Anxiety and anger are good: Charles Spielberger

By overcoming anxiety and anger, you exit the space of negative states of mind: a decisive step toward self-actualization.

Anger and anxiety are the negative driving forces of our existence. You have to be aware of them in order to control them and then let them go. Charles Spielberger was the first to take a positive approach to this phenomenon. Therefore – and also for purely personal reasons – “Radar for Leaders” knows what it owes the pioneer of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory.

The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.

E. M. Forster

Are we afraid?

In the 1970s, Prof. Charles Donald Spielberger was President of the American Psychological Association (APA), the most important psychological association in the USA – and was likely one of the first to realize the potential of Maslow’s “self-growth psychology”. His life achievement lies in the development of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI): an instrument which makes it possible to measure the mental states of anger and anxiety. Spielberger draws his conclusions based on the analysis of “habitual anxiety” in contrast to “actual fear”. Habitual anxiety is grounded in fundamental experiences in contrast to moments of terror or existential fears which are temporary.

Spielberger’s idea: when a person grows (or declines) mentally, it needs to be possible to determine that person’s state of mind. It is relatively easy for those who are close to the person to ascertain the individual situation: by observing gestures, facial expressions, statements or unusual behavior. A psychologist, however, does not have the advantage of knowing someone so well as to facilitate their recognizing unusual behavior patterns. But, with STAI, the psychologist’s advantage lies in seeing how someone is developing and where this person is at the present time.

Those who face their anger and anxiety
can leave them behind.

Sonja Becker

Accolade for “Positive Psychology”

When do change and transformation occur in people? Spielberger’s research was mainly focused on the change factors of anxiety and fear. With Martin Sage’s input, he later recognized that positive things also result in change. Anger and anxiety in combination with curiosity are the “three guardians on the threshold to transformation”.

Today, Spielberger’s earlier State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) is among the most established instruments for analyzing a person’s mental structure with its contingents of anxiety and anger. This structure constitutes a mixture of drive theory, research on anxiety and its origins and cognition theory as well as attention processing (see here). Spielberger is one of the pioneers with his approach from 1970. But anxiety and anger denote only one side of the modern human soul – curiosity denotes the other side.

Born curious – Bred in anxiety

Based on Spielberger’s approach, it is possible to conclude that it was curiosity that originally prevailed. Formulated in keeping with the STAI approach: curiosity is evident in the faces of children. As a small child, you were hardly fearful, and instead only curious. However, with the first unpleasant experiences, curiosity fades, giving way to precautionary measures which protect against danger and pain.

For this reason, Maslow also held the fundamental view that we all come into this world as mentally healthy, positive, neurosis- free individuals, and every disorder in our personality which arises is a mere deviation from our natural character – which Spielberger primarily defines as “curious”. But Spielberger’s model also demonstrates how it is possible to change positively, with clear indications of the state of mind, which can almost be taken literally: the face of a person before and after coaching almost always speaks volumes about the transformation which has taken place. Those who find curiosity are always self-aware. One key experience in this context was Spielberger’s encounter with curiosity researcher Martin Sage on a trip from Hawaii to Los Angeles, when Sage presented his Performance Scale – Psychological States: practically a reflection of Spielberger’s efforts to give a face to the human state; the first-ever map of human consciousness and human potential.

One of their common ideas was established under the organization of Sonja Becker: the Learning Conferences, which have taken place in Austin, Houston, Berlin and at the Bavarian Seeon Monastery. These conferences have become milestones for the theory of new learning. In addition to Sage and Spielberger, illustrious names such as Fritjof Capra, Chris Welsh, Sam Zigrossi, and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Ilya Prigogine have been on the list of speakers. The results of the conferences were a mirror image of the Sage Learning Method, which take an interdisciplinary look at learning and human development – with the expertise of the invited speakers and ally Charles Spielberger in particular.

“Radar for Leaders” guides people back to original curiosity and addresses self-actualized and self-actualizing people in order to shed light on people’s own original energy potential and transformation potential.


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