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Anxiety is a feeling that is familiar to all of us. But what exactly is it, and what function does it have in the development of the human personality? Anxiety serves as a signal that danger in some form is present. However, this danger may be perceived as arising from external or internal sources, and may be the conscious symptom of a variety of powerful fantasies in the unconscious mind. The author traces how anxiety has been conceived by psychoanalytic thinkers from Freud to the present day. Following Freud's original conceptions, Melanie Klein differentiated two major distinctions in the quality of anxiety: that involving threats to the self, and anxiety involving threats to loved ones. Since then, Wilfred Bion's ideas about containment of mental pain have come to occupy a central role in current psychoanalytic thinking, and are linked to work arising from attachment theory and neuroscience, placing emotional regulation at the heart of human development.
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Ricky Emanuel is a Child and Adult Psychotherapist working as a Consultant Child Psychotherapist at the Royal Free Hospital in London, and Head of Child Psychotherapy Services for Camden and Islington Community NHS Trust. He teaches at the Tavistock Clinic in London, and for the Birmingham Trust for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
As I begin to write this book, I am faced with many anxieties. Will I manage to finish it on time and get it to the publisher? Will it be good enough? Do I know what I want to say and can I say it clearly enough? This seems normal. Facing a new and potentially daunting task gives rise to anxiety in all of us. But how will I cope with these anxieties? Will they overwhelm me and lead to a paralysis of thought and writing, or will they spur me on to 'create' this book? What exactly are these anxieties? And what function, if any, do they have?
If I try to examine exactly what I am anxious about - in other words, think about and name my own emotional experience - then perhaps the anxieties will be mollified. My anxieties are not necessarily irrational ones, although some of them may be. If I examine them more closely, I find that I am anxious about my performance. In other words, will I be judged harshly? Will I be exposed as fraudulent? Do I know enough about the subject to warrant having being asked to write this book? Will I find inspiration from what psychoanalysts call my 'good objects', those mysterious guiding forces within me that are the basis of my security? Will my 'uncertainty cloud' about the whole enterprise be received and held by them, or will I let 'them' down?
This latter anxiety relates to an intimidating or tormenting feeling associated with the fear of being harshly judged, but also a different quality of anxiety, a dejected feeling concerning whether I can be worthy of my good object's expectations of me. This may be recognised by some readers as having something to do with one's conscience, Sigmund Freud's superego and the ego ideal in their relationship to my ego. There are also allusions to the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein's differentiation of the qualities of anxiety divided into persecutory and depressive anxiety, and the problem of containment of this anxiety described by the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. We therefore see that the subject of this book is potentially a vast one, covering the whole spectrum of psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalyst Robert Hinshelwood writes: 'The history of psychoanalysis has been one of trying to understand the core anxiety of the human condition.' In this book I will attempt to trace how anxiety has been thought about in psychoanalysis from Freud to the present time, when the world of neuroscience has started to bring fresh insights into psycchoanalytic formulations. I hope the examples I use are illustrative of the points I am trying to make, as this is not a theoretical exposition of the development of the concept of anxiety in psychoanalytic thought, but rather an attempt to make everyday life situations faced by all of us more comprehensible from a psychoanalytic point of view.
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