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The 16 types of fear and their characteristics

The 16 types of fear and their characteristics

May 17, 2024

Fear is an anguished feeling caused by the presence of a real or imaginary danger.

It is a reaction that begins with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemical substances that cause, among other things, that the heart and breathing speed up or that the body becomes tense. Fear often provokes behaviors typical of the stress response and a response known as fight or flight.

However, this is a complex phenomenon that does not always manifest exactly the same way or have the same causes. That is why we talk about types of fear .

How are types of fear produced?

The causative stimulus it can be a real thought or not, or a threatening stimulus (for example, the presence of a lion). Some authors claim that there are some inherent fears such as: darkness, uncertainty or death. However, the great majority of fears are learned by associative learning or classical conditioning.

  • You can learn more about classical conditioning in this article: "Classical conditioning and its most important experiments"

The physiological bases

The human brain is a deeply complex organ. More than 100 million nerve cells form an intricate network of communications that are the starting point of everything we feel, think and do. Some of these communications lead to conscious thought and action, while others produce autonomous responses.

The autonomous response of fear, that is, the one that we do not consciously activate , it arises long before our reason could have decided anything about it. There are many brain areas related to fear. These are the most important:

  • Thalamus: decides where to send incoming sensory data (eyes, ears, mouth, skin)
  • Sensory cortex: interprets the sensory data.
  • Hippocampus: stores and recovers conscious memories; processes sets of stimuli to establish the context.
  • Amygdala: decodes the emotions; peterminate the possible threat; Stores memories of emotions and fear.
  • Hypothalamus: activates the "fight or flight" response.

You can delve into the physiological basis of fear in our article: "The Physiological and Psychological Bases of Fear"

Types of fear

Not all people are afraid of the same stimuli or the content of all fears are the same. You can find below a list with a classification of the different types of fears :

According to the existence of the stimulus

Depending on whether the stimulus that causes the fear exists or not, it can be:

1. Real fear

Real fear refers to a type of fear that is is built from real components . For example, the fear of falling from an unsafe high place when there is a real possibility of falling into a vacuum.

It is a pattern of physiological and emotional activation that has an adaptive value, because it leads us to avoid danger immediately, often independently of our conscious intentions.

2. Unreal or irrational fear

The unreal fear has its origin in a imaginary, distorted and catastrophic thinking . For example, fear of public speaking or fear of flying. They are non-adaptive fears, in which there really is no real danger.

In many cases, this type of fear can turn into a phobia; it is something that happens when this malaise and the strategies we use to avoid these moments interfere in a way with our quality of life.

According to its normality

Depending on their adaptive nature, the fears can be:

3. Normal fear

Normal fear is that which it has an adaptive character , and is presented with a stimulus that can be harmful to the person. It is short-lived, does not interfere with normalcy in daily life and puts the individual on alert. For example, when seeing a snake.

4. Pathological fear

This kind of fear it is activated even though there is no danger and it can be prolonged indefinitely . Its level of interference in daily operation is high. It produces a great psychological distress to the person who suffers it, and sometimes it also affects third parties (due to its effects on social behavior) and therefore requires treatment.

According to the level of affectation

Depending on the level of fear involvement, this may be:

5. Physical fear

Physical fear is the fear of suffering painful sensations derived from a real or imaginary external stimulus . For example, fear of the doctor.

On many occasions, physical fear is difficult to control, as it can cause us to move automatically and involuntarily to dodge what is scary, "taking control of the body" for a few seconds.

6. Social fear

This type of fear occurs in response to an external stimulus that is integrated at the social level. It is characterized by situations in which the person he feels that he can be ridiculed and thinks that he will be judged and ridiculed by others . Thus, what produces fear is both the anticipation of that humiliation and the consequences that this might have in the future.

Social phobia is at the extreme of this phobia.

  • Related article: "Social phobia: what is it and how to overcome it?"

7. Metaphysical fear

Metaphysical fear is a fear that has an internal origin and it does not draw on empirical sources . It can be associated with pathologies such as endogenous depression. You can learn more about this disorder in our article: "Endogenous depression: when unhappiness comes from within"

Other types of fear

These are other kinds of fear that go beyond the categorizations we've seen.

8. Fear of uncertainty

The fear of uncertainty is a fear that It happens when we have trouble visualizing the future we want . It is also called fear of the unknown, and is intimately related to personal development. When a person feels fear of uncertainty, he does not leave his comfort zone.

  • Maybe you're interested: "How to get out of your comfort zone? 7 keys to achieve it"

9. Fear of commitment

This type of fear occurs, mainly, in relationships. Refers to the feeling or emotion of fear that it is experienced to see that one's life is given to another person . Sometimes, it happens because the person simply does not want to give their freedom, sometimes because the person has suffered in a previous love relationship and does not want to commit again.

10. Jonah Complex

The Jonah Complex is also known as fear of success. It is a term that arises from humanistic psychology , in which the person feels anxiety and panic for their own self-realization or the development of their talents.

  • Related article: "Jonas complex: the curious fear of achieving success"

11. Fear of being discovered

A fear that is characterized because the person has done something that is considered bad or illegal and, therefore, does not want to be discovered. They are experienced by liars and individuals who they have something to hide .

12. Fear of failure

Fear of failure is a type of fear that causes a lot of suffering and that is related to the expectations that a person has . It is also related to the opinion of others. They are experienced, above all, by perfectionists.

  • Recommended article: "Perfectionist personality: the disadvantages of perfectionism"

13. Fear of loneliness

The fear of loneliness is a fear experienced by the whole world, because human beings are social beings and we need others to enjoy the emotional balance necessary to face the problems that may arise in our day to day. The fear of loneliness also suffers those people who are in a relationship and do not want to stay single .

14. Fear of divorce

If the fear of loneliness refers to people who are in a couple and do not want to be alone, but there are also individuals who feel great anxiety about divorce. If the fear of loneliness is more related to an inherent feeling of the human being, the fear of divorce it relates rather to culture , with the fear of what others will think of the failure of marriage.

15. Fear of death

The fear of death is a type of fear felt by everyone. It is the fear of losing one's life , because when someone dies it is understood that it disappears forever. People often experience this fear in a timely manner or when they find themselves in a situation where their lives are in danger. In cases where this thought is constantly in the mind of a person, it often requires psychological assistance.

16. Phobias

A pathological fear that many people experience and that requires psychological treatment to be overcome are phobias. There are many types of phobias and they are also called conditioned fears.

  • If you want to delve into the different types of phobias, you can read this article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"


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