Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford


  • Juanita RatnerEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1454-1


Being-in-the-world is a term adopted by Martin Heidegger to describe one aspect of Dasein, of the engaged, authentic human being. Heidegger (1962) crafted this term with special significance, which he explained in his foremost work, Being and Time. Heidegger created this hyphenated word to indicate that one’s being cannot be separated from the world in which he or she exists. One finds one’s being in the world; the world exists in relation to each being. They exist in unity, the being and the world. Heidegger (1962) termed this being Dasein. Much of Heidegger’s phenomenological (1962) exploration of being in Being and Time was concerned with the natural arising of concern or caring that would occur if one were to authentically engage and respond to this world; conversely, the Dasein or individual being could leave things undone, neglected, or turned away from, and that would be a deficient being-in-the-world. However, with being itself comes being-in-the-world; there is no otherwise. Furthermore, the “world” in which one finds one’s being is multidimensional: interior, social, material, and spiritual.


In Being and Time, Heidegger (1962) attempted a phenomenological exploration of what it means to be a human being. In order to try and bypass associations and preestablished concepts people might have, he started with fresh terminology and so called the human being Dasein and proceeded to explore the attributes of the human being. Firmly grounded in the European existential analysis, based largely on Heidegger, May (1958) explained Dasein thus:

Composed of sein (being) plus da (there), Dasein indicates that man is the being who is there and implies also that he has a “there” in the sense that he can know he is there and can take a stand with reference to that fact. The “there” is moreover not just any place, but the particular “there” that is mine, the particular point in time as well as space of my existence at this given moment. Man is the being who can be conscious of, and therefore responsible for, his existence. (p. 41)

Dasein was thus introduced as a fundamental construct in existential psychology, a construct that ties human beingness to presence, and presence both to responsibility and, as May (1958) went on to indicate, to engagement. In this sense, May (1958) said that when existentialists refer to “Dasein choosing,” they are actually saying “the being-responsible-for-its-existence choosing” (p. 41).


Being is the essence of who one is. Heidegger (1962) also created his own term for being, dasein. Contemporary existential, humanistic, and existential-humanistic psychologists often refer simply to being (see also May 1953, 1958, 1983; Rogers 1980, 1989; van Deurzen-Smith 1984, 2005).

These are abstract and somewhat esoteric topics, best understood through direct experience. Distinguishing being from the ego, May (1958) pointed to the ontological dimension of being by saying:

The ego is a reflection of the outside world; the sense of being is rooted in one’s own experience of existence, and if it is a mirroring of, a reflection of the outside world alone, it is then precisely not one’s own sense of existence. My sense of being is not my capacity to see the outside world, to size it up, to assess reality; it is rather my capacity to see myself as a being in the world, to know myself as the being who can do these things…Being means not “I am the subject” but “I am the being who can, among other things, know himself as the subject of what is occurring.” (p. 46)

Authenticity of being is considered moving toward the full embodiment of one’s potentialities and nature (May 1953; van Deurzen 2007).

Care and Responsibility

The authentic human being engages with people around him or her “as one existence communicating with another” (May 1958). Heidegger (1962) remarked upon an interior function of conscience which causes the Dasein, or the person living authentically in the world, to respond with care toward the people and things around one. May (1953, 1981) tied being to responsibility, both toward others and for one’s own choices and actions.

The Existential Worlds

May (1958) stated, “World is the structure of meaningful relationships in which a person exists and in the design of which he participates” (p. 53). Heidegger (1962) and May (1958) identified three worlds in which one finds one’s being: the Umwelt, the Mitwelt, and the Eigenwelt. van Deurzen-Smith (1984) added the Überwelt.

The Umwelt can be understood as the natural world: one’s own biology and physical needs, as well as the environment in which a person finds him or herself. The Mitwelt is the world of one’s relations with other people, both social and intimate relations. Characteristic of a being’s Mitwelt is how he or she relates, what might now be considered styles of attachment acted out in the realm of the Mitwelt. The Eigenwelt, literally, the “own-world,” is the inner life of one’s experience, sense of self, and meanings one makes of that experience (May 1958; van Deurzen 2007), one’s relation to oneself and one’s psychological functioning. van Deurzen added to the three existential worlds or dimensions another, the Überwelt, or the spiritual dimension. One’s being is found in all these worlds simultaneously, whether one is present to this or not.

Presence and the Present Moment

Existential psychologists tie authentic being-in-the-world to being present in the moment. Bugental (1978) defined presence:

Presence is the quality of being in a situation in which one intends to be as aware and participative as one is able to be at that time and in those circumstances. Presence is carried into effect by the mobilization of one’s inner (toward subjective experiencing) and outer (toward the situation and any other person/s in it) sensitivities.

Presence is immensely more than just being there physically, it is obvious. It’s being totally in the situation …    . Presence is being there in body, in emotions, in thoughts, in every way. (pp. 36–37)

Existential psychologists stress that one finds one’s being only in the present moment, which is where being meets one’s existence. This was one of the main postulates of Heidegger’s (1962) Being and Time. It is also eloquently and clearly expressed by American existential-humanistic psychologist, Bugental (1978) in this passage:

Presence, being here, centeredness, and immediacy—all are terms to point to a fundamental reality. Only in this moment am I alive. All else is in some measure speculative. Only now, now, can I make my life different. The client who experiences this fact of great power realizes that its importance goes far beyond the therapeutic office. (p. 121)

Presence remains a key construct in existential psychotherapy, being considered both the means and the goal of therapy (Schneider and Krug 2010).

Bugental’s observation above highlights another key existential principle related to being-in-the-world, the possibility of nonbeing, when one is not able to face “showing up” authentically in the moment or remaining engaged with the people or circumstances with which one finds oneself.

Anxiety or Angst: Deficient Being-in-the-World

Existential psychologists value and work toward the authentic embodiment and integration of the human being. Yet both Heidegger (1962) and May (1950, 1953) recognized that it is not always possible to engage fully from the nature of Dasein, or one’s authentic being. Anxiety arises, and in moments of extreme anxiety it seems impossible to have a sense of or connection with one’s being. Yet it is the aspect of awareness or innate consciousness within being that it can become aware of this inauthenticity. This is where psychotherapy may be of use. There may be outer pressures inhibiting one’s ability to embody the fullness of who one really is. May (1950, 1958) diagnosed the social phenomenon of alienation from one’s relational and inner worlds as an increasing problem connected with the rise of corporate culture and consequent pressures to conformity. Schneider (2004) explored the social milieu that represses the discovery and expression of awe in daily life, a healthy attitude toward one’s experience of being-in-the-world. Heidegger (1962) recognized this, referring to “the they” as the people and circumstances one has been “thrown” into that do not reflect true being, and the pull of a herd mentality to deny one’s authentic being. May (1969, 1981) also pointed out the paradoxical nature of competing forces that must be balanced, for example, Love and Will, Freedom and Destiny. Contemporary existentialists such as Schneider (1999, 2013) have pointed out both the paradoxical nature of the self as well as the polarizing tendency within society.

Therapeutic Concerns

Existential and existential-humanistic therapists work in a mode of presence, evaluating their client’s ability to be authentically in the world, in all the four domains described above. They track or take note of both the client’s inner world: the meanings implied but possibly unregarded by the individual, ways of relating, bodily postures and tone of voice, and also implied awareness or lack thereof of the spiritual qualities and dimensions of their own lives and circumstances (Schneider and Krug 2010; van Deurzen 2007). Helping to bring these meanings, behaviors and ways of presenting, and relationships into clients’ awareness in the moment, clients then have the opportunity to choose more authentic ways of being-in-the-world. Some psychotherapists, such as those of the Bugental, May, and Yalom lineages, do this more by working with what presents in the moment (Schneider and Krug 2010). Others, such as van Deurzen, focus more heavily on the philosophical.


Being-in-the-world is a term generated by Heidegger (1962), often considered one of the earliest philosophers to lay the foundation for existentialism, in his exploration of being, Being and Time. Sometimes referred to by existential and humanistic psychologists simply as being, nonetheless it is generally considered that being is found and forged in the present moment, in the world in which one finds one’s existence. This world encompasses the physical realities, social relationships, inner experience and meanings, and spiritual or cosmological dimension of life. One’s being in the world may be authentic, caring, responsive and engaged, or inauthentic, avoidant, or not respectful and engaged with others. Anxiety arises when one cannot manage being authentically in the world. Through experiencing presence in existential psychotherapy, an individual can find his or her being-in-the-world and live more authentically.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DenverUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Ilan Dar-Nimrod
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustralia