Diagnose Your Week Five Anxiety

Feeling blue this Week 5? JACK EMMINS can’t make you better, but he can lead you to a panic diagnosis…

Cambridge University depression diagnosis doctor ego and id feeling low Freud jack emmins listento to your doctor mental health normal anxiety psychosis shrink Week Five Blues

I haven’t got any advice for how to be happy – we can all make educated guesses but I can’t apply my subjective experience to your life with the certainty that you’ll come out better off. This is the same for every week of the term sadly.

What I can do is help you analyse the intense, seemingly endless anxiety that plagues your every waking hour.  After all, to understand more is to fear less.

This then is a piece of dubious psychotherapy. Stretch yourself out on its couch; fidget awkwardly as you are emotionally probed. Unfortunately for you I am a closet Freudian psychoanalyst, and yes your relationship with your mother intrigues me.

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Try to put yourself at ease…

So what is anxiety? Freud thought it was the result of conflict between the Superego and the Id. Imagine you experience the impulse to tip over your supervisor’s desk before burning your work in front of him and screaming that you just don’t know anymore. This “Id” impulse will be met by your “Superego” – the voice of societal expectation, perhaps embodied by the thought of your parents telling you how far you’ve come and then mentioning that battery is a crime.

Anxiety is the signaller to your “Ego” letting it know this conflict in impulse is putting your survival in danger. When the poor little Ego is overcome by anxiety, it sets itself the task of distorting those impulses in the attempt to make sure you don’t pull a Jason Russell in down town Cambridge*.

So what are we going to analyse now? Well, the Ego uses “defence mechanisms” to try and help you deal with anxiety, and as it happens some of these are more healthy than others.

Even though it is often unconscious, let’s try to take a brief look what your Ego might be up this week with the help of some highly reduced George E. Vaillant’s “four levels” **:

Level I: Pathological Defences
Delusional Projection: “frank delusions about external reality”
Psychotic Denial: “denial of external reality”

Distortion: “grossly reshaping external reality to suit inner needs”

Level II: Immature Defences
Projection: “attributing one’s unacknowledged feelings to others”

Schizoid Fantasy: “indulging in autistic retreat for the purpose of conflict resolution and gratification”

Acting Out: “Chronically giving into to impulses to avoid the tension that would result were there any postponement of expression”

Level III: Neurotic Defences
Repression: “seemingly inexplicable naïveté, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from selected sense organ”

Intellectualisation: “thinking about instinctual wishes in formal, bland terms that leaves the associated effect unconscious”

Dissociation: “Temporary but drastic modification of one’s character or of one’s personal identity”

Level IV: Mature Defences

Humour: “Overt expression of ideas and feelings without individual discomfort…without unpleasant effects on others”

Suppression: “the conscious or semi conscious decision to postpone paying attention to a conscious impulse or conflict”

Anticipation: “Realistic anticipation of or planning for future inner discomfort”

So what might self-analysis show us here?

If you seem to fall heavily in Level I, then you are displaying signs of psychosis, for which I can only recommend an actual psychotherapist, not myself.

In much the same way, frequent recourse to Level II outside of childhood is symptomatic of major depression or a personality disorder. I’m not qualified to help here.

Thankfully Levels III and (especially) IV are symptomatic of mature and “typical” adults. If you find yourself in these, the chances are your Ego is managing fine, and you should embrace your anxiety as normal and manageable.

If an adult approach to anxiety involves humour, realism, and the suppression of those nasty feelings then I think that’s pretty good advice for dealing with the human condition, and hopefully these categories have helped provide valuable introspection.

You can get off the couch now, pay me an inordinately large sum of money, and go back to being unhappy. Being unhappy is completely normal. The lesson is that when you are unhappy do think for a little on how you cope with that unhappiness. That is what dictates your actual emotional health, not the anxiety itself.

And if Freud is to be believed, your Ego will be with you all the way.