Thoughts and emotions
Humans have always had to cope with fears and self-doubts.
William James, 90 years ago, emphasized the importance of the sense
of self--the "me" as I see me in terms of "Who am I?", "What do I do?"
and "What do I feel?" Likewise, more recently Carl Rogers, Abraham
Maslow and other humanists have attributed a central role to the
self-concept, which is another aspect of the cognitive dimension. We
want to feel good about ourselves which usually involves being
accepted by others. We strive to express our true selves--to actualize
our best selves. According to self theory, stress in part comes from
conflicts (1) between our actual self and our ideal self, (2) between
conscious and unconscious perceptions or needs, and (3) between our
view of reality and incoming evidence about reality. Epstein (1982)
adds two more stress-producing conflicts: (4) between differing beliefs
or values we hold and (5) between our belief of what is and what
should be. So, values and doing or being right affect our stress level.
We all strive to make sense of our existence. Since we can
influence our future, we feel some responsibility for our lives.
According to the Existentialist anxiety comes from the threat of
nonbeing--death and from the dread of having to change (thus, a part
of you dies) to become something different. Fears are attacks from the
outside, whereas anxiety reflects an internal threat to our very
essence as a person. Anything that questions our values, anything that
alienates us from others or from nature, and anything that challenges
our ideas about the meaning of life causes anxiety. According to this
theory, anxiety is not learned, we are born with it, it is the nature of
humans. Serious anxiety reduces our ability to guide our lives and we
end up feeling life is meaningless; that is called existential anxiety.
For decades, the Adlerians have contended that over-demanding
parents produce anxious, insecure children, perhaps because the
children never succeed in becoming what they "should be" in the eyes
of the parent. Many years ago, a study showed that the closer a boy's
self-concept was to his mother's ideal, the less anxious he was
(Stewart, 1958). Very recently, addiction counselors have
contended that addictions of all kinds are a way of diverting our
attention away from a deeper concern, usually self-doubts and low
self-esteem. If a person sees him/herself as defective, insecure,
"nervous" or fragile, it seems likely that they are going to experience
more stress and respond less effectively than a secure person. See
chapter 14 for ways to change your self-concept and expectations of
Eighty years ago, Morton Prince suggested that a phobic person
was afraid of having a panic reaction, rather than being fearful of the
situation, such as heights, trains, or open spaces. In short, our
expectations produced our fears.