Help! I Want Real Answers to My Existential Questions

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I really don’t belong in my life and my body and possibly even this universe. Every time I try and Google this feeling for some clarity, I get blogs about spirituality. Which I’m open to, but that’s part of the problem. Because the only answer I’ve gotten is couched in New Age mysticism, I find my perceptions changing, possibly not for the better.

I’ve gotten different diagnoses in my life, including ADD, major depressive disorder, and manic depressive disorder. It’s unclear what is true or even if that’s relevant, but I’d really appreciate any idea that isn’t “you’re an alien on earth,” “your third eye is opening,” or “your soul is ancient.” Because I haven’t given up yet on one day becoming a person who is conventionally okay. I’ll never be neurotypical, but I want to understand what this alienation is and where it comes from. Thank you for your time. —Longing to Belong

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Dear Longing,

I don’t know if you have attention-deficit hyperactivity, if you’re manic depressive, or even if you’re depressive. I have no idea if your “third eye” is opening or if you’re an alien, although if you are an alien, you might research other options before you set your heart on Earth. Perhaps you already have. I also don’t know your age or the age of your soul, ancient or otherwise.

Although I can’t diagnose your situation from your letter, I do have some thoughts I’d like to share. I wonder if you have ever been in a traumatic, possibly life-threatening, situation. Exposure to trauma may produce experiences of “unreality,” which is one possible interpretation of your feelings of not belonging in your life, your body, and maybe this universe. Feelings of alienation often go together with acute anxiety states.

My feeling is we need to take care of ourselves in this world and this universe before we start worrying about any alternate realities—a sort of grounded, one-thing-at-a-time approach.

I wonder, too, if you try to ground yourself—and if you do, how? Working with a therapist who can teach you grounding techniques while you learn more about your thoughts and behavior might be helpful.

You write that your perceptions are “changing, possibly not for the better.” I’m not sure what you mean. Are you finding different meanings in things and reacting differently to things than you used to? Are you referring to your relationships with others?

It also seems to me that you may be searching for meaning. In 1946, Viktor Frankl wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s an old book, but the ideas it contains may be relevant to you. Frankl survived being imprisoned in a concentration camp, and he did so in part by imagining a purpose in his life and then focusing his attention on accomplishing that purpose. People who are able to find meaning, often involving helping others, typically feel a sense of tremendous strength as well as peace.

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People often find their strength and peace through association with others. We all need to feel connected in some way. I would suggest you find a therapist or mentor who can help you sort out, in person and in depth, your life in this confusing universe.

I say “this universe” because that’s the one we find ourselves in. I am not going to refer to “alternative universes” or New Age mysticism, although these concepts have their appeal to me, as they may to you. My feeling is we need to take care of ourselves in this world and this universe before we start worrying about any alternate realities—a sort of grounded, one-thing-at-a-time approach.

You may also want to consult a neurologist to investigate any possible biological substrate of your experience. This may sound scary, but I find that eliminating the unlikeliest causes of one’s concerns makes the likelier ones seem less daunting.

Let me know what happens.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 3 comments
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  • Gunther

    Gunther

    February 27th, 2018 at 9:02 AM

    Anyone who tells you that your third eye is opening isn’t “neurotypical” themselves. Anyway, I think we all question why we’re here and what’s “out there.” I think just being able to confront those questions from a reasoned standpoint indicates you are juuuust fine.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    March 6th, 2018 at 10:12 AM

    Dear Longing to Belong, As a therapist working with high intelligence individuals, I frequently hear the questions you raise in your post. Is it possible you’re struggling with these existential concerns as a feature of the enormous complexity that is palpable with high intelligence?

  • Matty I

    Matty I

    March 6th, 2018 at 11:20 AM

    Sounds to me like Longing to Belong could be experiencing depersonalization or derealization. I think Logotherapy could be a good start to identifying life purpose/drive, which in turn might help with feeling more connected to the world around you. It could also be worth seeking out a therapist who specializes in issues surrounding depersonalization or derealization.

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