Posted by Elizabeth Jeffries 993 Days Ago
Being anxious can be described in many different ways: as tension, feeling on edge, nervous, insecure, or worried. Other words used to describe anxiety include uncertainty, vulnerability, and feeling apprehensive, scared or insecure.
Describing the experience of anxiety, a fairly common expression is “Anxiety is an inevitable part of life”. Or, there might even be some comfort taken from a diagnosis of anxiety. A feeling of reassurance may be provided by a certainty of having an “anxiety disorder”
Yet, there might also be a normality to being anxious. Erich Fromm, for example says that: The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety.
Taking Fromm’s view, we might consider how feeling anxious can begin at birth with an experience of a primal separation from our mother. Being attached to her feels safe and secure, and separated from her as danger and threat.
Later in life, the polarities between separation and attachment, and being at risk, insecure, or under threat may lead to a constant sense of danger. But danger of what exactly? Melanie Klein, according to this line of thought, considers that anxiety signals danger in the relationship with our internal maternal object (the internalised image of mother). The loss of this object, this image, or relationship is feared.
Perhaps there is also fear of a more generalised loss – loss of control, of all relationships, of identity. Fear of a ripping apart, perhaps, because while anxiety may begin at birth it also may have many triggers, arising not only from internal sources, but external ones too – our own neurobiological makeup on the one hand and our life experiences on the other.
So, we might say that anxiety reflects our state of self, the extent of development of our internal structure, the state of our relationships, and our sense of security and satisfaction. Perhaps when anxiety is present and overwhelming there may be deficiency in one of these areas.
Yet, anxiety is not simply a thing that exists. It is dynamic – both a signal of danger and an initiator of a defensive response. It may signal danger to our sense of self, of wholeness, or of completion. We may fear destruction, engulfment or fragmentation and we may seek to control or to avoid a range of circumstances or situations.
The good news is that psychotherapy can help.
It can do so by, first of all, by understanding the individual history of each person’s anxiety. If we take the view that who we are, and who we are becoming, emerges from our anxieties, then the first task is to understand each person’s history of anxiety. Then, acknowledging and understanding the protective role of anxiety may be important. To see anxiety as the best strategy for coping with what has been felt as scary or uncertain. Then, perhaps to work through, or re-work through early relational histories, and the insecurities (feelings of not being safe) that may have emerged in these. All of this is possible when the therapeutic environment is felt as safe, and is experienced as a place for curiosity and exploration. A space can then emerge for new feelings, new reactions and responses, and a reframing of the lens through which life is experienced. It may not then be one of psychological danger, but instead one of safety and security.