Anxiety and Fear (Part Two)

Freud also made an important distinction between “realistic anxiety” on one hand and “neurotic anxiety” on the other hand. The former is generated from real and legitimate concerns regarding safety and security and is associated with real and legitimate dangers and risks, whereas the latter deals with strange and bizarre phobias that are entirely libidinal in nature. Freud also made a slight distinction between anxiety on one hand and fear on the other hand, by suggesting that anxiety is a “condition” whereas fear is “directed toward an object.” 

And as Freud argued, the ultimate source of both anxiety and fear “is the repetition of a certain significant experience.” In terms of the nature of the experience which triggers both anxiety and fear, Freud stated: “This experience might be an early impression of a very general sort, which belongs to the antecedent history of the species rather than to that of the individual.” Hysteria is thus “a universal heritage” rather than something peculiar to an individual or a group. And arguably, anxiety and fear have more to do with psychology than with neurology, which means that the environment and people are perhaps weightier factors than biology and genetics when it comes to the ultimate analysis and understanding of anxiety and fear, even though both the psychological and natural factors are important. 

Science and technology, as Nietzsche argued, was mankind’s response to anxiety and fear. But this response has been more pronounced in Western civilization than in any other civilization, given that Western anxiety and fear underlies a broader system that stems largely from a fear of conquest at the hands of Eastern peoples, as Mackinder contended. But as Alfred Adler wrote: “Fear of human beings can be dissolved solely by that bond which binds the individual to humanity. Only that individual can go through life without anxiety who is conscious of belonging to the fellowship of man.” 

And as Kierkegaard argued, the courage of renouncing anxiety or the courage of doing away with anxiety is “something of which only faith is capable.” In a sense, knowledge means doing away with knowledge, hence the paradox. As Immanuel Kant famously said: “I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” And as Kierkegaard argued: “Subjectivity (along with inwardness) is the truth.” 

Why faith and recourse to a subjective and inward truth are the ultimate remedies for anxiety and fear is due to the fact that the trauma which causes a person’s anxiety and fear in the first place differs from one person to another. As Freud suggested: “Anxiety is the original reaction to helplessness and is reproduced, later on, as a signal for help in the face of trauma.” But the common thread between all forms of trauma is the face-to-face encounter with death or a “near-death experience,” and as a result, all anxiety and fear amounts to an anxiety and fear of death, as Irvin Yalom argued. What happens when one encounters death, how one copes with this trauma of encountering death, and what one thinks is bound to occur after death is what makes the truth both subjective and something that is deciphered and determined in a largely inward manner, although certain customs, literature, and religious practices can aid and facilitate a person’s reckoning with what is ultimately a personal and inward truth. 

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