Existential Despair

by Mark Ivar Myhre on July 10, 2011

It’s taken me longer than normal to write this article on existential despair – because I wanted to create my own little existential crisis, just to remember what it felt like.  And boy, am I glad I did!  It was an amazing experience that left me feeling more alive and more powerful.

Which is somewhat ironic, since it seemed like for most of my life, I lacked meaning and purpose and I was certainly creating as much separation from everything as I possibly could.  Sadly, it became a downward spiral.  I was stuck in the mud and sinking deeper.

But it doesn’t have to be a downward spiral. In fact, it’s not meant to be at all.  Instead, I see it as a necessary part of life. Plus, I believe in the future you can expect a lot more existential crises and despair in the world.  Because it’s becoming the nature of the way things are; there’s just too much uncertainty and unknown.



I imagine everyone on this planet must’ve had at least a little existential crisis at some point or another in their life.  It comes with the territory – whenever we lose touch with our anchors or our little world is threatened in some way. Some of us have a small crisis, others have a big one.  And we start asking the questions:

“Why am I alive?”

“Nothing has any meaning!”

“What’s the use?!”

And out of the big, general questions come the more specific ones:

Am I going to live a selfish life, or not?

Am I going to be responsible, or not?  And if so, at what level?

Am I going to turn my back on life, or not?

Am I going to live my life in ego, or not?

Am I going to function from pity or victim or martyr, or not?

These are the choices we make.  And they’re always conscious choices!  We decide the direction our life will take.  We decide what has meaning.  That’s part of what it means to be human.  We get to decide what matters.  It’s an incredible gift which often goes unnoticed.  Just like those choices we make can go unnoticed.

Existential Crisis Gets You In Touch With Your Human Gifts

To create meaning, to find mattering, to make choices - these are all human gifts.

When the existential crisis comes, it can be a wonderful time. You enter the chaos!  And out of it, you can develop new resolve, new goals, new directions to take.  They can be life changing moments.

But the danger is we’ll get stuck in that experience.  Trapped in the darkness; in the chaos; in the mud.  Where we can’t seem to move beyond it. Our whole lives can fall apart as we appear to be incapacitated.



Why would this happen?  Why would we refuse to budge, and open our eyes? Why would be deny ourselves?  Why would we turn our backs on life itself?

Probably a lot of different reasons.    Blaming, righteousness, manipulation, punishment, avoidance… things of that nature.  Maybe we want to nobilize our struggles.  Maybe we want to prove something.  Maybe we’re just lost in our own ego’s delusions.

Maybe this is the only way I can feel powerful…  maybe it’s the only way I can feel any sort of control over my life; by blaming, manipulating, punishing, avoiding…  Maybe it’s the only way I can feel any kind of safety and security.

Lots of reasons.  But it all comes down to one bottom line.

I am not going to be responsible for my life. And you can’t make me!  That’s the danger of going through an existential crisis.  (Well, the danger for everything, I suppose.)  The danger is that you will reject meaning and mattering and reject life itself by refusing to be responsible.

“I can’t be responsible for everything, so I’ll be responsible for nothing.”

It’s a very dangerous place to be.  A whole lifetime is at risk.  And for what?  What’s the reward for acting this way?

“I proved I could ruin a human life.  I proved you can’t make me be responsible for my life.”

It takes a lot of will and effort to not be responsible.  It takes a lot of suffering and struggle.  It takes a lot of arrogance to pretend you don’t matter.  But it can be done.  Although one would be tempted to ask, why bother?  Is it really worth the effort?

And that’s part of the existential despair, and the existential crisis itself.  If I can’t answer the questions – the big, important questions of life – then I’m not going to participate. I’ll just sit here, and force someone else to be responsible for me.  That’s the danger.

So what’s the solution?  I’d say, it’s important to realize what a desperate game you’re playing with yourself.  This is like saying, “I’m not going to open my eyes until you prove to me there’s a beautiful sunset in front of me.”

Which, of course, nobody can.  Or it’s like saying, “I’m not going to find meaning in my life until you prove to me life has meaning.”  Or sadly, maybe it’s like saying “I’m not going to lift myself out of my own muck.”



What can you say to something like that?  Beats me. You can’t make somebody open their eyes.  You can’t overcome someone’s arrogance when it comes to their own life.

Anyway, back to my own little experience this week.  See, I wanted to strip everything away and see what was left.  And I had some amazing revelations. I stripped away my thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs and attitudes, my desires, my expectations… in fact, everything I could strip away.  Even my self image.  And I went into the void.  I went into what you might refer to as an ‘existential crisis’.

(And ‘crisis’, by the way, does not mean something bad!  A crisis can be a wonderful experience, as you emerge as more than you were before the crisis.)

So what did I find?  A depth of caring.  A force of will.  A drive that would not be denied.  And a few other things as well.  In other words, I found my values.  I saw them on a deeper level.  I experienced them without the filters which usually get in the way.

And from this deeper level of feeling my values, I was able to emerge as ‘more’ – more than I was before I went in.  It was a wonderful experience that also changed me as a person.  I actually see the world differently now.

How did I do it?

By following a process that was kind of like the meditation I recorded on healing yourself with resonance.  Which goes like this:

You go into meditation, find yourself in a beautiful outdoor setting, and anchor yourself into the scene.  Then you get a sense of the situation or issue or problem or whatever it is that you want to change the resonance of.  Once you sense it as strongly as possible, then you dump it or throw it in front of you.

Once this blob of energy (or however you see it – since it could really look like anything) is in front of you, then you take back your ‘contribution’ to the problem.  Take back everything you can.  Then you’re left with raw energy.

This raw energy is the chaos. Just going there can change you.  And that’s how I was able to evoke my own little existential crisis – by stepping into the void or the chaos, or whatever you want to call it.

The recorded meditation, on the other hand, takes a different turn.  Rather than stepping into that raw energy, instead you build a new resonance out of it – the resonance you want.  A healing resonance, usually.  But you choose.  You build it, step by step.  It’s a very powerful way to heal anything.

You can learn more about it here -

http://www.emotional-times.com/2011/03/resonance-healing.html

Getting back to the existential despair – this is only one of many ways you can evoke a crisis.  But why would you want to?   As ‘preventive medicine’.  Perhaps you see a serious problem looming on the horizon.  A health problem, a financial problem, a relationship problem, an emotional problem.

It’s a way to neutralize or at least reduce what you see coming down the pipeline of your reality.  It’s like taking a detour when you see a traffic jam up ahead.  Or, it can be like taking a first aid kit with you on your hike out in the woods.  Or it can be like adjusting your sails when you see the wind blowing you off course.

In other words, I believe it’s the smart thing to do.  But that’s just me.

If there’s one message I’d like to leave you with, it’s that an existential crisis can be a powerful, uplifting experience.  Even in the depths of despair.  The key is to not stay stuck in it like I did for well over a decade.

The way out is to be willing to be responsible for your own life.  The problem is, we tend to believe responsibility is something painful or burdensome, and that’s not true.  True responsibility is one of the greatest joys you can experience.  But again, that’s just me.

all the best,

Mark

Mark Ivar Myhre
The Emotional Healing Coach
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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

karen davenport July 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm

sincere graditude for your wisdom and insight. thank you for shareing

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Mark Ivar Myhre July 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Hey Karen – thanks!

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Debra July 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Mark you are amazing. I read your Articles and feel peace and direction. I find that I easily slip back into anxiety and being scared and fearful of life and I get uplifted and on track Again after reading and re-reading your posts. I was raised to fear and doubt everything. I have a hard time breaking completely free from my upbringing. Deb

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Mark Ivar Myhre July 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Hi Debra,

and thanks for the comments

glad to hear I can help in some small way!

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Mary Winsor July 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Your timely advice never ceases to amaze me — in the middle of reconstructing my life, I find your articles and philosophy to be a tremendous touchstone and lifeline for me. Thank You!!!!

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Leslie July 10, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Hi! Mark,

That’s Some Pretty Powerful Stuff. Thank You VERY MUCH For Sharing It With Me.

Hope All Is Well With You. I Am Well Myself.

Well, Got To Go For Now. Take Care, And Stay Well!

ALL THE BEST TO YOU, LESLIE

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Mark Ivar Myhre July 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Hi Leslie – always good to hear from you!

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Julie July 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Hi Mark,
I’ve been on Zoloft (or similar) for over 20 years and have recently gone off and am trying to live life free of the medications and truly start “feeling my feelings”. Do you have any experience with someone getting off antidepressant/antianxiety meds and any advice for me? This has been more of a struggle than I anticipated.

Thank-you,
Julie

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Mark Ivar Myhre July 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Are you going through withdrawal pain?

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Dianne July 12, 2011 at 7:16 am

To Julie;

I myself went off of two anti-depressants two months ago. I started therapy when I went off of them and faced childhood trauma. Journaling is one tool that I use. Allowing myself to feel my feelings has worked. Sometimes I get all stressed out about something and when I actually allow myself to feel my feelings……….I find what is causing me to feel grief has nothing to do with what I was stressing out about. I find that to be strange. Another tool is to write down my “beliefs” and to challenge them which I learned from my therapist. Things that mark has written has helped me as well. I wish you the best of luck…….I am doing ok so far.

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Dianne July 12, 2011 at 7:25 am

After my last child left our home, it was then that I started a journey of trying to deal with my childhood more seriously even though I tried as I was raising my children. I have wondered alot more since my last child left about what my purpose is on earth and why am I here? When my children were home, I felt a purpose. Now, I am learning how to live “without children” and that as my purpose. Its been difficult at times. When my kids were home, life seemed more meaningful. We moved 12 hours away from most of my kids and now every day is a challenge for me. I don’t have grandkids to enjoy being around or old friends or family. I am alone every day and am contemplating getting a part time or full time job. My husband works and I stopped working a few yrs ago to try and get myself in a better place. Anyway…….I call and email everyone to ask how they are doing and I will admit, I get tired of doing it. Noone calls me to ask how I am doing. I have one sister and one friend who keeps regular contact through emailing. Other than that, noone bothers. I wonder at times…………..why. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who cares. I get tired of making excuses for everyone. Can anyone relate to this? thanks.

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Mark Ivar Myhre July 12, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi Dianne,

and thanks for sharing.

Now let me ask you a question. Why do you want others to care for you?

I know, it’s obvious. But pretend it isn’t. Why not spend some time seriously looking at what you truly seek here.

It could be to feel loved, to not feel lonely, etc. But why not spend a little time really looking at that question.

Back when I felt that no one cared, it was from feeling like a victim or a martyr. It was a lot of pity. And pity kept me from feeling the caring! I’m not saying that’s your situation – I’m just saying that was mine.

But a funny thing happened after I really looked at my situation. I started to love myself and care about myself – I mean REALLY love and care. And once I did, the whole issue of what others did or did not do became irrelevant. I generated my own excitement.

Because I was filling the void inside myself. I was giving myself the feelings that I had been trying to get from others. Of course, pity blocks love, so even if others did care then I would not have felt it.

Again, I’m not saying this is your issue. What I’m saying is that there can be great value in writing all this stuff out.

The more I wrote out my thoughts and feelings, the more clear I became. And the more I got in touch with myself.

I’ve was trying not to say this, (cause you’ve heard it before) but what the heck:

Nobody cared for me until I cared for myself. Nobody loved me until I loved myself.

Even though that’s an exaggeration, there is some truth to it.

I know what it’s like to move to a new place and not know anybody and so you end up missing your friends back home. It’s awfully easy to go through an emotional roller coaster ride. I don’t know if there is an easy answer; but I saw it as an opportunity to explore feelings I wouldn’t otherwise deal with. I went into the feelings as much as possible. And boy do I know loneliness! I used to get panic attacks over it. Finally I realized I wanted to experience as much as intensity as possible – and even if it came from the ‘bad’ feelings, that was still okay. Since if I can truly just feel them, I never get stuck in them. It was only when I told myself stories about what it means to be lonely, and what it means to be scared of loneliness – that was when the feeling stuck around and I could call them ‘bad’ feelings. But that’s just me.

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Dianne July 13, 2011 at 8:02 am

Hi Mark;

You definitely gave me something to think about. I think right now that I have looked for reciprocation in all my relationships and have not had that in most of them with family or friends. I think one of my fears has been that I will be notified of a siblings death and here we are with all these yrs of hardly talking and no memories. No new memories. Back in 1985 my family turned against me when our niece who was 10 said our brother molested her and he went to trial and found guilty and served a yr. I had called my sister-in-law and talked to her when I heard from a sister that something had happened to her daughter and she was giving different people as the molester. My brother had molested me and I was concerned that she was afraid to say it was her dad. I told my sister-in-law after having kept it a secret myself and I knew how it affected me with keeping a secret. My sister-in-law talked to her daughter and told her she would feel better if she said who did it to her. She said it was her dad then. Thats when the police arrested my brother. I told my family about my conversation with my sister-in-law and everyone turned against me. I went through hell back then. I was asked for a meeting and had my two brothers and my brother-in-law and their wifes all questioning me. I did not know how to take care of myself back then. I was barred from family gatherings for 9 yrs. I was very close to one sister and nothing was ever the same after that incident. They all took my brothers side in all of it where I believed my niece. The whole family splintered away from me. I started then to learn how to live without family. My parents and I saw one another very little and lets just say it was a very painful thing to go through. Everyone was angry with me and blamed me for all of it. Noone including my parents ever said they believed me about what happened to me. I needed it for years and did not ever get what I needed from all of them. I felt hurt and betrayed and so on. I think I’ve needed my families love all these years and have not ever received what I needed from any of them. It still hurts. I did not feel like I ever belonged. I still don’t. I don’t feel like I was ever accepted by any of them. Maybe I have been looking for acceptance to this day. I am not sure. I’ve had friends who have come and gone through the years and it seems there’s been something that has broken off all my friendships for one reason or another with everyone. I have tried to reconnect with many and nothing ever became of it. Maybe acceptance is what I have searched for all these yrs from most everyone and have not found it with anyone other than my husband and a couple women who are friends.

I lost my mom first and then my dad yrs later. I still remember my blood sister and two brothers walking away from his casket at the cemetary with their arms around one another while I stood alone at his casket. I walked away alone. I have three other sisters who are from my moms previous marriage………they all bonded together. I, the youngest, have noone. I did not feel accepted and do not feel accepted by the “lot” of them. I felt like an outsider looking in all my life. I am the youngest of 9 kids. My brother who is next from me is 6 yrs older than me. Then my next brother is 9 yrs older and then my sister who is 12 yrs. older. I felt alone as a child and still feel alone as an adult. I have felt like a outcast my whole life.
Anyway, I have food for thought. I think as human beings we all need to feel acceptance, love, valued, etc. I did not feel any of these things from any of my family. Not even my parents. So feeling alone has been a feeling I have carried for my whole life even when I was around my family of origin. Accepting my feelings is now a step for me as usual. Isn’t life fun? I know I am being sarcastic. I just wanted to know what it felt like to feel like I belonged and was accepted and loved by my own family. I did not know I was going to die without feeling it yet I think that is my fate. thanks for listening mark.

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Jen July 12, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I don’t know how I found you, either, Mark, but have been struggling with a bit of depression (child leaving for univ soon and menopause symptoms). I have more free time now and plan to go back and read all the emails. Thankyou!

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Dianne July 14, 2011 at 7:03 am

” Feeling my feelings”

I did some grieving after I wrote my last article here on your site mark and I am realizing that I AM different than my family of origin and I think that is why I just have not related to them very well. I saw alot during my childhood and experienced alot and it had to do with molestation and physical abuse with my dad abusing my mom. I came from a VERY dysfunctional family. To be honest, with all the rage I have read about and heard about the Caylee Anthony story……….my faith in mankind was restored. After living with a family who showed no compassion whatsoever or interest in what happened to me as a child, I realized I lost faith in human beings. All I ever dealt with was denial my whole life, my own and my families. It has felt good to hear all the anger and rage over what happened with that little girl. It tells me people DO CARE what happens to children. Even though we cannot do anything about it as far as having the right people charged with the crime of this little girls death and placement of her remains………..we all at least know that there are human beings in this world who truely care what happens to children. I did not find that in my own family of origin. When I had my own children…………I did what a parent ought to do when my children were being abused whether it was in school or wherever. I did care and I showed it. I was protective where my own parents were not or siblings. I am thankful for all the people out there who care about our children in this world. My faith has been restored. thankyou for listening. Dianne

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Mark Ivar Myhre July 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

That’s awesome!

Glad to hear about the breakthrough.

It really helps to write stuff out!

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Chris July 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Dear Dianne,

I so understand how you feel about always feeling unloved and the outsider.I seem to have made my life a self fulfilling prophesy but now in my 60′s and with Marks wisdom, I am climbing out of a very dark place. You can too. Keep well and know that you are loved and only an outsider because you havent opened the door.
Chris

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Leslie July 23, 2011 at 9:03 am

Hi! Chris,

Those Were VERY NICE THINGS YOU TOLD DIANNE, That Was SO VERY SWEET OF YOU. YOU SEEM LIKE A VERY KIND HEARTED PERSON!

ALL THE BEST TO YOU, LESLIE

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Chris September 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Hello Leslie,

Thank you for your kind words. Being kind to others matters so much when life is challenging. I have been very isolated for a long time but now am doing the small steps each day and reaching out to people. Thank you Mark for all your wisdom and sharing.
love and hugs
Chris

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Dianne July 28, 2011 at 7:35 am

I talked to my therapist and went ahead and called two sisters and asked specific questions and found out that they too felt unloved by our mother and not protected. They had their own stories to share. I no longer felt like the “lone stranger” when I heard their stories, their experiences. I no longer felt like I was targeted. I was glad that I called and asked the questions and glad they were willing to share. As far as opening a door…….I have done that and began talking once again with some of my siblings. In my lifetime, what I consider to be a “family” was not realized. I had alot bigger expectations of everyone in my family from the youngest ones perspective. This may be with alot of people in families as well. Coming from a very unhealthy family did not help yet I am making it and facing whatever needs to be faced. One day at a time! thankyou………

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Chris September 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Dear Diane,
I am so happy that you opened the door. It makes me happy for you that you are bringing positive changes in your life. It shares hope.
Sorry, I meant to reply earlier but have been going through withdrawal symptoms after 15 years of anti deprressants. Doing well and opening my own doors with Mark’s guidance.
keep well

love and hugs
Chris

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Anonymous October 10, 2011 at 7:03 am

Hey. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. I’m not even sure what is exactly is wrong. I’m anxious. I’m very anxious. I just want to live my life. Rationality and logic are not helping me.. negativity is pointless unless harnessed into positivity, but even then it’s no longer negativity.. despite this, I’m stuck.

I really need to talk to someone. I would really appreciate if you could e-mail me. I’m not even sure what I will say, or what you can say, but I think I am having an existential crisis. I feel alone. I’m sad.

Thank you.

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Mark Ivar Myhre October 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

okay, I’ll send you an email at the address you left me.

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Scott November 6, 2011 at 6:16 am

“I can’t be responsible for everything, so I’ll be responsible for nothing.”

You hit the nail on the head with me here, this is exactly how i’ve been reacting to this entire process for well over a year now. Just the other night i was thinking about how much i dont wish to participate in life because im unable to attribute meaning to it. Its frustrating because on one hand i feel immature and on the other hand it all feels absolutely true, what makes it worse is i justify my own existence through suffering.. martyrdom perhaps.

Anyhow, thank-you for the article.. it’s refreshing to read back what you already know about yourself.. helps to realize it more fully.

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andrew stephenson March 1, 2012 at 4:15 am

this is a stupid article. Oh, you just induced an existential crisis when you had a slow week, did you?

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andrew stephenson March 1, 2012 at 4:16 am

you’re so full of it

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Comingbacktolife April 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Hey Mark!

Great post! I am personally going through a fairly blown-out existential crisis (E.C from now on) myself. I quit my rising career (am an engineer with an advanced degree in math & science) 3 years ago and decided to travel around the world in hope of finding a solution to my E.C.

Three years of hard-core traveling+ reading countless books on mind/matter/life & pop-sci stuff on genes, geology, ascent and descent of man, language cultures etc (all good to great writers/mentors too – Darwin, Buddha, Dawkins, Vonnegutt, V.S Ramachandran, Herodotus, Bertrand Russell, Indian Upanishads etc), I am still at cross-roads. A major one at that….

As you so rightly say, I feel that deep-down I realize that “it” has no meaning, “it” does not matter, “it” has no purpose, “it” is just an advantage offered by the process of natural selection over anything that is not “it”, “it” just is an emergent property of organic matter and other such arguments… (“it” being “life” in my case).

However, I also know that I am making things too difficult for myself, my family and others who care for me by taking such a recalcitrant position on my own remaining life (I am 29 y.0) – I declared to myself that everything is purposeless, so I will just spend my the rest of my time on this planet by being a mere observer of this purposelessness that others call life – however purposeless that (act of being an observer) may seem, it is still the only purposeless thing that I care to do.

I am in a mess, I know it and how much I try to come out of it by getting back into a “career” or other pursuits, I find myself being compelled by the argument of the purposelessness of it all. I am not depressed, I do not have urges to end my existence, I feel much loved by my parents & I believe I also reciprocate those feelings, I have an active lifestyle and an insatiable appitite to get out and see the world. I do not usually do rec drugs nor am I swayed by cults, religions, gods, trances, raves, supernatural, enlightenment etc.

E.C is such a uniquely human ability (no other animal wonders why it exists or what its future will look like!) & I wish to turn this back on itself and make it a positive experience.

I wish I could forget this whole affair with my E.C, get an amnesia & wipe the slate clean and go back to things mundane that everyone else calls the “real world” – I call it “universally accepted version of reality” or UAVR.

I love my parents and do not wish to see them sad thinking their kid has thrown his life away. Even though I feel that there is nothing to be thrown away in the first place, I empathize with them and it makes me sad.

Your post made me think if I was being stubborn & egoistical about my “choice” to continue to revel in my EC (is it a choice? Am i reveling? if this is reveling, then I do not even want to see the opposite of it) –

You said “It takes a lot of will and effort to not be responsible. It takes a lot of suffering and struggle. It takes a lot of arrogance to pretend you don’t matter. But it can be done. Although one would be tempted to ask, why bother? Is it really worth the effort?”

I agree. What can I do?

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Mark Ivar Myhre April 23, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Do something for somebody else.

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