The Courage to Be 3

In this November series I’m looking at the thinking of Paul Tillich and his work on the search for the identity of the essential self. He thought this was the reality of salvation received as grace. Interestingly he was also interested in salvation as healing and distinguishes between what he calls existential angst and pathological anxiety. Both need healing but existential anxiety is the search for healing through unity with one’s essential being – in other words salvation. This he thought was something that needed priestly help. He contrasts this with pathological anxiety which he related to neurosis and thought it was a way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being. In other words neurosis limits the person and their essential truth through a very reduced self-affirmation. It is here that he thinks that the psychotherapist can play a part.
In the general sense he thought that the great and universal human illness is our estrangement from the essential truth in the divine. Here are echoes of Augustine and many other religious figures who understood pain as separation from God. Tillich also thought the recovery of this truth is the only thing that heals in-depth and this is essentially a religious task. It is the work of the therapist to overcome pathological self-denial and to help the person in their defensiveness and their flight from life – from the challenge of becoming the person they are meant to be and the affirmation of their essential self.
However Tillich is able to see that the priest can be a healer and the psychotherapist can be priest and that even in the psychological work there are religious overtones whether there recognised as religious or not. For divine immanence is present in all and through all and with all. Above all we are encouraged to acknowledge and own our personal experience and the interiority of what happens within us and to our self. From the experience of so many people it is only in the depths that we can search and be met by the God who leads us home.