Three Different Accounts of Anxiety

There are many different accounts for what causes anxiety. This post provides accounts for three distinct kinds of anxiety: realistic / objective anxiety; moral anxiety; and neurotic anxiety.

The subjective experience of anxiety that we sometimes feel – nervousness, worrying, physical signs such as sweating, shaking, speaking quickly or stuttering – can come from several sources. Generally speaking, we feel anxious when we are not able to cope with something – when our resources are overwhelmed. Depending on what we are feeling overwhelmed by, we can think of ourselves as suffering from one of three kinds of anxiety: (1) realistic/objective anxiety – this means anxiety about something in the real world, i.e. the external world of things and other people. This kind of anxiety derives from a concern with being harmed in some way by someone or something. This kind of anxiety may however not be realistic and may not be proportional to the magnitude of the threat or to its likelihood but the experience of anxiety is nonetheless real; (2) moral anxiety – this is the anxiety we feel when there is a sense that we have done something wrong. This anxiety comes from our conscience; and (3) neurotic anxiety – this anxiety derives from a concern about the strength of feelings and desires, particularly sexual or aggressive urges or fantasies. People are often not fully aware or not aware at all of the feelings, desires, and urges that cause neurotic anxiety.