Fear is important. Without it we’d act recklessly and make horrible decisions. We’d drive way too fast, handle poisonous snakes, and hang out in dangerous areas of town. The development of fear provides important survival benefit. Humans and animals who feared dangerous things survived to pass on their genes and thus gave rise to the characteristic of fear response in their descendants.
Common fears include:
- getting old
- public speaking
For the past four years Chapman University has surveyed Americans about their most common fears from a list of 94 including crime, the government, the environment, natural disasters, personal anxieties, technology, nuclear war, wildfires, deep lakes, and enclosed spaces. Here’s a link to the ranking of all 94 fears: Link (personally I find #75 and #87 are super scary). Here are the top 10 fears in 2018 according to Chapman:
The top 10 list surprised me. Chapman, examining the four years of the survey found that “the extent to which Americans are afraid, in general, appears to be on the rise. In 2016, the highest level of fear reported by our respondents was for corrupt government officials at 60.6%. From there fear dropped precipitously, with #2 on the list in 2016 (terrorist attack) down to forty-one percent and the rest of the 2016 top ten list all under forty percent.”
Additionally, “a striking difference between 2016 and 2017-2018 has to do with the environment. Since Trump’s election, Americans’ are increasing fearful of pollution, global warming and other environmental disasters. Not a single environmental concern made the top 10 list in 2016.”
Looking at the list of fears note that they are not immediate threats and most of them are things over which individuals have no direct control. Yet, thinking about these things trigger our fight or flight response. Our ancient fear survival mechanism is being constantly triggered for many people for things that are not immediate threats (or threats at all).
A consultant, Dr. Karl Albrecht has classified all fears into five categories and posits that all possible fears fall within these five:
Extinction—the fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist. This is a more fundamental way to express it than just calling it “fear of death.” The idea of no longer being arouses a primary existential anxiety in all normal humans. Consider that panicky feeling you get when you look over the edge of a high building.
Mutilation—the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. Anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.
Loss of Autonomy—the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control. In physical form, it’s commonly known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to our social interactions and relationships.
Separation—the fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person—not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. The “silent treatment,” when imposed by a group, can have a devastating psychological effect on its target.
Ego-death—the fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.
Can you think of any fears that do not fall within the above five categories?
Phobias vs. Fear. Phobias are the most common mental disorder and are a type of extreme fear. According to WebMD, “Phobias involve the experience of persistent fear that is excessive and unreasonable. Phobias are cued when a person approaches a particular situation or object, or even anticipates the approach of it, and they understand the fear they will experience as a result of that situation will be unreasonable and excessive.”
The difference between a mere fear and a phobia is that a phobia creates impairment. For example, it is perfectly reasonable to have a fear of spiders. A spider phobia might consist of obsessive thoughts about spiders and avoiding all dark places in case there is a spider hiding there. Common phobias include (from Variety Magazine):
2. Needles (belonephobia)
3. Snakes (ophidiophobia)
4. Milk (lactophobia)
5. Heights (acrophobia)
6. Crowds (demophobia)
7. Death (thanatophobia)
8. Lightning (keraunphobia)
9. Elevators (related to claustrophobia)
10. Puppets (pupaphobia)
11. Disorder (ataxophobia)
12. Dark (achluophobia)
13. Enclosed spaces (cleithrophobia)
14. Dirt (mysophobia)
15. Spiders (arachnophobia)