Absence of Meaning: Understanding Nihilism in Psychology

As humans, we spend a great deal of time pondering and reflecting on the meaning of things. We spend enormous amounts of energy thinking about the various niti-gritty of life – from our looks to health, social life, finances, knowledge, relationships, and just about everything in the world. As Thomas Nagel rightfully says, being a human is a full-time occupation that requires an intense ability to be concerned about things.

But what if this idea of concern and meaning was futile? What if nothing had a purpose or meaning after all? What if nihilism in psychology is actually true?

Nihilism, as a term, has dominated the online world for quite some time now. More and more people, especially millennials and Gen-Z, are turning toward the idea of nihilism in psychology. In this post, we will dive deeper into the meaning of nihilism, its implications, types, and how the ideology of nihilism is both freeing and restrictive. 

Nihilism in Psychology

Firstly, What Is The Meaning Of Nihilism In Psychology Exactly?

Nihilism in psychology is a school of thought that believes in the idea that ‘nothing matters.’ More specifically, it is described as a lack of belief in any purpose, meaning, or spiritual path. 

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first articulated the concept in the 19th century. 

While most philosophies use religion to explain the formation and functioning of the world, nihilism believes in the absence of any higher power. There is no guiding light to our actions nor ulterior motive behind them. 

Nihilists apply this lack of power in all aspects of their lives. They believe that all their actions, emotions, and positive and negative life experiences are ultimately all for nothing. They believe that there is no inherent purpose of life apart from the ones we assign to ourselves to create our own lives. 

However, nihilism should not be used interchangeably for pessimism or cynicism. Nihilists believe that the universe is inherently meaningless, which is significantly different from thinking that the world is cruel or expecting the worst outcomes. 

Read more: The Power Of Classic Conditioning In Psychology

What Are The Types Of Nihilism In Psychology?

While it might sound simple, the concept of nihilism is extremely complex and has several types. However, Friedrich Nietzsche gave two main types of nihilism in psychology – active and passive. So let us dive deeper into these types and understand what they mean. 

1. Passive Nihilism

Passive nihilism in psychology is the viewpoint that accepts nihilism as the endpoint of their search for meaning. They lack the inner willingness to build their own value systems and meanings. Passive nihilists are thought to be great followers as they tend to join political movements, thought leaders, and other such groups. Being a part of some group gives them a sense of purpose and authority that allows them to bring structure and semblance to their lives.

2. Active Nihilism

Active nihilists are those who do not consider the acceptance of nihilism as the end of their search for meanings. Instead, they build new value systems and construct their own meaning and purpose in life. They refuse to succumb to a mass movement and are touted as mentally strong individuals. 

Implications Of Nihilistic Ideology

The idea of believing that everything is nothing can be pretty daunting. To think that all our struggles and hard work are nothing more than a blip on the radar is terrifying. 

However, the modern-day acceptance of nihilism emerges from a lack of freedom of thought and expression in a capitalistic society. In a rigid world, the idea that our morals and actions are meaningless can help us realign our self-worth and moral compass to fit our life experiences rather than the majoritarian views. 

Being a nihilist today, therefore, means being free of any form of societal expectations or regressive traditions. Breaking away from the mainstream ideas of what you should or shouldn’t be can be a liberating perspective, and that’s why more and more people are attracted to this ideology. 

On the flip side, philosophers and sociologists have long believed that reconfiguring society’s moral compass and accepting nihilistic views can break social order. 

However, even with these fears and restrictions, nihilism offers a large opportunity to reinvent everything about the world. When political, economic, and religious structures fail, a nihilistic overhaul of the world can offer a refreshing future. 

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Nihilism in psychology is the belief that all our actions, thoughts, and experiences are ultimately meaningless. Given by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the theory accepts that there is no ulterior motive in life other than the ones which we apply to make sense of our lives. There are two primary types of nihilism in psychology – active and passive. 

Apart from nihilism, there are several fascinating concepts in psychology. For example, did you know that there are two types of happiness? To learn more about the kinds of happiness, click here.

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