The Stress of Purposelessness

October 18, 2012 by
Filed under: Spinewave Bulletin 

They say when you’re on fire, people will come from far and wide to watch you burn. But what if you don’t even have an inkling of kindling to start your fire?

People with purpose seem to be driven; happier, totally engaged in life and always appear on the go with something that’s sucking them into a big bright future.

Potentiality was described as the unfolding of one’s life naturally under the right conditions and circumstances. However, often our circumstances are never ideal, and conditions are never right. Most of us are under a lot of stress, a lot of the time. Who has time to think about purpose?

Unfortunately, in time, thoughts of “purpose” will rise up on their own from the subconscious and make their subtle stress known to you (if you ever occasionally err on the side of existential thought that is). It’s typically one of those nights you find yourself at the bottom of wine bottle looking for the answer to what does it all mean?? This is commonly associated with a mid-life crisis, but can appear at any age.

People want to be happy. People want to be fulfilled in their work. People want to know that what they’re doing has meaning. And people would also like to be adequately rewarded for this so they can do other things they enjoy whilst supporting a family at the same time. It all sounds very idealistic, which is where the problem comes in.

The stress of purposelessness begins to set in. In the back of your mind you start to question things more and more. It becomes a fine line between doing what you have to do each day, driven primarily by fear and consequence, or being pulled into an exciting future because of the deliberate choices you’re making to serve your known purpose. The crux is, without purpose, there is no direction.

In a paper by Charles Gant, PhD, he lists 12 major stressors that can lead to chronic medical and psychiatric conditions. These stresses range from emotional, to oxidative, cognitive, sensory, immune, or physical for example. The one that caught my attention was the “stress of purposelessness”. In practice I tend to recognise it in an individual as a sense of disconnectedness. If you’re not connected to who you are, you’re not going to know your body, your mind, your values, your interests or ultimately your passion. Connecting all these things will create an arrow of direction, pointing to your purpose.

Purposelessness can manifest physically. It presents as a physical strain put out by the energy of the brain. Purposelessness creates fatigue, frustration, grumpiness and eventually this wears down the natural functions of the nervous system leading to either pain, depression or anxiety. These symptoms are classically what we’d call the tip of the iceberg, and searching for a solution doesn’t simply end in “fixing the body” with either adjustments (which would obviously help) nor drugs (which might help too in the short term). Part of the solution also has to come about by figuring out who you are, getting connected, and finding your purpose.

Finding your purpose lifts your spirit. It ignites your fire. It’s important for you to find purpose to your life in order to boost your confidence, since purpose drives and motivates each of us and reminds us of the value of our lives. Value isn’t simply about what we enjoy or what we are good at, but what good we do for others and what we contribute to the world around us. This, in turn, will create meaning.

© Dr Neil Bossenger 2012

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