Memento mori: Understanding existential anxiety through the existential pathway model

David E. Reed, Rachel E. Williamson, Robert E. Wickham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Existentially derived frameworks have become more popular among researchers investigating a number of clinical areas, such as posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Nevertheless, the concept of existential anxiety has often been perceived as overly abstract and conceptually amorphous, which severely limits the ability of empirical research to objectively decipher the corresponding intrapsychic processes. Contemporary existential thought, particularly terror management theory, considers awareness of our own mortality as a driving factor behind many of our motivations as human beings (e.g., meaning-making and connecting with others). By clearly delineating the pathways from death awareness to different manifestations of existential anxiety, clinicians and researchers would have a clearer framework through which to study existential anxiety. The present work introduces the concept of existential pathways as a way of recognizing, discerning, and addressing the causes of existential cognitions, affect, and behaviors within both clinical and research settings. Contemporary existential thought and empirically validated findings within terror management theory are used to develop a conceptual model of how death awareness potentially leads to thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors associated with eight existential constructs: death anxiety, meaning, isolation, freedom, vulnerability, facticity, identity, and chaos. Clinical and research implications are discussed within the context of the existential pathway model, providing guidance on how the model may be used to harness behavioral change and inform research methodology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Theoretical Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


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