If you have been experiencing feelings of hopelessness and dejection accompanied by nihilistic thoughts of meaningless, it is perhaps time for you to explore the root cause of the thoughts that come with these feelings and dig deeper into what constitutes a meaningful life.
In this article we will explore effective ways to deal with thoughts that are pessimistic, which leads to self sabotage, and leaves you with hopelessness and a nihilistic outlook on your life.
The focus of this article will be on mindful living through building healthy relationships, spirituality, and living a prosocial life.
What does it mean if you have been having feelings of nihilism?
Philosophy defines Nihilism as,
…the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.
It can be understood as the acknowledgement that life is inherently meaningless and that everything we know and live for today has no value.
Nihilism has taken on many forms in philosophy but it has been best explained by Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher who theorised that existence is meaningless and that god and other moral codes of conduct was inherently baseless- dead, even.
Nihilistic feelings are often accompanied with nihilistic thoughts which can look a lot like the following:
“What’s the point of life if I’m just going to eventually die?”
“Does any of this even matter?”
“We are all going to die anyway, so why should completing this assignment matter?”
“Why should I go to work today if I am just going to die tomorrow?”
If you have been having frequent thoughts similar to these with emotions that resemble sadness, hopelessness, and perhaps anxiety or panic.
You can assume that what you are experiencing right now is Existential dread, called Existential anxiety in psychology. It is a very common occurrence in the life of an average human being and can occur at any point in their lives.
When it does happen it can impact the lives of a person to such a profound extent that it can either push the person towards building a more meaningful life or may unfortunately lead to an untimely death if there is no proper intervention.
To further understand what it is that you are experiencing and how to cope with it, let us take a look at what could be causing this anxiety.
Causes of Existential nihilism or anxiety
Pessimistic and nihilistic thoughts and, as a result, feelings related to nihilism such as anxiety, dread, hopelessness can be brought on at any stage of a person’s life.
While the stereotypical experience of existential dread is related to a mid-life crisis during the late 30s- 40s, an episode of existential anxiety can be triggered by many things at any age.
Let us look at some of the probable causes of your own feelings and thoughts of nihilism:
While these feelings can come up at any time, certain things can trigger them, such as:
- Reaching a dead end
Finding yourself stuck, or having reached a dead end in life- maybe you have achieved the goals you had set out for yourself and find yourself dis-satistifed.
- Life transitions
Losing physical strengths, losing a job, moving to another country without wanting to are all possible transitions that can lead to nihilistic feelings that can impair your ability to adapt to these changes.
- Traumatic life events
Events that have left deep impressions on you, that has shattered the understanding you had about the life you have been living or the world that you believed to be good and safe.
- Large-scale crisis (including the recent pandemic)
Large scale crisis on a historical even global scale can lead to the breaking down of what we believed to be the false understanding of security we lived in.
- Shifting Identities
Events in our lives can often leave us with ever shifting identities which become even more challenging to adapt to if we do not recognize the qualities that are inherent in us that make us who we are.
Shifting from the identity of a spouse to a divorced man or woman can be troublesome especially if you do not have a solid sense of self which is authentic to you and separate from your partner.
Another example would be when your children leave the nest, you may experience this same existential crisis and nihilistic feelings when you find your identity wavering outside of that which identified you as a parent
- Death of a loved one
Death of a loved one can often bring us face to face with the notion of death which we neither like to acknowledge nor deny. It brings us close to our own mortality and makes us question what the purpose of living is if we are only going to die.
It can also bring in shifts in the way we live life, in the identities we carry and lead to us questioning our existence which only pushes us on to these pessimistic thoughts and feelings of hopelessness and dread.
How does nihilism impact a person
To understand the impact nihilistic thoughts and feelings have on a person , we must first understand how nihilistic and existential anxiety develops in a person.
Let us take a look at the Existential Positive Psychology Model of Suffering (EPPMS) which explains how these nihilistic feelings arise and how it impacts an individual.
Suffering highlights meaninglessness
This model proposes that for a person to experience nihilistic and existential anxiety, they first come across the realization that they are suffering.
This suffering is chronic, consequential, and cognitively threatening as it violates pre-held beliefs of the world and themselves. It could be caused by any of the causes mentioned earlier. Eg- Loss of a loved one.
Suffering highlights the fact that nothing is in our control and the unpredictable nature of the world, it threatens people’s views of themselves and their beliefs; it can elicit fear of dying a meaningless death, and can render the world as uncaring and meaningless.
Suffering Impairs Meaning
When one comes across suffering, it impairs their ability to make meaning because suffering challenges their understanding of life and existence. Their significance is threatened and their purpose is undermined because of the realization that life is meaningless and groundless.
Lack of meaning elicits hopelessness
When the ability to make meaning is compromised, this can lead to feelings of utter hopelessness and a nihilistic mindset which can cause intense anxiety and depression.
These emotions and thoughts can lead to isolation, lack of desire to engage with the world outside and themselves, suicidal thoughts, a fractured sense of self which can aggravate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Tips to overcome thoughts and feelings of nihilism
To overcome your nihilistic approach to life and the thoughts and feelings that come with it, positive psychology proposes building the elements of well-being in your life.
- Accepting the uncertainty
Getting comfortable with the uncertainty of human existence by accepting the way you feel and the fact that no everything has a definite answer is one of the first steps you can take to deal with this feeling of existential dread.
- Reaffirm values or seek out new set of values
By taking the time to explore your life and surroundings, to uncover new set of values that is authentic to yourself.
This means re-evaluating self beliefs you had about yourself and the world. It may even require for you to unlearn some beliefs and re-learn new beliefs that are realistic and compassionate to your limitations as a human being.
This will involve mindful attention of your thoughts and your beliefs in regards to everyone around you, the world and its systems, and your self.
- Building healthy relationships
Because we are social beings, we human being benefit most by engaging in healthy relationships that help us grow and transcend.
Seeking out healthy relationships is one of the best ways you can build meaning. This means cutting out people that hurt you emotionally, physically.
It means building healthy boundaries between you and your loved ones so that your sense of self flourishes.
Building individualism in the midst of healthy relationships can help you redefine who you are as a person and who you can be by being mindful of your strengths and the limitations of human existence.
Relationships overcome the dread of isolation and helps us truly partake in life.
- Developing a Spiritual life
A spiritual life helps one to deal with the terrors of nothingness after death. It can help us develop a closer relationship with ourselves and with a force that is larger than ourselves.
By broadening our view of existence, we are able to engage in activities and beliefs that are larger than our irrational beliefs.
Research has found that people who are more spiritual score higher in well-being because it allows them positive emotions, healthy support systems, and engagement in the act of worship or mindful practice of spiritual connection.
You can seek to meditate, practice a certain spiritual teaching, or find meaning through engaging in spiritual rituals and communities.
Frequently asked questions related to “Frequent feelings of nihilism”
What makes someone a Nihilist?
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that life has no meaning. It is associated with extreme pessimism and condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no expectations.
They would reject all established social constructs and order, all social and religious systems and principles.
Is being a Nihilist bad?
Nihilism may be harmful and lead to hopelessness and even depression. However, it is not healthy to simply disregard it as good or bad.
A person who is a nihilist sees beyond the social constructs of human society and if the right intervention is done may be able to transcend to a more authentic living, which is the goal of existential therapy.
Is existential dread common?
Experiencing an existential crisis is common, and it is normal and often healthy to question one’s life and goals. However, an existential crisis can contribute to a negative outlook if the person is not met with a timely and effective intervention.
How can nihilists be happy?
Nihilists see the world for what it is, nothing more. They don’t expect anything special from it and they certainly don’t expect it to make sense. Rather a well functioning nihilist can strive to make meaning out of an authentic life which can help them develop a sense of well-being, and life satisfaction.
What can you do if you have existential dread?
- Adjust your viewpoint by letting go of beliefs and values that has been imposed on you. Seek to make your own beliefs which are authentic to you.
- Journal to reflect your thoughts and feelings. When we are able to identify our own feelings and thoughts we can assert control.
- Connect with people who give you a sense of meaning and purpose.
- Practice mindfulness in your daily living by focusing on the now.