Unmoored. Why it feels like we’re adrift. 

January 4, 2023

There is something hidden deep inside of me that, from time to time, causes me a good deal of distress. My symptoms are not unlike those of many…heartburn, digestive issues and pain. But unlike most, my struggles lie in a mysterious malfunction of my immune system. For some reason my eosinophils (tiny white blood cells) sometimes go nuts and seemingly attack my body leaving me with days of misery. More than you need to know. Just an illustration.

Similarly, many of us suffer from a bevy of emotional and psychological symptoms…depression, anxiety, despair, sleeplessness and substance abuse, for instance. But the cause may well come from something deep inside that we are not able to put our finger on. I believe the source of so much mental and emotional misery for many is anomie.

I’ve written about anomie a handful of times over the past few years because I am intrigued by it. The core of my calling and passion is in helping human beings live extraordinary lives. I am decidedly pro-human, so identifying such an anti-human dis-ease is important to me. I want to help people overcome this mysterious syndrome of anomie.

Anomie is, in essence, the state of being unanchored. Other descriptors: unmoored, ungrounded, adrift or lost.

The term was made popular by French sociologist Emile Durkheim in the late 1800s as he sought to describe a sense of normlessness and breakdown of standards in people of his day. Anomie comes from the Greek a-nomos or lawless/normless. In time, psychologists applied the diagnosis to clients whose lives were characterized by futility, lack of purpose and emptiness. People who felt unanchored. That futility and emptiness played out in emotional despair and fear.

I believe anomie is at the heart of much of today’s discontent. It is one of the broken places of the world. Even as you read this, I imagine you are feeling some resonance either in yourself or in a loved one for whom you agonize.

What causes it? I see four prime triggers to anomie: three that are ever-present and one that is unique to our day.

First, pain and loss almost always generate anomie. Pain and loss leave us with the realization that from now on there will always be a “before and after”. And because most loss feels ambiguous, the “after” feels like a huge void. “Who am I now?” “Where do I go from here?” “I feel lost!” “Things don’t feel the same!” All statements and questions of anomie.

Second, failure similarly can lead to an unmoored state. It might be a spectacular fall or just a grinding realization that life did not turn out, in any way, as you had hoped and dreamed. The despair is real, and the resultant futility feels like your little boat is adrift and rudderless. Anomie.

Third, transitions of all kinds, even happy ones can, unattended, lead to a sense of lostness or anomie that you didn’t expect. Graduations, marriage, having kids, moving to another city, changing jobs, empty-nesting and retirement are all prime sources of anomie. Quarter-life and mid-life crises are just another way of describing anomie.

Finally, cultural disarray is a powerful catalyst for anomie. One alarming observation made by sociologists and psychologists over time is that people suffering from anomie, many times, drift to ideological extremes to find their “place”, somewhere to belong. Look around. It’s happening. A debilitating pandemic, political animosity, religious deconstruction and even climate changed natural disasters have left many in disarray. Want to know why conspiracy theories abound? Why people are slashing and burning previously long held beliefs and giving up on lifelong communities? It’s anomie. Spiritual and relational homelessness.

Happy New Year, everybody! Er…sorry/not sorry for the bucket of cold water. But let’s get real. Stay with me over the next few weeks as we go deeper into this hidden malady. I want to explore those anomie triggers more deeply and eventually land on some solutions for individuals, families, communities and corporations. Side note: employers need to face the reality that their workforce, their “most important resource”, is suffering from anomie and it is affecting morale and the bottom line!

I want to help! Again, I am pro-human. I’ll do my best to guide you and your organizations to anchors and new foundations that will ground you and open a world of hope.

Two things I ask. I want to hear and include your insights and reactions to all this. What do you think? Please write back or post on my blog. And would you please forward this on to someone who might benefit? Thanks!

May this new year be an extraordinary one for you!



  1. Rick Miles

    As someone who has continued to work from home after the pandemic, I routinely feel a sense of loneliness during my work day. I’ve contemplated going to a coffee house from time to time, but that is just being around people, with no sense of community. I’ve looked into renting a cheap office space that I can go to from time to time, but again, no sense of community, as people typically have their agenda throughout the work day. I work, rest, and sleep in the same place all week, and it does start to wear on you. The benefits (no traffic, no small talk, no eating out) used to outweigh downside, but lately, it does feel like I am missing out on an important part of being in the workforce. I miss that sense of community that nothing else can give you, not even church. Also, having been injured for the last 4 months has caused me to be at home even more often than usual. My typical communities have taken a back seat to taking care of my health. It’s a truly lonely feeling.

    • Dave Rodriguez

      I feel ya Rick! Working from home was a game changer for me. Some good but definitely some bad. I was shocked how quickly my sense of community vanished. Thanks for the perspective! Now…how do we recreate the community we so need?


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