Researchers in early childhood development regard anxiety in adult life as a residue of childhood memories of dependency. Humans learn during the first year of life that they are not self-sufficient and that their basic survival depends on others. It is thought that this early experience of helplessness underlies the most common anxieties of adult life, including fear of powerlessness and fear of not being loved. Thus, adults can be made anxious by symbolic threats to their sense of competence or significant relationships, even though they are no longer helpless children.
The psychoanalytic model gives a lot of weight to the symbolic aspect of human anxiety; examples include phobic disorders, obsessions, compulsions, and other forms of anxiety that are highly individualized. Because humans mature slowly, children and adolescents have many opportunities to connect their negative experiences to specific objects or events that can trigger anxious feelings in later life. For example, a person who was frightened as a child by a tall man wearing glasses may feel panicky years later, without consciously knowing why, by something that reminds him of that person or experience.
Freud thought that anxiety results from a person's internal conflicts. According to his theory, people feel anxious when they feel torn between moral restrictions and desires or urges toward certain actions. In some cases, the person's anxiety may attach itself to an object that represents the inner conflict. For example, someone who feels anxious around money may be pulled between a desire to steal and the belief that stealing is wrong. Money becomes a symbol for the inner conflict between doing what is considered right and doing what one wants.
Paula Ford-Martin, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,