What Is The Difference Between Adaptive And Pathological Anxiety?

What is the difference between adaptive and pathological fear?

It is important to know that there are different types of fear. On the one hand, we have pathological anxiety, sometimes referred to as dysfunctional anxiety. And on the other hand, we have adaptive anxiety, known as “normal” anxiety. It is important to be aware of this because people often think that all kinds of fears are negative.

In general, we can define anxiety as an emotional state that results from some kind of harm or misfortune. In other words, it occurs when someone thinks something bad is going to happen. These thoughts can cause us great concern. It manifests as emotional discomfort, a sort of mixture of anxiety, restlessness and nervousness. But there can also be physical complaints, such as palpitations, nausea and dizziness.

In the case of adaptive fear, the suffering one fears is a real possibility. For example, if you know that you will be late for work and you are afraid that it will hit you on the head. In pathological anxiety, on the other hand, a person fears future harm which is possible, but not very likely. This ensures that the fear is almost permanently present. In other words, we are constantly afraid that something bad is about to happen.

Woman trapped in a maze, because that's what pathological fear sometimes feels like

The role of fear

Adaptive anxiety is part of us. Its purpose is to protect us to ensure our integrity and survival. When there is a real threat, both mind and body must prepare to face it. If we are not prepared in this way, we are overwhelmed with a strong sense of helplessness when the danger actually occurs. Fear also has a number of positive goals.

Pathological anxiety arises when a person feels unable to face a threat. In this case, this person will also see threats that are not real. And if this continues to happen, the person will enter a permanent state of fear. He will often not even know exactly what he is afraid of. He simply experiences fear because ‘something’ could happen.

Such a state of fear causes many physiological changes in our body. It is necessary for several of our organs (for example, our heart, kidneys and lungs) to work intensively to face the threat. However, if a person often experiences anxiety, it is quite normal for their body to be adversely affected. Illness is therefore a common consequence of these kinds of fears.

Characteristics of Pathological Anxiety

Those who suffer from pathological anxiety have a serious problem. It’s not enough to pat them on the back and tell them that everything will be fine. To break free from this state, you need much more than the good intentions of others.

In order to solve this problem, you must first be sure that you actually suffer from pathological anxiety. You can determine this by seeing whether the fear you experience corresponds to the following characteristics :

  • Frequency and Intensity. Pathological anxiety often involves periods of anxiety. These periods are often very prolonged and can be experienced very intensely. In adaptive anxiety, on the other hand, these kinds of periods are rare, pass quickly and are not as intense.
  • Comments. In pathological anxiety, a person often reacts disproportionately to the stimulus that provokes his fear, whether real or imagined. For example, when someone is afraid that their house will be broken into and then stays up all night to make sure it doesn’t happen.
  • suffering. When fear is pathological, we experience it as continuous suffering. In adaptive anxiety, the suffering is only temporary and leaves no trace.
  • Functionality. Pathological anxiety affects our daily lives. It can keep us from taking action or, on the contrary, cause us to take action. It does this in such a way that it alters or limits our routine. This fills our lives with confusion and fear.
Woman Suffering From Pathological Anxiety

Why does anxiety become pathological?

In fact, the answer to this question is so broad that you could write entire books about it. However, to sum it up, we can say that behind this kind of fear there is often some kind of unresolved trauma. Sometimes the relationship between trauma and anxiety is direct, but this is certainly not always the case.

For example, if someone is involved in a car accident, the event will likely leave scars, not just physical ones. It is quite normal for the accident victim to become frightened every time he has to get into a car, or even when he has to cross the road. In this case, the relationship between the trauma and the fear is direct. Although the fear is disproportionate when we look at the real probability of a threat.

In other cases, the trauma that gives rise to the pathological fear may be hidden or inhibited in the unconscious. In this case, for example, rejection or abuse at a young age can be the cause.

Man suffering from pathological anxiety

Based on the above information, you can say that pathological anxiety is a condition that someone needs outside help to overcome. It is therefore best to contact a psychotherapist or a psychoanalyst to solve this problem.  

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