– Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, 2015
A transformative, fascinating theory—based on robust and groundbreaking experimental research—reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motives that drive human behavior
More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. Now authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski clarify with wide-ranging evidence the many ways the worm at the core guides our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage.
The Worm at the Core is the product of twenty-five years of in-depth research. Drawing from innovative experiments conducted around the globe, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. The fear of death can also prompt judges to dole out harsher punishments, make children react negatively to people different from themselves, and inflame intolerance and violence.
But the worm at the core need not consume us. Emerging from their research is a unique and compelling approach to these deeply existential issues: terror management theory. TMT proposes that human culture infuses our lives with order, stability, significance, and purpose, and these anchors enable us to function moment to moment without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. The authors immerse us in a new way of understanding human evolution, child development, history, religion, art, science, mental health, war, and politics in the twenty-first century. In so doing, they also reveal how we can better come to terms with death and learn to lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion.
Written in an accessible, jargon-free style, The Worm at the Core offers a compelling new paradigm for understanding the choices we make in life—and a pathway toward divesting ourselves of the cultural and personal illusions that keep us from accepting the end that awaits us all.
Praise for The Worm at the Core
“The idea that nearly all human individual and cultural activity is a response to death sounds far-fetched. But the evidence the authors present is compelling and does a great deal to address many otherwise intractable mysteries of human behaviour. This is an important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book.”—The Guardian (U.K.)
“A neat fusion of ideas borrowed from sociology, anthropology, existential philosophy and psychoanalysis.”—The Herald (U.K.)
“Deep, important, and beautifully written, The Worm at the Core describes a brilliant and utterly original program of scientific research on a force so powerful that it drives our lives.”—Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
“As psychology becomes increasingly trivial, devolving into the promotion of positive-thinking platitudes, The Worm at the Core bucks the trend. The authors present—and provide robust evidence for—a psychological thesis with disturbing personal as well as political implications.”—John Horgan, author of The End of War and director of the Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology
– Irvin D. Yalom, 2009
Written in Irv Yalom’s inimitable story-telling style, staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this magisterial opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an “awakening experience” a dream, or loss (the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home), illness, trauma, or aging.
Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.
–Robert W. Firestone, Joyce Catlett, 2009
This book fruitfully serves those looking to apply Ernest Becker’s ideas psychotherapeutically, in individual counseling or in group therapy. A capstone to Robert Firestone’s 50 years of work in psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and psychiatry and to the numerous books written by these authors, Firestone and Catlett show how to apply the themes and implications of the ideas of Ernest Becker in everyday life. Their basic premise is that accepting death is part of developing an affirming and meaningful experience of life. Contributing to the credibility of their presentation is the wealth of clinical evidence and personal experience Firestone and Catlett incorporate. –The Ernest Becker Foundation
[F]ascinating and an enjoyable read….steeped in well researched and relevant psychological and sociological perspectives applicable to all social studies areas…” –Carol Lloyd, University of Chichester
Firestone and Catlett’s work is a marvelous achievement….This volume is both innovative and intrepid. Firestone and Catlett challenge prevailing psychoanalytic views on death and they demolish many of the accepted canons of thanatology and existential psychology. …This is required reading for anyone who purports to talk about death.” — Jerry Piven, PhD, Author of Death and Delusion: A Freudian Analysis of Mortal Terror
[A] towering synthesis of personal and clinical wisdom about death….with a superb overview of the psychology of death and death anxiety….Dr. Firestone draws on the best of the existential-humanistic as well as the psychoanalytic thinkers to address a flourishing path toward self-realization. -Kirk J. Schneider, PhD, Author, Existential-Integrative Psychotherapy and Awakening to Awe (From the Foreword)
Firestone and Catlett’s groundbreaking volume assists mental health practitioners in helping their clients learn to accept and face their mortality. They describe the many defenses of death anxiety that keep individuals from achieving personal fulfillment, and also suggest methods to cope directly with fears of death; an approach that, ironically, can lead to more satisfaction, more freedom, and a greater appreciation for the gift of life.
This book examines the many destructive consequences of death anxiety, including introversion, depression, and withdrawal from life. Throughout the book, the authors demonstrate the importance of achieving what they call life-affirming death awareness.
Key topics include:
-The dawning awareness of death and its impact on the developing child
-Literal and symbolic defenses against death anxiety
-Separation theory and “the fantasy bond”
-Challenging the defenses that interfere with living fully
-Microsuicide: the death of the spirit
-Breaking with limiting religious dogma and cultural worldviews
With this book, mental health practitioners and their clients will be able to better understand death awareness, overcome the defenses against death anxiety, and ultimately lead richer, more fulfilling lives.
– Kelvin H. Chin, 2016