One of the key tenets of Yalom’s work and existential thought is that being human involves responsibility. Being thrust into the world we are met with the opportunity to author our lives. While there are factors or givens that we do not have the power to change we can live with awareness that our life may be constructed from our choices.
We are able to and responsible for effecting change in our lives. We have a say in who we are and how we live. While me must accept that there are “givens” to existence or factors outside of our control that influence our lives (i.e. death, isolation, anxiety, other people) we may also choose how we respond. In fact, it is in confronting these givens that we are provided with with the greatest opportunity to create meaning for ourselves and our place in the world. We may choose to author our lives or resign to have our story written for us.
In therapy, we learn to use our emotions to improve our lives. By recognizing anxiety, for example, we can learn more about where we need to further develop some element of our lives. In this sense, it is the absence of anxiety that may be of greater concern.
Yalom notes, “It is here, in the idea of self-construction, where anxiety dwells: we are creatures who desire structure, and we are frightened by the concept of freedom…”
The absence of anxiety implies the absence of active self-construction and recognizing our responsibility to engage in this task (not saying we should feel chronically anxious*).
Therapy, and the work that one does between sessions involves this process of self-construction or development. We are able to look deeply at what we find most meaningful in life and work to address ways to create more value for ourselves and for others. Anxiety offers us a signal to engage in this work and avoid the regret of a more passive existence.