Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Irvin David Yalom

Existentialist, Psychotherapist, Author of Fiction and Nonfiction, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University

"Guilt is thus intimately related to possibility or potentiality. When the "call of conscience" is heard (that is, the call that brings one back to facing one's "authentic" (mode of being), one is always "guilty" and guilty to the extent that one has failed to fulfill authentic possibility."

"The existential concept of guilt adds something even more important than the broadening of the scope of "accountability." Most simply put: one is guilty not only through transgressions against another or against some moral or social code, but one may be guilty of transgression against oneself."

"In order to change, one must first assume responsibility: one must commit oneself to some action. The word "responsibility" itself denotes that capability: "response"+"ability" - that is the ability to respond."

"I believe that if we are able to acknowledge our isolated situations in existence and to confront them with resoluteness, we will be able to turn lovingly toward others. If, on the other hand, we are overcome with dread before the abyss of loneliness, we will not reach out toward others but instead will flail at them on order not to drown in the sea of existence."

"To be fully aware of one's existential situation means that one becomes aware of self-creation. To be aware of the fact that one constitutes oneself, that there are no absolute external referents, that one assigns an arbitrary meaning to the world, means to become aware of one's fundamental groundlessness."

"The ultimate dread occurs when we confront nothing. In the face of nothing, no thing and no being can help us; it is at that moment when we experience existential isolation in its fullness."

"Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death."

"Every person must choose how much truth he can stand."

"If we climb high enough, we will reach a height from which tragedy ceases to look tragic."

"Despair is the price one pays for self-awareness. Look deeply into life, and you'll always find despair."

"A sense of life meaning ensues but cannot be deliberately pursued: life meaning is always a derivative phenomenon that materializes when we have transcended ourselves, when we have forgotten ourselves and become absorbed in someone (or something) outside ourselves."

"The spirit of a man is constructed out of his choices."

"Marriage and its entourage of possession and jealousy enslave the spirit."

"The death anxiety of many people is fueled ... by disappointment at never having fulfilled their potential. Many people are in despair because their dreams didn't come true, and they despair even more that they did not make them come true. A focus on this deep dissatisfaction is often the starting point in overcoming death anxiety."

"It is wrong to bear children out of need, wrong to use a child to alleviate loneliness, wrong to provide purpose in life by reproducing another copy of oneself. It is wrong also to seek immortality by spewing one's germ into the future as though sperm contains your consciousness!"

"The creative members of an orthodoxy, any orthodoxy, ultimately outgrow their disciplines."