Existential Crises: The Language of Existence

Existential Crises: The Language of Existence

Some disclosures and trigger warnings: discussing existential questions at times can trigger any number of negative emotions. Please only read through my words if you are in a favorable emotional space. And if it ends up becoming too much for you, it’s okay. There are people to talk to. Seek out a professional counselor, or call a friend. If you’re feeling particularly low, there is a national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255< these people are available to talk to you 24/7 and they can help you get out of that funk. Alternatively, if you just want to have your voice heard or share your experiences surrounding this topic, please feel free to comment.

Why is talking about existential dread so hard, anyway?

While I was interviewing people about their personal experiences with existential dread, I had several people stop the interviews midway. Some skirted around reasons that they didn’t want to interview. One person outright said, “I’m not prepared in my life to do this right now.” The truth is that the answer to this question is layered. For a bit, let’s skip the obvious answer that it’s scary, unknown, and a breeding ground for denial, and look instead at language.

(Have I already lost you? Take a look at my first entry in this existential dread series).

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to talk about existential dread is that as a society we don’t talk about it. It’s not your typical morning conversation over tea. In some ways, we don’t have the words for it. Yet we certainly feel the dread.


So how else have we expressed the pain of existential dread?


Certain movies have a way of triggering existential dread in us. Based on my interviews, it seems there is a common theme that does it: insignificance.



How about songs?

we are wyld stallyns comic existential dread

And let’s not forget literature.

There is an entire branch of existential philosophy that gave birth to the existential language we use today.

Here are some of the classic names in existential philosophy:


I could write a whole blog on these philosophers and some of their common thoughts, but let’s keep it simple.


In addition, you can find existential themes (death, freedom, responsibility, meaninglessness, etc.) in novels that you might have read:

Fight Club existential dread

Fight Club

Cat's Cradle existential dread

Cat’s Cradle

Unbearable Lightness of Being existential dread

Unbearable Lightness of Being

There is a big list of media that heightens awareness of existential dread. I’m grateful for these artists and authors for tackling their expression of it in creative ways. But, what about everyday people? How do they describe their experiences?

Language my interviewees used for their existential dread:

  • “Anytime I feel directionless.”
  • “Where you have a ‘profound’ realization that your place and purpose in the universe is completely insignificant and is so much that affecting change or influence on anything you care about deeply is virtually impossible and a waste of time.”
  • “Philosophical transition(s) in my life.”
  • “Like in a video game, and I can’t figure out what to do next.”
  • “When I’m no longer sure of where I’m going, and also no longer trusting in the process of the journey.”
  • “When our ability to understand our universe exceeds what we’ve previously been able to grasp.”
  • “Being aware of the human condition.”
  • Metaphors of forking path in life and uncertainty of which path to choose
  • Themes of directions; decisions; journey; understanding; awareness; conditions; givens; insignificance; and influence.

Something still feels off…

So, based on the common themes and language that people use, it’s probably safe to say that existential crises culminate from a whole slew of unpleasant emotions and situations in life. But there seems to be more to it than just feeling negative, right?

What is this mysterious element that makes existential dread so… foreign?

In my next blog, I will also discuss what the existential vacuum is and where it may come from.

Full series list:

1. Existential Crises: Introduction

2. Existential Crises: The Language of Existence

3. Existential Crises: What is the Existential Vacuum?

4. Existential Crises: Triggers

5. Existential Crises: The Lost Finale

Julia Stamman, LPC

Julia Stamman LPC Austin Existential dread

Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.



  • Patrick Hempton Posted May 4, 2017 2:54 pm

    This is a great series. I hope you explore how existential crises change or differ with age and from personality types. Somehow, I have settled into my own comfort of life and death, free of religion, which actually brings no comfort to some others (spouse). And for some like me, the “crisis” doesn’t happen until much later in life. I can’t imagine the crisis you described at 8 years old.

    • junipercounseling Posted May 4, 2017 9:29 pm

      Those are great points and brings up an interesting dynamic in existential crises. I have thought about the intersection of existential crises, getting old, and work that you can do in counseling. Namely that a lot of modern counseling these days is aimed at “bettering” yourself with implications of being youthful and at the peak of life, when in reality that leaves a lot of people in the dark.

      Personality tends to affect the way most people deal with any matter, let alone an existential crisis. I do acknowledge that the interview responses ran the gamut and it became difficult to narrow down any kind of pattern (as my brain tends to want to do). I should do some more research into if anyone has found any interesting results for personality factors and existential crises. I did find an interesting common thread among my interviewees that I will write about later, but I don’t want to spoil it yet!
      Thanks for commenting.

  • Trackback: Existential Crises: What is the Existential Vacuum? – Julia Stamman
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