A recent question here has highlighted a fairly common cliché in entertainment: a purported inability to identify/pinpoint the source of one's fears or anxiety.

In psychology there's an somewhat accepted phenomenon of alexithymia, the "inability to identify and describe emotions in the self". But is it really the case that one can identify the emotion as fear or anxiety but not be able to identify its source?

And yes, I'm aware of the "fear of the unknown", but the unknown (as a concept) is an identifiable source in that case; I'm not asking about that. What I'm asking about is whether the following scenario can happen in some case of psychological or neurological condition:

  • Patient: Doctor, I'm very afraid!
  • Doctor: What are you afraid of?
  • Patient: I don't know!
  • $\begingroup$ You are, potentially, describing a panic attack, which can be accompanied by a sense of terror and generally is not in response to an external stressor. $\endgroup$
    – Jordan
    Jun 27, 2018 at 15:39


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