Understanding Anxiety from the

Understanding Anxiety from the Psychoanalytical Approach to Personality

Shawna Saponjic

San Diego State University

Understanding Anxiety from the Psychoanalytical Approach to Personality

General Description of the Disorder

Anxiety disorders are categorized as types of mental health conditions. A person that has an anxiety disorder responds to certain situations with dread and fear. A person suffering from anxiety is also likely to show physical signs of anxiety, including sweating and a pounding heart. Worth noting, anxiety is a normal emotion. It is the brain’s way of responding to stress and notifying you of potential danger. It is normal for one to feel anxious every now and then. For instance, one may feel worried if they are going through a rough patch at work, before making a critical decision, and even before taking a test. While experiencing occasional anxiety is okay, anxiety disorder is completely different. Anxiety disorders can lead an individual to avoid school, work, family gatherings, and social situations that are likely to trigger one’s symptoms. Research posits that nearly 30% of adults suffer mental disorders at any given point in their lives. Anxiety disorder is likely to occur when one cannot control their response to situations, interacts with triggering emotions and interferes with their ability to function well (Bonevski & Naumovska, 2018). It is important to note that anxiety disorders occur in various types, including phobias, panic disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, and generalized anxiety disorder. Other mental conditions that have similar features to anxiety disorders are obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although anxiety disorder symptoms vary according to the disorder type, some of the common symptoms include shortness of breath, sweaty hands, muscle tension, dry mouth, numbness of hands or feet, heart palpitations, and nausea. The mental symptoms of anxiety include nightmares, obsessive and uncontrollable thoughts, repeated flashbacks of traumatic experiences, and feelings of fear, panic, and uneasiness. Anxiety disorder’s behavioral symptoms are ritualistic behavior like cleaning hands repeatedly, difficulties sleeping, and lack of ability to be calm and still. As regards demographics, certain factors predispose some people to anxiety disorders. A combination of environmental and genetic disorders tends to place people at a high risk of developing the disorder. The people at most risk are those that suffer specific physical conditions, including heart arrhythmias and thyroid problems. Additionally, individuals whose families have a history of anxiety or mental health issues are at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Further, persons who have gone through a traumatic or stressful event in adulthood or early childhood are likely to develop the disorder. Worth noting, certain personality traits, including shyness or feeling uncomfortable, or avoiding unfamiliar situations and environments, often predispose people to anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed using physical examination. If one displays anxiety symptoms, they should seek the advice of a healthcare provider as soon as possible. The doctors start with probing the patient’s medical background before conducting the actual physical assessment. Scans and lab tests are not necessary for diagnosing anxiety disorders. However, this does not mean that the doctor will not carry some tests to rule out other conditions behind the symptoms.

General Description of the Freudian Approach

Sigmund Freud had a unique approach to them as far as the unconscious, personality characters and defense mechanisms are concerned. In Freud’s theory of personality, he defined the unconscious as the reservoir of, memories, urges, thoughts, and feelings that go beyond the unconscious. He pointed out that the majority of the contents of the unconscious are deemed unpleasant and undesirable. Examples include feelings of anxiety, conflict, and pain. Freud was of the opinion that although people may not be aware of the underlying influences, the unconscious plays a critical role in influencing behavior. Freud compares the mind with an iceberg. What we see over the water is the conscious, while the unseen is the unconscious. The majority of what we cannot see is an enormous volume of the iceberg sunken below the water. Similarly, what we see in our conscious is just the small section of the iceberg, and the remaining information in the conscious is beneath the surface. While the information is not reachable consciously, it still has an control over a person’s behavior. The impact of the unconscious is that it can cause problems ranging from bias, anger, distress, relationship problems, compulsive behaviors, and complicated social interactions. As regards personality characters, Freud maintained that the ego, id, and superego are in continuous conflict with each other (Starkstein, 2018). He also opined that adult personality and conduct are deep-rooted in the outcome of the internal struggles in childhood. Worth noting, Freud maintained that people who display a strong sense of ego have a healthy personality, bringing imbalance in the system and leading to neurosis and unhealthy behaviors. Freud also theorized that human beings employ defense mechanisms to disconnect themselves from unpleasant events, actions, or thoughts. These psychological techniques help maintaining the distance between feelings of guilt and shame. Freud opined that these defense mechanisms are out of a person’s control, and most people do them even without realizing that they are using them. Some of the most common defense mechanisms include denial, projection, displacement, regression, and repression. Denial has to do with refusing to accept facts of reality. A person in denial often blocks external circumstances or events from their mind, so they do not have to face the emotional impact. Projection is when an individual projects feelings that make them uncomfortable by misattributing them onto another person. Displacement is when a person directs frustrating emotions towards people who do not feel threatened, allowing them to satisfy the impulse to react. Regression is when a person feels threatened and unconsciously escapes to another stage of development. Examples include bedwetting in children, mostly as a result of sudden trauma or loss. Repression is when a person chooses to unconsciously hide their feelings instead of dealing with them with the intention of forgetting about them completely.

How the Freudian Approach Explains Anxiety

Sigmund Freud’s approach described anxiety as a conflict taking place between the id and the ego. As a result of repression, people tend to experience impulsive and aggressive drives. The drives are likely to break, and in the process, they produce automatic anxiety. Noteworthy, patients struggling with anxiety disorder tend to imagine the worst about a scenario. They stay away from dangerous situations, such as crowded areas, heights, or social interaction. Additionally, in his viewpoint, the process of being a social being requires people to let go of some sexual impulses. Moreover, Freud established a strong distinction between signal anxiety and automatic anxiety. Automatic anxiety is often activated by traumatic experiences that make the ego overwhelmed. On the other hand, social anxiety is activated in response to dangerous situations, which serves as a warning that a distressing incident is imminent to ensure the individual puts up defensive measures to avoid it. The dangerous situations often gravitate to the threats arising from the feelings of hopelessness and mercy of others, including fear of being attacked, losing a loved one, and another person’s love. In the long run, Freud came up with the claim that the threats manifest even a more fundamental threat: fear of castration. This new notion led Freud to retract his former position that anxiety is caused by repression. This made him understand repression as preceding repression. Instead of viewing anxiety as a side-effect of repression, the new perspective made it possible to think along the lines of contours itself with defenses and symptoms to keep away from anxiety.

Possible Treatments of Anxiety Disorder.

Treatment for anxiety disorder can be categorized into two groups; psychotherapy and medication. While medical treatment is unnecessary for some people, lifestyle changes are enough to cope with the symptoms. Medications include sedatives and antidepressants that balance brain chemistry, prevent anxiety episodes, and eliminate the most severe symptoms. Other management techniques that can be categorized as psychotherapy include relation techniques, mindfulness, support groups, exercise, practicing assertiveness, breathing techniques, counseling, building self-esteem, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, and building self-esteem. Worth noting, Freud believed in the ability of the unconscious’s contents to raise awareness and relieve psychological distress. Recent research also explored techniques to see how the unconscious influences behavior, including free association and dream interpretation. According to Freud, dream interpretation is effective in understating the unconscious meaning of a dream. This is because dreams are an entryway to the conscious, and while the information coming from the unconscious mind may come out in dreams, it often occurs in a disguised form. Fred also opined that dreams showed a form of desire fulfillment. Since the urges of the unconscious cannot be expressed when we are awake, Freud believed that they express themselves in dreams (Wang, 2020). Furthermore, another route to understanding the unconscious is through dream interpretation. Freud said that although the unconscious presents information through dreams, it is often in disguised form, and as such, there was a need to interpret dreams through examining dreams’ manifest content to uncover the unconscious meaning.


Bonevski, D., & Naumovska, A. (2018). Trauma and anxiety disorders throughout lifespan: Fear and anxiety from normality to disorder. Psychiatria Danubina, 30(Suppl 6), 384-389.

Starkstein, S. (2018). Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytical concept of fear and anxiety. In A Conceptual and Therapeutic Analysis of Fear (pp. 231-257). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Wang, J. (2020). An Analysis of Salieri in Amadeus from Freudian Personality Theory: Id, Ego, Superego. In 3rd International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences & Humanities (SOSHU 2020). https://doi. org/10.25236/soshu.

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