Yelena Khizhnyak (Russia) Heidegger’s notion of stress in psychotherapeutic practice
A few years ago Martin Heidegger’s Zollikon Seminars were published in Russian. Heidegger’s understanding of stress expressed in this book seems to add some new aspects to the notion.
Certain tendencies in modern psychology and psychotherapy offer different ways of stress management. These methods may help a person cope with the stress. Are they enough? If we, willing to help a client, speak only about functioning rather than about being and existence, no help is offered to the Dasein. Heidegger believes that our aim is to help the Dasein. Otherwise, what experience does a person get in the therapy? Does the person gain better understanding of what and how happened and happens in his or her life?
From Heidegger’s point of view, “stress involves an imperative, and, what is more, it is an excessive imperative. When we speak about imperatives instead of speaking about stress, we do not just give it a new name. The word “imperative” immediately transfers the issue into the sphere of ecstatic human being,” where something addresses us. The condition necessary for the imperative to take place is our ability to be addressed.
Where does this imperative address an existing person from? Heidegger says that the address comes from the world in which the person is immersed, the world of his or her daily existence. Stress is an existential related to the phenomenon of fall.
We are thrown in the world, we live in a concrete, historical time, in a particular city, in a particular family. Most of us spend a significant amount of our time in the world of work and society and we do not realize the possibilities of our existence. People are swayed by the public opinion. They want to see something, but without comprehending it, they just want to take a look at it. And they always want to see something new, then take a leap to another new thing. According to Heidegger, this strategy enables us to ‘forget ourselves in the world’, ‘to avoid being with the immediate’. Heidegger describes the ‘indifferent side-by-side, the tense and equivocal spying on each other, the secret mutual seizing. We play against each other under the guise of playing for each other’.
This self-oblivion with the existence is defined by Heidegger as the need of people to be public. Their fall into the ‘world leads to dissolution in being-with-each-other, the latter being built on gossips, curiosity and double play’.
This way of being is inauthentic, but people think that they lead a ‘genuine and fulfilling life’, where everything is calm and everything is in ‘good order’. Heidegger writes that this seductive calmness speeds the fall.
However, the fall into an unauthentic way of being, where one is lost in daily concern, remains necessary to avoid facing the horrors of inauthentic existence. Deep inside a person always knows what is his and what is not his, but he is often afraid to acknowledge it, fleeing from this understanding. In a stress situation, the person wants to get rid of the heaviness, tension and pressure he or she finds hard to endure.
Heidegger suggested to view the meaning of ‘stress’ in a different way: it is an imperative addressed to the state of being called and it is characterised by conformance. In the Zollikon Seminars, Heidegger says that the ‘imperative (what we understand as stress) should be discussed from a completely different perspective, according to whether we meet the imperative and are able to be up to it, thus directly related to our existing relation to the world, to our neighbour and to ourselves’.
In times of stress, the person is touched and called while continuing to be in the world. Heidegger describes how stress is ‘always context-oriented, oriented towards the actual being-in-the-world, into which the existing individual does fall from time to time but in which the person exists as a being, constantly and without respite’. And this might be happening in this sphere of being-with-each-other, where one person challenges another.
It is important to note that, from the scientific perspective, liberation from stress should lead to the recovery of balance and calmness, yet, from Heidegger’s point of view, stress is a certain load that preserves our life.
Speaking of the multi-faceted notion of stress, Heidegger considered the phenomenon of stress liberation, which itself can lead to pressure. He says: ‘We are always called in a certain way, something is addressing us. Liberation from stress is more than denying being and being called in the sense of abandoning all imperatives… Liberation from stress is always given from the inside on the basis of always being called’.
In the Zollikon Seminars Heidegger explains that the nature of Dasein is in its ability to be: ‘I am my own ability – the ability to be’, So can we say that, if we regard stress as an imperative addressed to us, we acquire the skill of being-in-stress?
Heudegger’s Zollikon Seminars reveal a very important understanding of stress as an imperative coming from the world of our daily existence, of our relations with others and with ourselves. Every time when we respond to these challenges, we either change something in our lives or change our understanding of the situation by learning how to live in it. We should not suppress, get used, endure, try to forget or oust the experience of stress, we should meet the challenge, understand it and thus integrate it within the meaning of our life. Anxiety does not disappear, but it becomes a different anxiety, the anxiety of a person who is the author of his or her life. We gain the experience of being ourselves, of knowing ourselves as authors of our lives with enough freedom to feel just right.