Facing the uncertainties of being a person: On the role of existential vulnerability in personal identity
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPhilosophical Psychology. 2022 10.1080/09515089.2022.2129002
This paper explores the role of existential vulnerability in the experience of personal identity and how identity is found and created. Existential vulnerabilities mark a boundary between what humans can bring about willfully or manipulate to their advantage and what is resistant to such actions. These vulnerabilities have their origin, on an ontological level, in fundamental conditions of human existence. At the same time, they have implications on a psychological level when it comes to self-experience and identity formation. Narrative and value-based identity depend on how a person relates to finitude and the ambiguous side of lived experience. Relational identity depends on how a person relates to existential aloneness and the fact that the meaning and value of our actions are partly out of our control; they are always also dependent on other people’s responses to us. Bodily identity makes us feel continuous and real, but at the same time vulnerable to death and the gaze and actions of others. Being ‘thrown’ into an arbitrary life context is also a form of existential vulnerability. Authentic psychological identities can develop by giving meaning to these circumstances and balancing acceptance of existential vulnerability with the courage to make choices and act.