their theories, causes of anxiety are not psychic spies, but persons. The clash is between child who needs protection and acceptance and adults who are  expected to satisfy to these needs. The other point of their theories is the development of a sense of basic security. If child has never seen enough care by his parents, when he grow up, he get difficulties to deal with anxiety comes from daily life, because his basic sense of security and self-esteem couldn’t develop.

As we have seen, psychoanalytic schools show cause of daily anxiety as person’s childhood problems. But they’re handicapped to explain mental state of person who lived away from childhood traumas. But existential school is in the structure to explain adulthood problem of person who lived healthy childhood.

Existential School is interested in today and future rather than past. In here, person is not a hopeless victim of catastrophic events which occured in his distant past and hardly ever remember. Existential school is interested in person’s life and awareness of his perception of world, his cause and effect relationship establishment, ability of synthesis of events, and their effect on the people psychology.  Formula of this school is;

Realizing the ultimate truth> Anxiety> Defense Mechanism

According to existentialist school, there is 4 ultimate truth that cause anxiety when they’re realized;

  • Death, unknown end
  • Uncertainty, life is a free process that can be experienced every chance
  • Loneliness, isolation
  • Absurdity; meaningless

Every sane person becomes aware of them during their lifetime, and this awareness increases anxiety.

We hardly deal with the total destrucition that’s expressed by death. Life actually is a ground that’s provided unconfigured, it’s  open to every possibility. In this sea of possibilities, we can choose plenty of options freely. But this uncertainty makes people uneasy, people want the thing certain and clear. Even he wants to belong to a stronger community at the cost of restriction in his freedom . But in contrary, there is chance of loneliness and isolation that  terrifying us, and this fast-changing life-style increase this probability. When even we try to give meaning to all of these, our anxiety increase. Why do we deal and challenge to these difficulties, on whose behalf ?

We can deal with these facts that increase our anxiety, thanks to the defense mechanisms. As previously mentioned, we can be either happy and powerful or  unhappy and powerless individuals depend on the defense mechanisms we use.

Defense mechanisms are basicly divided  into 2 groups; as healthy and unhealthy mechanisms.

Unhealthy defenses are basicly divided  into 3 groups;

  • Narcissistic (primitive) defenses; projection, illusory identification, primitive sublimation, separation as a good-bad, denial, distortion of the truth
  • Immature defenses; action hit, blocking, passive aggressive behavior, schizoid fantasiation, somatization (physical symptoms of stress conversion), regression (developed against some of the protective impulses over unacceptable behavior), hypochondriasis (hypochondriacal), introjection (unconscious acceptance, import-taking)
  • Neurotic defenses; control, displacement, disintegration, externalization, inhibition, intellectualiation , isolation, rationalization, reaction formation, repression, sexualisation.

Healthy defenses are basicly divided  into 6 groups;

  • Sacrifice; the happiness occur when person who makes the sacrifice can put himself to place of the person that’s helped. He lives helped person’s happiness.
  • Predict; to fulfill the obligation before it happens. Person prepare himself future distresses with anticipating them. After action takes place, he can more easily cope with these problems and he live feeling achieving victory of satisfaction and happiness.
  • Asceticism; with consciously give up all pleasures, person can open space to more valuable stuff (usually the things that society’s moral high values). improves itself, its reputation increases, and become the one considered by society.
  • Humor; Persons take a chance to explain themself without disturbing others. Thus, without some resistance to their ideas,  they can express themself with developing an air of harmony.
  • Mature Sublimation; instincts (which generally not approved by society) are directed to  more lofty goal in healthy way, without bloking them.
  • Suppression: person can remove himself from effects of instincts and clashes that’s consciously realized. Person describe this conflict perfectly. So anxiety is keep under control and he can continous to life with maintain the functionality.

If person is exposed severe trauma in his childhood or if he has genetic and biological disease, he may be convicted to use unhealthy defense. If we keep out of this small group, there is always a chance to use healthy defense mechanisms, for individuals within the wider community. In this sense, people can develop themselves.


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