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"Hours of anguish" (Julio Romero de Torres, 1904).
A line engraving showing a man with a hand over his eyes in anguish.

Anguish is an emotion. It is a feeling of severe pain, mental suffering, distress and sadness. Anguish is related to misery, dread, despair, and depression.

Causes of anguish

"Anguish" (1876 - 1880), a painting by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck that shows a sheep anguished over a dead lamb about to be eaten by birds.

Many things can cause a person to feel anguish. Abuse can cause anguish.[1] Child abuse can cause anguish.[2] Elder abuse can cause anguish.[3] Bullying can cause anguish.[4] Neglect can cause anguish.[1] Shame can lead to feelings of anguish.[5] A person may feel anguish when their life is not going as they hoped and there is little they can do to change it.[5]

Anguish in law

Mental anguish is a concept of law. It is sometimes written into a legal code. In tort law, a person can receive compensation when someone hurts them. This is known as a personal injury case. This kind of legal case is handled by a personal injury lawyer.

In the United States, personal injury lawsuits account for less than 5% of all civil cases.[6] That number is declining.[6] Between 1999 and 2008, there was a 25% decrease in personal injury lawsuits filed in the United States.[6]

In the judicial system, mental anguish is also called "pain and suffering". This may include feelings of fear, distress, anxiety, depression, trauma, or grief.[7]

When Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, he issued a proclamation about human rights. He said that we must defend the victims of anguish, not the culprits (the people who cause it).[8]

Anguish in medicine

In medicine, anguish is similar to anxiety.[5] It is a type of neurosis.[9] According to Sigmund Freud, the symptoms of anguish are irritability, anxiety, crisis, nightmares, phobias and obsessions.[9] Anguish can also cause insomnia.[10]

People with mental illnesses like melancholia or depression may feel anguish.[9][11] Anguish may be a factor in a mental breakdown.[5]

Chronic pain (or pain lasting longer than six months)[12][13] can cause anguish.[14]

The brain disease dementia can cause those who have it to experience anguish.[15]

In dying patients, anguish may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. They symptoms of physical anguish are severe pain and anxiety. The symptoms of emotional and spiritual anguish are crying, moaning, wailing, or talking about fears or regrets.[16]

Anguish is sometimes a cause of suicide or homicide.[5] People who experience psychological distress like anguish can have greater risk of premature death.[17][18]

Researchers found a potential treatment for the pain of anguish: a non-prescription medication (or over-the-counter drug) called paracetamol (or acetaminophen).[19][20]

Anguish in psychology

Mental anguish can have significant as physical symptoms.[21] Psychological suffering from anguish can be just as significant as physical pain.[21] Psychological symptoms like anxiety, panic attacks and existential crisis can cause suffering.[21]

Sigmund Freud is considered the inventor of psychoanalysis. Freud said that anguish is one of the feelings that brings together and tears apart people, families, and societies.[22]

Anguish in philosophy

Anguish is an idea in philosophy.


Anguish is an important concept in existentialism.[23][24] Existentialists believe that freedom causes anguish.[25]

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre talked about anguish in his book L'Être et le Néant (1943) (in English: Being and Nothingness) (1956).

"It is certain that we cannot overcome anguish, for we are anguish."[26]

For Sartre and Heidegger and Kierkegaard anguish is an important emotion.[27]

Another French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, said that anguish is a basic human emotion. He said that people feel anguish when they understand that they cannot escape from evil and pain in the world.[28]


Anguish is an important concept in nihilism.[24] Nihilists believe that life is meaningless. That belief is a source of anguish.[24]

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about "anguish of conscience." He said that consciousness is anguish and anguish is pain.[29]

Anguish in theology

Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher. He wrote about religion, or theology. Kierkegaard talked about anguish in several of his books: Fear and Trembling (1843), Either/Or (1843), The Sickness Unto Death (1849), and Two Discourses of God and Man (1938). In the book Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses (1843), Kierkegaard talked about Paul the Apostle. Paul felt anguish because he persecuted Christians.[30]

Anguish in film

Anguish is feeling common for characters in Woody Allen's films. Marion feels anguish in Another Woman. Alvy feels anguish in Annie Hall. Mary fakes feelings of anguish in Manhattan. Elliot causes anguish for others when he falls in love with one of his wife's sisters in Hannah and Her Sisters.[31]

Related pages


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Types of Abuse". American Bar Association. 
  2. Jackson, AM; Kissoon, N; N2, Greene, C (2015 Mar 11). "Aspects of Abuse: Recognizing and Responding to Child Maltreatment". Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care (Elsevier): Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1016/j.cppeds.2015.02.001 . Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  3. "Elder Abuse". U.S. Government Accountability Office. 
  4. Kevorkian, Meline; D'Antona, Robin (2011). 101 Facts about Bullying: What Everyone Should Know. Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 9781578868964 . 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Strohm Kitchener, Karen; Anderson, Sharon K. (2008). Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in Psychology and Counseling. R&L Education. p. 202. ISBN 9781135889654 . 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Debunking the Myths". 
  7. "Mental Anguish". 
  8. "Proclamation 4705 of December 6,1979, Bill of Rights Day, Human Rights Day and Week, 1979. By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation.". 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Lalanne, Dr. Gaston (1903). "Des États Anxieux dans les Maladies Mentales". American Journal of Psychiatry (University of California) 59: 688-692. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  10. Dollander, M. (2002 Nov-Dec). "Etiology of adult insomnia". Encephale 28: 493-502. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  11. Boericke, F.E. (1885). A System of Medicine, Volume 2. Philadelphia: Hahnemann Publishing House. 
  12. Debono, DJ; Hoeksema, LJ; Hobbs, RD (August 2013). "Caring for Patients with Chronic Pain: Pearls and Pitfalls". Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 113 (8): 620–627. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2013.023 . PMID 23918913 . 
  13. Turk, D.C.; Okifuji, A. (2001). "Pain terms and taxonomies". In Loeser, D.; Butler, S. H.; Chapman, J.J. et al.. Bonica's management of pain (3 ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 18–25. ISBN 0-683-30462-3 . 
  14. "Treat Depression and Chronic Pain Separately". University of Michigan Health System. 
  15. Simmons Holcomb, PhD, ARNP-BC, Susan (December 2008). "Easing the anguish of Alzheimer’s disease". 
  16. Morrow, RN, Susan (3 September 2013). "Anguish". 
  17. Tom C Russ, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Mark Hamer, John M Starr, Mika Kivimäki, G David Batty. Association between psychological distress and mortality: individual participant pooled analysis of 10 prospective cohort studies
  18. "Mental Illness Can Shorten Lives, Studies Show". 
  19. Macrae, Fiona (29 October 2014). "Acetaminophen could also help to ease our anxieties: Pills could reduce the anguish of situations that cause psychological pain". Daily Mail. 
  20. "Experiencing Existential Dread? Tylenol May Do the Trick". Association for Psychological Science. 16 April 2013. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 "The Problem of Psychological Suffering". Stanford School of Medicine. 
  22. Doolittle, Hilda; Freud, Sigmund; Bryher, Susan; Stanford Friedman (2005). Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher, and Their Circle. New Directions Publishing. p. xxxvii. ISBN 9780811216036 . 
  23. Olson, Robert G. (2012). An Introduction to Existentialism. Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486119281 . 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Pratt, Alan. "Nihilism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  25. Crowell, Steven (9 March 2015). "Existentialism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  26. Sartre, Jean-Paul (1956). Being and Nothingness. Philosophical Library. ISBN 9781453228555 . Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  27. Solomon, Robert C. (2001). From Rationalism to Existentialism: The Existentialists and Their Nineteenth-century Backgrounds. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742512412 . 
  28. Williams, James (2011). Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780748645428 . 
  29. Schopenhauer, Arthur. Complete Arthur Schopenhauer Philosophy Criticism Collection. AEB Publishing. 
  30. Kierkegaard, Søren; Perkins, Robert L. (2003). Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. Mercer University Press. p. 151. ISBN 9780865548794 . 
  31. Lee, Sander H. (2002). Eighteen Woody Allen Films Analyzed: Anguish, God and Existentialism. McFarland. ISBN 9780786481101 . Retrieved 17 April 2015.