It seems as though every Sociologist creates his or her own definition of Anxiety. Each definition of Anxiety being ghastly different, however, tying back to three common situations: Fear, Encounters with primary groups, secondary groups, and the public, and Anxiety towards Self-Growth. In analyzing Rollo May’s “The Discovery of Being,” we find that May incorporates many different definitions of these situations from other Sociologists, as well as ties in many of his own thoughts and ideas. Also at times, May disregards strongly other Sociologist’s views on these situations, creating an interesting and unique view of society and Psychology. In this analysis of “The Discovery of Being,” we will examine May’s particular definitions and thoughts on Anxiety and Being, Anxiety and Encounter, and Anxiety and Self-Growth. Early in the book, May touches on his views of Anxiety, he discusses Anxiety as being something that does not arise from a fear of “lack of libidinal satisfactions or security,” but rather out of fear of our own powers, and any pertaining conflicts. He discusses this as a present day problem, which has been significantly influenced by society and present societal goals. Libidinal satisfactions are so easily encountered in our day that it becomes hard to avoid them. The prevalent Anxiety is found upon self-reflection and our own realizations of what we actually can do, but for some reason neglect to do so. Our constant outlook to go further in society than our neighbor is tied to our Anxiety of Being and Non-Being. May looks closely at the concept of Being, and notes at one point that “Being” is a participle, also meaning in the process of “being something.” An individual’s Being is constantly changing throughout life, never reaching a set point. More specifically, May defines Being as an individual’s pattern of potentialities. Anxiety arises when these potentialities grow harder to obtain or hidden from clear view. In modern society, man no longer holds his Sense of Being, but is looked at as a mechanism for others to succeed or save time or enjoy their libidinal satisfactions. “A man knows himself not as a man or self, but as a token seller in the subway, a grocer, a professor, a vice-president of AT&T, or by whatever his economic function may be.” The point where Anxiety plays into Being is moreover in the state referred to as non-being. Non-being traditionally would be looked at as death, of which, even to this day, causes for much Anxiety. However, in today’s society, non-being also refers to the state of not achieving or not meeting your potentialities. In light of this, people seek ways of avoiding any confrontation with non-being. “Perhaps the most ubiquitous and ever-present form of the failure to confront non-being in our day is in conformism, the tendency of the individual to be absorbed in the sea of collective responses and attitudes,…,with the corresponding loss of his own awareness, potentialities, and whatever characterizes him as a unique and original being.” The second Anxiety-plagued situation is that of Encounter with another individual. May sees encounters as a phenomenon where individuals take an extraordinary risk in forming trust bonds while determining the amount, if any, of self-disclosure the individual is willing to share. May includes several levels of encounters with which we deal with on a day-to-day basis. The first level is that of real persons, where our loneliness is subsided by interactions with nearly anyone. The second level is that of friends, of whom we trust and of whom listen and understand you. The third is esteem/agape in which you display an inner-concern for people’s welfare. And the final level is simply erotic. May describes Anxiety in Encounter as arising out of anticipation and an altering of our comfortable temporary security as we are opened to another individual. There is a brief moment when we must decide how to react and interact with this person, which generally clears the way for Anxiety as to how this person will in turn react to your responses. Anxiety about the self-image arises, as self-concept begins being questioned. May notes that it is not possible in an encounter for “one person to have a feeling without the other having it to some degree also.” Thus, Anxiety, when felt by one participant of the encounter, is generally felt by all other remaining participants. The final situation in which Anxiety commonly arises is within Self-Growth.
May’s describes every human as being centered in themselves, and centered in their respected lives. Sudden changes throw off the balance of this center and can cause much distress. However, May states that “all existing persons have the need and possibility of going out from their centeredness to participate in other beings.” This is our first glimpse of Self-Growth. The Anxiety that arises in this attempted Self-Growth is found in the risk involved in straying from one’s center. By no means is the amount that one strays from his center proportional to the growth that will result, but the more risks taken, or the more times he strays from the center, the more growth he should experience. Self-Growth can be viewed as a direct result of May’s human awareness or Self-Consciousness. Anxiety emerges quickly when discussing Self-Consciousness, especially in the case of high school and college girls. Suddenly, a self-concept is conceived and every waking hour is spent creating the self-image. Anxiety strikes high when the image is not upheld or becomes outdated. Self-Growth also ties in with May’s modern day definition of Being. The modern man who lacks the sense of being, and is only recognized for his contributions to the societal machine, leaves little room for self-growth, and yet bears so much Anxiety as a result of his non-being. In looking at May’s ideas of conformity being the catalysts for non-being, self-growth becomes insignificant, and Anxiety remains fairly low. This is because one’s centeredness also becomes the boundaries, not allowing for one to stray past and take the added risk involved in seeking self-growth. Anxiety is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “distress of mind; uneasiness.” Although vague and bland, this definition seems to cover the variety of ways that Anxiety can creep into one’s head. We looked at three different situations where Anxiety commonly arises, and in each of the situation, we returned with a new entirely unique definition. An amazing point of May’s was that he claimed Anxiety changes and with it, the definition of Anxiety changes as time passes by. Societal goals change, and thus self-growth changes; mannerisms and interaction techniques change and encounter changes; personal power and libidinal satisfactions change, and so once again May’s definition of Anxiety and Being must change as well. Thus, the process of studying Anxiety is a constantly changing field, yet remains a similar feeling to all who experience it, regardless of the time period. May’s unique writing style and brilliant thoughts made Anxiety a remarkably easy and interesting topic to read about.