Anxiety, Authenticity, and Trauma
In his analysis of anxiety, Freud (1926) makes two critically important distinctions. One is between fear, which “has found an [external] object,” and anxiety, which “has a quality of indefiniteness and lack of object” (p. 165). The second is between traumatic anxiety and signal anxiety. For Freud, traumatic anxiety is a state of “psychical helplessness” (p. 166) in the face of overwhelming instinctual tension (I would say, overwhelming painful affect). Signal anxiety, by contrast, anticipates the danger of a traumatized state by repeating it “in a weakened version” (p. 167) so that protective measures can be taken to avert it. I nd it useful clinically to picture a continuum of anxiety, with traumatic anxiety and signal anxiety constituting the two extremes. Where a particular experience of anxiety falls along this continuum will depend on contextual factors, such as the extent to which trauma is merely imagined, is felt to be impending, or is actually materializing, and the extent to which there is someone available who can provide a
relational home wherein the anxiety can be held, understood, articulated, and integrated. As I will show in this chapter, Heidegger’s (1927) conception of anxiety provides extraordinarily rich understanding of states of anxiety at the traumatic extreme of the anxiety spectrum and, in so doing, points the way to a recognition that the possibility of emotional trauma is inherent to the basic constitution of human existence.