As long as we have been living in groups, we have struggled with how we should act. We had to learn to often act against our instincts and put the interests of the group over the interests of the individual.
To keep some sense of order and safety, groups adopted sets of rules to live by, such don’t steal, lie, or kill. These are values that we acquired as children from parents and society. These aren’t easy lessons to learn. Think about the disappointment of a toddler when he is not allowed to “steal” a toy from his friend. Together, these rules became known as civilization…the civilizing of our animal desires.
So, we develop a set of internal rules about how we should live, and those rules often stand in opposition to our basic instincts for seeking pleasure. When our sense of what we should do conflicts with what we want to do, we feel anxious.
(We also have anxiety when two or more of our values conflict, such as when someone asks “How do I look?” in clothes that aren’t flattering. We value both telling the truth as well as not hurting others feelings, but any action will violate one of these rules. This is called an ethical dilemma.)