The New Johari Window #2: Models of Interpersonal Awareness
We also might use the metaphor of “inoculation” to describe the signaling properties of anxiety. Ernest Becker uses this metaphor when discussing Freud’s notions about anxiety:
Freud understood this process of the ego taking over anxiety as a sort of “vaccination” of the total organism. As the central perceptual sphere learns what the organism gets anxious about, it uses an awareness of this anxiousness in small doses, to regulate behavior. The growing identity “I” must feel comfortable in its world and the only way it can do this is experimentally to make the anxieties of its world its own.
Signal anxiety doesn’t really hurt us (unless it is long-lasting), but it does wake us up. It lets us know that we need to be vigilant and careful not to proceed further toward the threatening interpersonal relationship or context—or any thoughts, feelings or memories associated with this relationship or context. The paradox is that at some level we are fully aware of the thing that threatens us—otherwise we wouldn’t splash ourselves with the noxious anxiety. We have to know or even experience what is threatening to us in order to decide that we don’t want to know it or experience it. In this series of essays I will discuss our opaque knowledge of other’s people’s perceptions of us, suggesting that we often know (opaquely) more than we want to know and that this knowledge powerfully influences the ways in which we avoid disclosing to other people and avoid or misinterpret feedback from other people.