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The Existential Moment: Existential Given—Isolation

Veruca Salt: Daddy, I want a squirrel. Get me one of those squirrels, I want one!
Mr. Salt: Veruca dear, you have many marvelous pets.
Veruca Salt: All I’ve got at home is one pony and two dogs and four cats and six bunny rabbits and two parakeets and three canaries and a green parrot and a turtle, and a silly old hamster! I want a squirrel!

Who can forget the selfish Veruca Salt in the Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Hopelessly spoiled, she wants and possesses and wants again, insatiably.

At about 18 months, toddlers develop the idea of possession, “mineness.” Independence begins around the same time (e.g., “I do!”, “No”). This developmental milestone opens the door to the eventual knowledge of isolation.

E-H Therapy theory holds that four existential givens (also called paradoxical polarities) pervade The Cosmological Dimension of the Therapeutic Encounter. The third polarity is wishing to be connected but being irrevocably separate.

Irv Yalom (1980) elucidates isolation in his classic work Existential Psychotherapy. Existential isolation is “a final, unbridgeable gap” (Yalom, 1980, p. 1) between self and world. In this case, the “mineness” of my being exposes a difficulty: it is “no one else’s.” It’s my life, but also my death, my doubt, my responsibility. We are utterly alone, ultimately, in our being. Still, we are in our ultimate aloneness together. To cope with the dread and despair of existential isolation, patients understandably call on protective measures, risking polarization around fusion (e.g., with a group) or isolation.

Our task as therapists is to help our clients acknowledge and reconcile the polarity between fear and desire in relationships and authentically come to terms with the “no one else’s” of our life.

Reference:

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

Links to Related Resources and Blog Posts:

The Existential Moment: The Cosmological Dimension posts.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts.

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