Types of Anxiety

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Freud identified three types of anxiety; objective, neurotic, and moral anxiet .

Objective anxiety is fear. Such anxiety occurs in response to a real, external threat to the person. For example, being confronted by a lar ge, aggressive-looking man with a knife while taking a shortcut through an alley would elicit objective anxiety (fear) in most people. In this case, the control of the ego is being threatened by an external factor, rather than by an internal conflict. In the other two types of anxi ety, the threat comes from within.

The second type of anxiety, neurotic anxiety, occurs when there is a direct conflict between the id and the ego. The danger is that the ego may lose control over an unacceptable desire of the id. For example, a woman who becomes anxious whenever she feels sexually attracted to someone, who panics at even the thought of sexual arousal, is experiencing neurotic anxiety . As another example, a man who worries excessively that he might blurt out an unacceptable thought or desire in public is also beset by neurotic anxiety .

The third type of anxiety , moral anxiety, is caused by a conflict between th ego and the superego. For example, a person who suf fers from chronic shame or feelings of guilt over not living up to "proper" standards, even though such standards might not be attainable, is experiencing moral anxiety . A young woman with bulimia, an eating disorder, might run 3 miles and do 100 sit-ups in order to make up for having eaten a "forbidden" food. People who punish themselves, who have low self-esteem, or who feel worthless and ashamed most of the time are most likely suf fering from moral anxiety , from an overly powerful superego, which constantly challenges the person to live up to higher and higher expectations.

The ego faces a dif ficult task in attempting to balance the impulses of the id, th demands of the superego, and the realities of the external world. It is as if the id is saying, "I want it now!" The superego is saying, "Y ou will never have it!" And the poor ego is caught in the middle, saying, "Maybe, if I can just work things out." Most of the time, this conversation is going on outside a person' s awareness. Sometimes the conflicts between the id, ego, and superego are expressed in a disguised way in variou thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. According to Freud, such conflicts often are expresse in dreams. They can also be elicited through hypnosis, free association (saying whatever comes to mind), and projective assessment instruments (e.g., the inkblot test).

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