It signals: I can no longer cope, I am losing my (previous) sovereignty, my assurance in what I am and what I do. Fear and anxiety can paralyse and block me or set me back in my development; but they can also wake me up, stimulate me and challenge me to throw old habits over board. Fear and anxiety are part of life, part of the developmental steps and maturing processes of human beings when they enter uncharted waters.
Shocking or traumatic experiences, on the other hand, can lock us into a cage of fear and anxiety for the whole of our lives and lead us to try and repress or displace them in all manner of ways.
As I prepare for this edition, my eye falls on a famous classic which my colleague over many years, Klaus Schickert, once gave me for my birthday. Anxiety by Fritz Riemann. Most unusually for a psychoanalyst of his time, he starts from the assumption that the ways in which we exist in the world are a reflection of cosmic laws which inspire us as earth inhabitants: the rotation of the earth corresponds to the individual revolving around themselves; the orbit of the earth around the sun to the reference to a greater whole; gravity to existence on earth inclining towards rigidity and death; and, finally, the centrifugal force to being thrown off our trajectory in a way that transcends boundaries.
These antinomic cosmic laws challenge us, Riemann says, on the one hand to become a unique individual and on the other to fit into a social context; on the one hand to create a stable and lasting situation on earth and on the other to transform ourselves and keep striving forwards.
The author derives four anxieties from this. The fear of love and commitment, the fear of loneliness and self-actualisation, the fear of insecurity and change, and the fear of confinement and constancy. As emotional reactions they provoke the opposing avoidance pattern: they turn us into their prisoner in that we either cling to the old order or permanently create a situation of chaos; that is to say, either lose ourselves in our ego or disappear in the crowd.
Thus a person is assailed by the fear of losing their I or abandoning themselves, by the tension between dependency and isolation, knowing full well that self-actualisation is only experienced in relation to a “you”, in the social aspect. They suffer from fear of change in the full knowledge that their existence is subject to iron laws and necessities.
What is required is to restore a balance – the cosmic inner harmony – in that we perceive our fears and anxieties, accept them, work with them and transform them.