“Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason. Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fear response within us that is hard to quell. Yet exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them…
There are only five basic fears, out of which almost all of our other so-called fears are manufactured. Those five basic fears are:
Extinction – fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist…Consider that panicky feeling you get when you look over the edge of a high building.
Mutilation – 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. For example, anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.
Loss of Autonomy – fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or controlled by circumstances. In a physical form, it’s sometimes known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to social interactions and relationships.
Separation – 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 the targeted person.
Ego-death – fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.
That’s all – just those five.
Think about the various common labels we put on our fears. Start with the easy ones: fear of heights or falling is basically fear of extinction. Fear of failure? Read it as fear of ego-death. Fear of rejection? It’s fear of separation, and probably also fear of ego-death. The terror many people have at the idea of having to speak in public is basically fear of ego-death. Fear of intimacy, or “fear of commitment” is basically fear of losing one’s autonomy.
Some other emotions we know by various popular names are also expressions of these primary fears. If you track them down to their most basic levels, the basic fears show through. Jealousy, for example, is an expression of the fear of separation, or devaluation.
Shame and guilt express the fear – or the actual condition – of separation and even ego-death. The same is true for embarrassment and humiliation.
Fear is often the base emotion on which anger floats. Oppressed peoples rage against their oppressors because they fear – or actually experience – loss of autonomy and even ego-death. The destruction of a culture or a religion by an invading occupier may be experienced as a kind of collective ego-death. Those who make us fearful will also make us angry.
Religious bigotry and intolerance may express the fear of ego-death on a cosmic level, and can even extend to existential anxiety. “If my god isn’t the right god, or the best god, then I’ll be stuck without a god. Without god on my side, I’ll be at the mercy of the impersonal forces of the environment.”
Some of our fears, of course, have basic survival value. Others, however, are learned reflexes that can be weakened or re-learned…
When we begin to see fear and its companion emotions as basically information, we can think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears frighten us and control us.”
From Comic Relief