Fear is a basic emotion and the human response to it is necessary for survival. Everybody understands fear and what it feels like to be afraid. But what happens when your nervous system becomes so dysregulated that you become scared of feeling fear? How can you tackle your fears when everything you feel has become entangled with negative thoughts and feelings?

First it is important to note that fear breeds fear. You may start off with a fear of reading aloud at school. Your brain acknowledges this fear and develops a pattern to warn you when anything similar is going to happen. You may begin to dread a certain lesson or avoid classes, and may start to feel anxious when that lesson is approaching. You may then start to feel anxious about all lessons just in case you are asked to read aloud. As your fears develop you will start to become increasingly anxious and may no longer want to go to school. The pattern continues to grow and increasingly more things make you anxious and scared. This vicious circle fuels anxiety disorders until you may become afraid of feeling fear. 


The different categories of fear


Dr. Karl Albrecht developed a system to classify fears. He identified five core areas that all fears fall into.

1. Fear of extinction

The essence of being human is to survive. A fear of extinction is that we will no longer exist. This fear could occur, for example, when looking over the edge of a high building, worrying about climate change of finding that someone we know has a been diagnosed with a deadly disease. 

2. Fear of mutilation or body invasion

Again, this is one of our survival instincts. This covers a wide range of fears, including a fear of injury occurring, or being in a place with people that make us feel unsafe. This will included any phobias related to medical procedures and being around animals you believe are harmful. 

3. Fear of the loss of autonomy or control 

This is the fear of being restricted, trapped, overwhelmed or in a situation outside of our control. Control is one of our basic emotional needs, so we don’t like to feel helpless. However, people who suffer with this fear find it can end up having a debilitating impact on their lives. Some of the most common examples are claustrophobia (closed spaces) and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). 

4. Fear of abandoment, separation or rejection

We all have a need to belong and to both give and receive attention. Human beings are a tribal species and if we don’t fit in, we risk being evicted from the tribe, which is dangerous. We therefore adjust ourselves to ensure acceptance. This fear can make someone an intense people pleaser or scared of getting close to anyone in case they are rejected. This category of fears can greatly impact a person’s mental wellbeing.

5. Fear of humiliation, worthlessness or shame 

As with the previous category, this one is closely aligned with how we connect with the others in our tribe. We all crave healthy relationships with others, and we do not want to be embarrassed or humiliated. Some people can go to enormous lengths to avoid situations that might result in conflict. If we are unable to connect with others, it can impact our self-worth and our value in the world. Fears which fall into this category would include public speaking, criticism or making a mistake. Depending on how sensitive a person is would depend on what behaviours would trigger these anxieties. If the person is particularly sensitive, it could simply be forgetting their birthday or not sending a card. 


What is phobophobia?


There are literally thousands of fears and phobias and most people have at least one fear. Many phobias are harmless and cause little disturbance in someone’s life. For example, someone may have a fear of flying. However, providing they don’t have a job on an aircraft then they can live life largely unaffected by their fear. They may have to adjust where they go on holiday, but they don’t have to cope with the fear daily. Other fears though can result in the sufferer making drastic changes to their lifestyle. A fear of transport can mean a person is trapped to only places to which they can walk. 

A fear of fears is defined as phobophobia which literally means a phobia of phobias. Phobophobia is linked to anxiety disorders and is usually associated with people who suffer from multiple phobias and agoraphobia. It is generally a phobia of feeling anxiety and the associated symptoms. Often those who suffer with phobophobia will have cut out many day-to-day activities from their lives. They are probably living a very basic lifestyle, following rituals that they believe keep them safe.  Agoraphobia itself is a fear of places that cause that person to panic. Essentially the person will avoid the places and situations that leave them feeling helpless, trapped or embarrassed. Many people develop agoraphobia after suffering panic attacks because they don’t want to have another attack. 

A fear of fear itself 

Phobophobia differs to other phobias in that there is no stimulus triggering the fear and anxiety. The fear itself is triggered by the fear of feeling the fear. It is generally developed by the unconscious mind and is linked to an historical event and subsequent associated patterns. Phobophobia usually develops when someone has suffered one or several panic attacks that have emotionally traumatised the sufferer. The person is so afraid to have another panic attack they undertake drastic measures to avoid or escape scenarios. 


Understanding your fears


It is recommended that you learn about phobophobia. The more you know the more you will understand. Attempting to decipher what your root fears are will help you to tackle them. For example, if you fear speaking in public, what is it that causes that fear? Is it fear of disappointment that you won’t deliver the speech well? Do you fear embarrassment, worried that the audience will mock or laugh at you? Is it fear of judgement that you will receive a negative critique? If you know what the root fear is, then you can consider ways to minimise that happening. You can also make yourself aware of what your reactions and emotions are going to be to the situation. For example, you may think that you are weak if you get upset by a negative critique. You can then work on thought processes and managing your associated emotions. 

Many people who suffer with phobophobia also have a fear of negative feelings. This makes them very vulnerable to negative emotional cycles. They will generally be sensitive to criticism and may identify the smallest innocuous comment as a negative judgment. Their own reflective evaluation system will try and suppress the negative emotions. This means emotions are not regulated or processed in a healthy way. The nervous system ends up in a tangle of knots which can be difficult to navigate through.  


What self-help options can help with Phobophobia?


Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, eating healthy, avoiding alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and drugs and a good sleeping pattern. Learning to control your breathing is key to reducing the body’s response to fear. Use our recommended 7/11 breathing technique here. Accept that anxiety is there to help you. It is not your enemy; in fact, it is your friend and is there to protect you. Learn some relaxation techniques. If you practice these regularly you will be able to use them more effectively during a period of high anxiety. Also the calmer you are in general, the less emotionally reactive you will be.

It is very important that you cease avoiding situations and tasks that cause you anxiety or fear. This may need to be done in a gradual manner. Just do what you can, but it is important to keep gradually increasing the difficulty. The more you avoid a situation, the more you are reinforcing the pattern that this is something to fear. Teaching your unconscious brain that a situation or place is not dangerous will create new behaviour patterns. This is not easy and will involve putting yourself into scenarios where you will feel high levels of anxiety. Challenging your thoughts and reminding yourself that you are not in danger will help the anxiety to pass. 


What treatment options are available for Phobophobia?


Treatment for phobophobia is much the same as it is for other anxiety disorders. There are several techniques which professional support can assist with. We can use techniques that work with the unconscious, emotional part of the brain, to safely remove any traumatic memories that were a pre-cursor to the anxiety. We can use guided imagery and visualisation techniques to rehearse tackling your fears. This will be done whilst you are in a relaxed state. This allows you to practice facing your fears in a completely safe environment. 

We can help you with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) techniques and challenge your unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts. We can assist you to develop new helpful ways of thinking which will make positive changes to your life. These positive shifts can help you implement strategies and make you more resilient. We can support you with developing applied relaxation skills. As an anxious person you may find you can’t remember the last time you relaxed. We can teach you some skills and exercises that will allow you to detect and relieve tension. 

I hope you found this article on fear helpful. if you know of anyone who would benefit from reading it, then please share. And if you would like to talk to us about your fear, then simply head over to our website, where you can contact us.

With warmest wishes


Book your free phone consultation for proven therapy that works


Share This