Universal Fears: 5 Primal Phobias in Humans

universal human fears

As humans, we all have different fears. But there are some fears that resonate with all of us. These are known as universal fears or primal fears. A lot of the fears we have as humans will fall into one of these categories. And biologically, these phobias make sense.

We experience fear so that we can survive. Fear is like an alarm. When it senses danger, it makes a big noise and causes a massive scene so that you can prepare for escape. It sends hormones pumping through your body, actives your sympathetic nervous system and gives you all you need to not die.

It can be useful for someone with anxiety to understand these fears and where they come from.

What is Fear?

Fear is essentially not wanting something terrible to happen. When we are afraid, it is because we are concerned something terrible will happen, whether it’s to us or those around us.

This concept of ‘something bad’ differs from person to person. Something that may not be bad to other people may be terrible for us. For example, the sound of a balloon popping may not phase some people, while others flinch whenever they go near a balloon.

Where Do Our Fears Come From?

Fears and our perception of them develop from our experiences, culture, history, and context. The first time we experience fear is when we are children. When we’re young, we get taught by our parents about things we should fear.

From there, we learn from what we see, hear and experience what we should be afraid of. We form memories and experience things that can become fears. We learn to be fearful of things we cannot control.

universal fears

Different Types of Fears

In their most simple form, there are two types of fear: rational fears and irrational fears.

Rational fear is when the intensity of the fear is in line with the potential danger. A rational fear makes sense objectively.

Irrational fears are common in people with anxiety disorders. They occur when the intensity of the fear doesn’t correlate with the potential threat. An irrational fear doesn’t make sense to anyone but the person who is afraid. This doesn’t mean other people won’t understand or share your worries. But there is still no logical, rational reason for you to be scared of them, yet you are.

Having these fears doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It just means something happened to you that made you afraid. For example, here are a few of my irrational fears:

  • Vomiting
  • Open spaces
  • Closed spaces
  • Being lost
  • Abandonment
  • A panic attack that never ends

Fear and Anxiety

When you’ve got an anxiety disorder, your biological fear alarm clock gets a bit confused. It starts going off a lot more than it needs to. But there is a way to turn it off or at least hit snooze for a bit. Unfortunately, there isn’t a big snooze button for you to tap. It takes some time to learn how to calm your mind, master your anxiety and turn your alarm off.

Fear is normal. Everyone gets afraid, and fear is a healthy biological response to things that could be dangerous.

Fear is felt both emotionally and physically, which can then trigger an anxious response. This is why when we face the things we fear, it can lead to a panic attack. Sometimes, fear cripples you. It makes anxiety worse, it triggers depression and it makes for a really shitty life.

You can even get to the point where you become afraid of your own fear. It’s a vicious cycle that won’t end until you choose to end it. Conquering your fears is one of the most empowering and life-changing things you can do. But it’s also one of the most challenging.

To beat your fears, you have to face your fears and accept them. You don’t have to conquer all your fears, just the irrational ones, the ones that stop you from living the life you want.

human fear alarm

Basic Human Fears

Even though all of us fear different things, there are a few primal fears that all humans share. Most of these are rational but within each fear, irrational fears can develop. Dr. Karl Albrecht breaks fear down into five different types.

  • Fear of Extinction
  • Fear of Mutilation
  • Loss of Autonomy
  • Fear of Separation
  • Fear of Ego Death

A few of these common human fears should resonate with you.

Fear of Extinction

This is the fear of no longer being around—the fear of dying or ceasing to exist. As soon as we realize we are alive, we become aware that we can die. People who are afraid of things like heights, illness, or the ocean, have a fear of extinction.

fear of extinction

Fear of Mutilation

Anything that could change our body in any way falls under fear of mutilation. It involves losing any part of our bodily structure. Anything that could invade our body can stimulate this fear.

It can be triggered by something small like needles or something larger like losing a limb. It can also be a fear of animals like dogs, spiders, mice, etc.

fear of mutilation

Loss of Autonomy

As humans, we value our freedom and control of that freedom. The fear of being unable to do something causes us to be afraid.

It can appear as a fear of being paralyzed, overwhelmed, imprisoned, smothered, trapped or even the fear of being restrained. It is the fear of being controlled by external circumstances, people, illnesses, or things around us.

Claustrophobia also forms a part of this fear category, as does fear of intimacy or commitment.

fear of intimacy

Fear of Separation

Humans aren’t meant to be alone. We are social creatures, so the thought of isolation and separation from things we care about is terrifying.

After we are separated from our mothers at birth, we spend the rest of our lives trying to find a replacement.

This phobia shows up in fear of abandonment, rejection, and losing loved ones. It’s that nagging voice inside of you saying that nobody loves you or would notice if you were gone.

fear of seperation

Fear of Ego-Death

The fear of embarrassing yourself is known as ego death. It is anything that could cause the integrity of the self to be damaged.

It’s why we avoid things that might cause us shame. And why we care so much about what others might think of us. Fear of ego-death includes anything that threatens our identity and who we are.

fear of ego death

What do Humans Fear the Most?

Fear is normal. We all have it, and it helps keep us alive. But what we fear the most depends on who we are and our experiences (as do our trauma responses) To understand anxiety and fear, it is useful for us to look into where our fears come from and what they are trying to tell us. From there, we can begin to conquer them. One way to break through the barriers holding you back, is through the FEAR acronym

What rational and irrational things are you afraid of? Let us know in the comments.

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