Angst in its simplest sense means fear or anxiety. The word is derived from Nordic and Germanic languages. Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, used the term to express the human condition which, he felt, was riddled with despair. This definition of angst was an integral part of the term used by existentialists.
In existentialism, angst is the struggle between the needs of the self and the requirements of others, as well as spiritual requirements. This was the fate of Odysseus caught between the Scylla and Charybdis, or “a rock and a hard place” as it is more commonly expressed. Serving oneself is in conflict with serving humanity, and thus creates angst.
A modern usage of the term is descriptively applied to teenagers. The process of becoming adults, and sometimes being frustrated by authority, seems to be first felt at this age. As well, shifting hormones often lead to teens to angst. They seem a little world-weary before their time, and are steeped in emotional conflict. The despair that can accompany the teenage state, often expressed in popular music among teens, is the angst of the teenager’s soul.
In fact, the Goth music movement, first popularized by bands like The Cure in the 1980s, is an outward expression of inward angst. The pale white face and dyed black hair makes those who dress in Goth fashion appear as if dead. These are merely the outward trappings of the conflicted soul. For many teens and young adults this costuming seems an appropriate way to show the world they are in conflict.
Yet most teens are not “Goth,” and may still feel angst. In fact, the state has existed long before modern teens ever were labeled with the term. The Romantic writers in particular often wrote out of a sense of deep emotional conflict. This is particularly the case with Byron.
Also it is impossible to look at the work of Charlotte and Emily Bronte without discussing angst. The sufferings of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, or the taciturn forbearance of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre are both examples of characters whose lives are guided by angst. The outward expression of this feeling is often romanticized. Actually both Charlotte and Emily Bronte were fairly young writers, and went with glee for the dramatic and grand gesture; just as a Goth teen or rock group might do today.
While some wish to publicize their angst, other characters in contemporary works of art suffer in silence. Superheroes in particular are often conflict-filled characters that must hide who they truly are. They often must place the needs of the world above their private needs in order to fulfill their sacred duties.
In any of its forms, angst is spiritual and emotional suffering brought on by confusion about the world. It is important to carefully watch those who wear their feelings on their sleeve because, unfortunately, in some people, angst signifies deep emotional disturbance or clinical depression, which could progress to self destructive behavior.