Existential angst occurs when the Self is brought face-to-face with itself as a finite and temporal self. In angst, the world in which the Self finds itself is revealed as groundless and meaningless. The Self becomes detached from its own projects and everything that has hitherto provided grounding; meaning; and structure. In short, the Self comes face-to-face with its own finiteness; and is forced to come to terms with the full meaning of its finite existence as temporal being.
In anxiety, the self is confronted with death. But death is not merely the cessation of biological processes; nor is it what we commonly associated with the notion of “perishing” or “expiring.” Nor is death an ‘event’ that is yet to take place in some distant future; a mere “not-yet.”
Rather, death is the possibility of impossibility — the vulnerability of total and complete world collapse; thus; the Self comes to grips with its possibility of having no more possibilities: ceasing to exist. As such, death (understood as the possibility of no more possibilities) is always already a part of the Self.
Thus, the self is revealed to itself to be groundless and futile; isolated in its own finitude and thrown into a distant and indifferent world. Angst that all possibilities of the Self are ephemeral and pointless. Not only does the Self surrender its sense of an intrinsic or universal meaning to its life — but abandons as hopeless the possibility of ever uncovering such a meaning. Existential angst is not the loss of meaning; but rather, its the coming to the realization that there never was any meaning to begin with.
When delivered over into existential angst, the Self is confronted with the “dizzying freedom” of choice:
Existnetial angst discloses the Self’s freedom. In the absence of any meaningful standards by which to ground itself in, the Self comes face to face its own freedom to determine itself. When the Self makes the choice to embrace its ownmost nothingness as finite and temporal — it exists authentically. This freedom is noxious; it discloses the existential solipsism of the Self. As such, anyone who finds himself in existential angst may equally choose to flee from death; back into the illusory security and structured “grounding” of the Crowd.
The freedom disclosed by angst is not the transcendental variety of the the metaphysical tradition. It is a freedom of action: the freedom to take an active stand on relating one’s Self to to itself through the world; by taking up its ownmost potential amidst the groundlessness and meaninglessness of existence.
There is no moral criteria attached to the choosing. And from the outside, “others” cannot tell if one Self is existing authentically or not. Rather, it is a highly personalized endeavor in which the Self affirms the process of becoming a Self in the face of the absolute emptiness of existence.
Nor is authentic existence to be understood as the path to the “good life.” This is emphatically not the case. In all actuality, inauthentic existence is likely far more comforting and pleasurable than existing authentically. It’s not hard to imagine why. Fleeing from one’s own recognition that one is going to die — and reverting back to the ready-made meaning provided by others or the Crowd is far more likely to produce a “happy,” or at the very least, a more agreeable life.