Existential Depression

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Existential Depression…:

Existential Depression… And the Gifted

What is Existential Depression?:

Existential Depression is a non-developmental asynchronicity . It is when an individual experiences distress from the way the world ought to be, and the way the world actually is. This distress leads to frustration of powerlessness, which leads to the questioning of ideals, which spirals into existentialism and the tenets of life itself (death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness). It can also lead to depression, as there are multiple answers, no answer, or no best answer, and all of which are different from the individuals pervious set of beliefs. When this occurs, the individual’s place in the world is disintegrating as their ego and sense of self crumble. What is Existential Depression?

Relation to Dabrowski :

This breakdown and crumbling of beliefs is the beginning of disintegration. Eventually, this process leads to positive disintegration… O r to a negative cycle of dwelling, insecurity, and chronic disintegration. Positive Disintegration occurs during the rebuilding process of personal growth, which would not occur without the breakdown of previous beliefs. Specifically, this existential depression is a part of the beginning of Level III on Dabrowski’s Levels of Development, which can be surpassed in level IV and V. Relation to Dabrowski

Why does it Occur?:

When gifted children are not supported for their differences and strengths , there is a risk for depression. Virtually ALL gifted children experience at least one period of existential depression that may arise from: Impossibly high standards (perfectionism) Feelings of alienation Inconsistencies of the ideal human existence A yearning for, but lack of self-actualization Why does it Occur?

Prevalence for the Gifted:

The gifted are more likely to have a large gap between their ideals and real life. Their internal characteristics may lead to emotional difficulties because they may: Have an intense sense of justice and idealism Have a strong adherence to their ideals Have a propensity to intensities and overexcitabilities (OE’s) Have high sensitivities and awareness Often have a questioning nature??? Prevalence for the Gifted

Creatively Gifted:

By the very nature of the being creatively gifted, these specific visionary individuals have a propensity for inventiveness, which translates into more ideas, more questions, and a higher likelihood of existential depression. This can aid the individual in developing new paradigms and attaining positive disintegration. OR… It can prevent positive disintegration as an individual’s imagination may run wild with negative thoughts and spiraling reasons why ideals will not work. Creatively Gifted

Famous Examples:

Famous Writers, Musicians, Artists, etc… Hemingway, Faulkner, Dickens, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams Jim Morrison, Tom Petty, (and probably all musicians who write their own music). Van Gogh, Stanley Kubrik Abraham Lincoln 17 th Century pioneering mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal. Famous Examples


Overexcitabilities (OE’s) are often intertwined intensities of thoughts and emotions. When an idealism is far from the truth, and the gifted student cannot control this issue, they want to help but are powerless. The resulting emotion is anger or frustration, which, without power, quickly evolves into depression . OE’s are likely to make the gifted individual more sensitive and aware to existential issues addressing the: Individual (inconsistencies of beliefs and values and reality, personal meaning for life) Behavior of others (that is contradictory or illogical) Functioning of Society (usually far from ideals) The nature of the world (the constant destruction and creation can lead to the seemingly meaningless of life) OVER-excitabilities


Gifted individuals can become frustrated with the constrictions of time and space, with: Not enough time to develop ALL of their talents and interests. Difficulty and frustration in choosing which interest to pursue, and which to leave. Frustration with idealism disconnect between having the ability to accomplish something, but not the time to accomplish it. Multi-potentiality

A Meaningful Choice:

Existential Depression is both a Challenge and an Opportunity! It is definitely a challenge as the individual’s ego and beliefs are painfully broken down. This breakdown can lead to chronic disintegration, a sense of insecurity, and depression. But it can also be an opportunity for personal growth and positive disintegration! It is an opportunity for autonomy, to find meaning within oneself or the world, a chance to strive for betterment and self-actualization, can be revitalizing and even increase self-confidence. A Meaningful Choice


To prevent chronic disintegration and/or disintegration without positivity, parents and teachers can address some issues to prevent alienation, negative frustration, and other issues. Listen to the gifted, validating them as individuals Ability groupings within their intellectual zone of tolerance (~20 IQ points) Negative Perfectionism Intervention Awareness of developmental processes and growth Hugs for personal connection and relief. C onclusion


Dabrowski , K. (1966). The Theory of Positive Disintegration. International Journal of Psychiatry, 2(2), 229-244. Webb, J. T., Meckstroth , E. A. and Tolan , S. S. (1982). Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers. Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press, Inc. (formerly Ohio Psychology Press). Webb , J.T. (2001). Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals. Great Potential Press . Webb, J.T. PhD., (2008). Dabrowski’s Theory and Existential Depression in Gifted Children and Adults. Eighth International Congress of the Institute for the Gifted . http:// www.hoagiesgifted.org/dabrowskis_theory_existential_depression_feb09.pdf Yalom , I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books References:

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