Freud’s View of Fear

Sigmund FreudIllustration by FlyBit43

Sigmund Freud
Illustration by FlyBit43

While many people can write a horror story, those who have a profound understanding of the emotions associated with horror will have a greater chance of writing a truly great horror story.  With that in mind, as tonight’s post I offer a comment from Dr. C. George Boeree on Freud’s view of fear, which he termed “anxiety”.   This quote is part of a longer articles which can be found at http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/freud.html.  I like the quote, because it explains Freud’s concept in a straightforward, simple, clear way that I can grasp easily.   I also like the quote because it gives me three different types of fear to instill in my audience vicariously.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, when someone reads a story, they are experiencing the events of that story vicariously.  As writers of horror, one of the primary emotions we want to instill is fear.   In this short comment, Dr. Boeree provides us with three flavors of fear we can instill in our audiences.

“The ego — the “I” — sits at the center of some pretty powerful forces: reality; society, as represented by the superego; biology, as represented by the id. When these make conflicting demands upon the poor ego, it is understandable if it — if you — feel threatened, feel overwhelmed, feel as if it were about to collapse under the weight of it all. This feeling is called anxiety, and it serves as a signal to the ego that its survival, and with it the survival of the whole organism, is in jeopardy.

“Freud mentions three different kind of anxieties: The first is realistic anxiety, which you and I would call fear. Actually Freud did, too, in German. But his translators thought “fear” too mundane! Nevertheless, if I throw you into a pit of poisonous snakes, you might experience realistic anxiety.

“The second is moral anxiety. This is what we feel when the threat comes not from the outer, physical world, but from the internalized social world of the superego. It is, in fact, just another word for feelings like shame and guilt and the fear of punishment.

“The last is neurotic anxiety. This is the fear of being overwhelmed by impulses from the id. If you have ever felt like you were about to “lose it,” lose control, your temper, your rationality, or even your mind, you have felt neurotic anxiety. Neurotic is actually the Latin word for nervous, so this is nervous anxiety. It is this kind of anxiety that intrigued Freud most, and we usually just call it anxiety, plain and simple.”

Undoubtedly, Jung had his own views of fear, with which I am not familiar, and other psychiatrists have theirs, and Freud’s views may well be outdated, or even proven wrong.  However, if we are to understand the nature of fear, Freud is a good a place to start as any.

Thoughts?  Comments?

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3 thoughts on “Freud’s View of Fear

  1. That is a good quote, and I love your commentary. I’m always resistant to Freudian theory, though. It’s too generalizing and ignores crucial social differences. It’s also a product of an intellectual period when cultural evolution was a taken-for-granted assumption on the part of a lot of thinkers, including Freud. In “Totem and Taboo” he likens the belief systems of “primitive” peoples (by which he meant non-literate, tribal, and most importantly, non-European, societies) to the delusions of neurotic Westerners, as well as the undeveloped mental systems of children. He based his argument on anthropological studies of Australian aborigines. You can imagine how indigenous people today might feel about being called stupid crazy children.

    That said, there is of course lots to commend his work. I just always have this visceral reaction when I think about those kinds of massive generalizations. Don’t know Jung’s work, aside from a general understanding of the notion of archetypes and the universal unconscious. Ignoring cultural specificity bugs the heck out of me.

    As a sort of counterpoint to the ideas you cite here, I really like Lovecraft’s essay on the supernatural in horror fiction.

    Like

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