Fear was once considered the human voice of reason. It may be our primal survival mechanism, but when we can’t see fear or when we feel it’s out of control, it can hinder our wellbeing and hold us back from success. The good news? Many of the types of fears that plague us today do not directly threaten our lives as they once did hundreds of years ago. (Most of us don’t have to worry about getting eaten by a lion).
Yet we still feel fear, and in some cases, it can even lead to things like specific phobias or panic disorders that can severely limit our lives. More commonly, it infiltrates our thoughts in subtle ways, making us believe we do not have a right to our dreams, our confidence, our joy, and so much more.
In this article, I’ll dig into the most common types of fear: some that people are more willing to discuss, such as fear of snakes or public speaking, and those more subtle types of fear that run much deeper, such as fear of failure or fear of rejection. I call these emotional fears.
No matter what type of fear — physical or emotional — you experience, know that you are not alone. Because feeling fear is normal. It’s part of our day-to-day lives, but we all feel it, myself included. Over the years, I’ve felt a crippling fear of being judged, fear of failure, and a fear of not being good enough. The only way I was able to overcome these fears was by identifying and acknowledging what fears were holding me back, and then, discovering a solution that makes those fears evaporate. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What Are the Most Common Phobias and Common Fears?
The word “phobia” comes from the Greek word “phobos,” which means fear. Phobias are named based on the Greek word that describes the fear along with the word “phobia.” This creates a long list of difficult-to-pronounce words that describe the specific types of fear that essentially every therapist calls a phobia.
For example, the term “glossophobia” is derived from the Greek word glōssa, meaning “tongue,” to classify a fear of public speaking. Extensive phobia lists are stored online, containing the names of hundreds of different types of phobias from the simple to the complex.
Like I said, we all experience fear in different ways, but there are many types of fears that come up over and over again. (Good news! By the end of this article, you’ll be able to distinguish between phobias and emotional fears.) Let’s start with some of the most common phobias:
- Fear of enclosed spaces: Claustrophobia
- Fear of open spaces: Agoraphobia
- Fear of flying: Aviophobia
- Fear of heights: Acrophobia
- Fear of social situations: Social phobia or social anxiety disorder
- Fear of public speaking: Glossophobia
- Fear of animals: Zoophobia
- Fear of birds: Ornithophobia
- Fear of snakes: Ophidiophobia
- Fear of spiders: Arachnophobia
- Fear of clowns: Coulrophobia
- Fear of blood: Hemophobia
- Fear of needles: Trypanophobia
- Fear of thunder: Astraphobia
- Fear of death: Thanatophobia
Holy beaners, right?
I mean, who wants to confess to their bestie that they are afraid to walk from their car to the front door because there’s a spider on the driveway (arachnophobia) and to make matters worse, it’s thundering outside (astrophobia)? Truth be told, many folks don’t like spiders, but they don’t have a phobia. Same thing with thunder. It’s scary, but it doesn’t make most people curl up in the bathtub.
This is the good news: You may have a reasonable fear of spiders, like Ron Weasley, or a fear of snakes, like Indiana Jones. These are valid and very real fears, but unless you’re an adventure-seeking archeologist, your fear of snakes likely isn’t holding you back from success at work or hindering your relationships.
But how do you tell what’s a fear and what’s a phobia?
And what about the fears people don’t want to discuss? The ones you may not even be able to identify? What I’ve seen over and over with my clients is that the most limiting fears are the ones we don’t recognize. And because when we can’t see them, we can do little about them. These are the ones keeping us from being truly happy.
10 Common Types of Fear
We’ve already discussed how fears can range in severity, simple annoyance to phobia. Yet, maybe you’re someone like my client, Samantha. What started as a common fear for her was on the way to be a phobia. She discovered that in specific situations, her anxiety could quickly escalate into a full-on panic attack. Left untreated, that could have become a disorder that might have plagued her for the rest of her life. (Don’t worry. We got her sorted!)
By the way, do you ever feel anxious? If you do, be sure to keep reading, because I’ve got something that will help. And in the meantime, since we’re talking about anxiety and phobias, let’s be sure you’re centered before you read on. Go ahead and take a nice deep breath to ground yourself.
Great work! Now, the good news…
Most of us don’t have phobias, let alone disorders, but we do have emotional fears that negatively impact our lives. They can cause us to be disappointed in ourselves, frustrated with our efforts, and even forfeit our dreams.
Sure, simple fears showing up like mild anxiety or worry once and a while can be managed on your own or with help from friends or family or even a good support group.
But if those simple fears are not so simple to let go of, a life coach may be your best bet to move you from surviving to thriving and as we say in Fearless Living, “live the life your soul intended™.” But if your fear does turn into a phobia, you may need to seek help from a health professional, like a therapist or psychologist.
Now, let’s get to the 10 common fears that are what I call “emotional fears.”
Why are emotional fears important?
Because when you have a fear of failure, let’s say, there is no spider to squash like in fear of spiders. Failure is a concept, a belief, something that you learned or took on from your past experiences, your family heritage, or even from your DNA (more about that later).
So when you say I’m afraid to fail, there is no THING like spiders or thunderstorms, the fear of failure is an emotional one. It could show up as palms sweating or rapid-fire negative self-talk. But it has no common THING to point to. Fear of failure may show up as avoiding anything that even whiffs of so-so success while for another, it may show up as aggression towards the thing it believes is stopping them from succeeding.
It’s why some people lash out when their emotional fears are triggered, while others hide out and deny what’s happening. We all process fear differently. (More on that later. Whew, we have a lot to cover! Don’t worry, it’ll fly by.)
Just like all of the 10 emotional fears I’m sharing with you today, these fears cut to the heart of our humanity. These fears must be faced, embraced, and integrated into our being. Otherwise, those emotional fears will cause us to make the decisions we do (or don’t) leading us further away from our destiny.
Okay, here goes…
1. Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is one of the most common fears that may keep you from believing you’re capable of achieving success at all. It was THE big one for my client, Kathy. Until she began facing her fear of failure, she avoided anything that wasn’t a guaranteed win and that meant taking little or no risks.
The fear stopped her from writing the book that she “knew” she should and from switching companies as a realtor. But while she could manage her fear at work — she could sense when her clients were getting irritated with her perfectionism so she’d take a breath and let the flowers they picked up at the local grocery store be “good enough” — that same fear would stop any of her own dreams dead in their tracks.
People living with atychiphobia (that’s the fancy word that therapists made up for the emotional fear called Fear of Failure) see their failures as the result of deep, unfixable flaws within themselves, making it extremely difficult to take failures in stride and learn from mistakes. But Kathy discovered that when she was able to see her fear of failure for what it was, and know what to do about it, she could move beyond it.
Now, Kathy is writing the book that was in heart and seeing the beauty of flowers no matter what store they come from. (By the way, flowers at my local Ralph’s are gorgeous!)
2. Fear of Loss
Fear of loss is a rampant confidence killer because it can apply to many different areas of our lives. We can fear losing our income, our home, our friends, our kids, our intimate relationship, our identity, our health, our power, our youth, our creativity, our quick wit, our fancy car, and so much more.
When we move to another city, turn 50, or find ourselves in the hospital, loss lives in the fabric of those experiences. If we want to feel alive and engage in life, we cannot turn away from the richness of those transitions. Yet, this “emotional” fear may prevent us from seeking out new opportunities or tell us to fight against the inevitable or even the desirable because — it whispers — we could lose what we already have, what we already know, who we already are
Fear of loss can also lead us to what so many call self-sabotage. Fear convinces us that the person we love will leave us or our boss will fire us, so we start behaving like it’s inevitable, committing acts that will ultimately lead to our termination or the end of our relationship.
Fear of loss is more common than people realize, because loss is part of any change. And that loss is something most of us try to deny, ignore or avoid, especially if we’ve trained ourselves to be positive. Yet, loss is a path we must all walk. By moving through loss awake and aware, we can heal ourselves on a deeper and more profound level. This allows us to finally live in the present, release expectations, and make decisions that align with where we want to go and who we want to be. We know loss is part of that process.
A final note on fear of loss: I see the healing of our fear of loss as a spiritual calling, an experience we must accept or our aliveness will diminish. (It’s also a part of what’s called “the dark night of the soul.”) Therefore, loss must never be denied, but instead, embraced.
3. Fear of Change
Although change is constant, many of us fear it. There are a number of reasons why someone might fear change. For example, it could be because you lack confidence in yourself and your abilities, because you fear change may alienate you from your friends and family, or because you don’t trust yourself and your decisions. Regardless of what causes a fear of change, your first step is learning HOW to change. This is where most people get stuck.
People who are afraid of change “think” about change but they don’t know what actions to take or who to ask for help. They may even be aware that they must change to stop their marriage from failing or their kids from disowning them. But because they aren’t sure what steps to take to get from here to there, their mind swirls with “what-if’s” keeping them frozen in the same place.
Knowing versus doing are most evident in the fear of change because those who have it know a lot, but they do not take the risks necessary to make change happen. Their thinking gets them no further forward. In fact, it keeps them stuck in the heartbreaking place of knowing what they need to do but being unwilling to do it.
4. Fear of Intimacy
There are a few different aspects to a fear of intimacy. Yes, there are those of us living with an intense fear of being touched or a fear of sexual intimacy. But fear of intimacy is broader than physical connection. It refers to the fear of revealing our inner selves — our thoughts, feelings, fears, and vulnerabilities — to another human being, whether that’s to friends, family, or a romantic partner. Yet, intimacy is required for love to flourish and meets our need for connection and belonging.
Connection and belonging are embedded in our biology and are basic needs that must be met in order for us to thrive as human beings. Then, why do we push away the intimacy so many of us are dying for?
One reason may be we fear we’re unlovable so we avoid revealing ourselves, usually when we most desperately want to, or when love is standing right in front of us. Or we could be afraid of being hurt — that love won’t last, that we’ll be betrayed or abandoned, that love will turn into a negative, disempowering experience. Yet, the only way to experience true intimacy is to face that fear and do the very thing we are afraid to do — reveal ourselves.
5. Fear of Being Judged
When we feel judged, it feels like we’re unliked. I struggled with judgment for much of my life. I worried people judged me for my past, my education, my looks, and anything else you can imagine.
People who are afraid of judgment often hide who they really are to avoid being embarrassed or feeling foolish. Fear of being judged can lead people down an ugly rabbit hole, wondering what others think of them. It can also lead to unhealthy perfectionism in order to prevent judgment. But, no matter how hard you try to be perfect, there are people who may still judge you. The key is believing in yourself and understanding your own worth irrespective of what anyone else might think or say about you.
6. Fear of Success
We want to be successful in our love lives; we want to be successful at work; we want to be successful parents — the list goes on and on. Success feels good. The trouble is, whose idea of success are we trying to fulfill? Is it our parents’ idea of success? Our partner’s? Having a fear of success means we know we have what it takes to reach our goals, which is a beautiful thing.
But you’re not doing it. You’re living in a fantasy future. You’re obsessed with results, just like I have been. We can see our future, but our dream is so big that it’s actually holding us back from getting started. So, we self-sabotage, give up on our dream, and forget about forward movement.
And we secretly fear that if we do become successful, we won’t be able to keep it up. We think we’ll be that one-hit wonder who never is successful again. This is why one of the most telling signs of a fear of success is a lack of responsibility towards one’s dreams. We can be responsible to others but not to ourselves when it comes to something we’re doing just for us.
7. Fear of the Unknown: Xenophobia
“Xenophobia” comes from the Greek word “xenos” (foreigner or stranger.) It’s often used to describe a racist or bigoted attitude, as in, “Archie Bucker is a xenophobe.” However, few people realize that the term also has a larger context that applies to any time you step outside of your comfort zone. If you have an intense fear of new experiences and situations, you may suffer from xenophobia, though today, it’s more likely to be classified as fear of the unknown.
And we all have it. I haven’t met a person who doesn’t have some measure of anxiety or concern about the unknown. Why do you think so many people try to control their environments and their outcomes?
Yet, fear of the unknown must be faced in order to live a life lived on purpose, with purpose, because being comfortable in the unknown is required to experience true personal and spiritual freedom.
8. Fear of Loneliness
Here’s the truth: Everyone gets lonely. It’s a fact of life. Fear of loneliness can really begin to obstruct our lives when we start making decisions based on that loneliness. I’m talking about getting involved in relationships with people who don’t share our values and probably don’t treat us very well. Ask yourself — do you feel extremely needy around others? Do you feel society has rejected you? Do you make long-term decisions based upon getting acceptance from others? Is social media standing in for real human connections in your life? If so, a fear of loneliness could be hindering your well-being.
9. Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection involves being hyper-conscious of what people think about you, leading you to adapt your personality and opinions to fit the environment or social group you believe you’re interacting with. Someone living with a fear of rejection will be easily intimidated and uncomfortable being vulnerable with others for fear of being laughed at and ridiculed. Yet, most of the thoughts and beliefs causing the fear of rejection are based on illusions or unhealed past experiences that must be confronted in order to discern what’s truth versus a story we’re making up about a particular situation.
Someone turns away while you’re talking to them at a party. If you have a fear of rejection, you may interpret that as a rejection. But that person may be turning away based on their own uncomfortableness, or they may be lost in their own thoughts. Their act of turning away may have nothing to do with you personally but your fear of rejection stops you from speaking up and asking questions. Because fear of rejection has a tendency to halt a free flow of communication; it stifles even the most wanted relationship. It’s why fear of rejection can seriously hold you back in your career and with your friendships and romantic relationships.
10. Fear of Not Being Good Enough
This is a big one. I think of this fear as the one that all others lean on because it’s so pervasive and infects our whole lives. And it’s the one fear most people will cop to.
Have you ever wondered if you’re good enough? It could be you’re not pretty enough, young enough, strong enough, smart enough, and the list goes on and on. Everyone has an area of their lives where they feel like they’re not enough. I certainly do. And it’s easy to blame ourselves for whatever it is we feel like we’re missing.
The thing is, I actually believe the fear of not being good enough is one of our most common fears. And it can become our excuse and our validation of why we aren’t living our best lives.
It’s also the answer I get more frequently when I’m working one-on-one with a client as they are discovering their personalized Wheel of Fear. When we talk about fears, most people say some version of “I’m not good enough.” My answer to them is always the same. Fear of not being good enough is the generic version of your fear. But your fear is specific and particular to you. And that’s when their eyes get wide, our work gets deep and we discover their unique Wheel of Fear and Wheel of Freedom.
How To Overcome Your Fears
Fears are not constant, but no matter what type of fear you suffer from, there are techniques, strategies, and mindsets that can help you overcome your fears.
The good news is that most of the time, our fears haven’t developed into phobias. However, almost everyone has one of the emotional fears above, even if it’s to a mild degree. And, it still takes a lot of work not to let those fears run your life.
The good news is you don’t have to live with fear forever. But you do have to take the first step and that’s deciding you want to do something about it.
Have Compassion For Yourself and Others
Compassion is one of our highest values at Fearless Living, and we know it’s harder to give compassion to yourself than any other person. Yet, to move beyond fear, you must have compassion for yourself first. Yes, you need to be honest with yourself about the work in front of you. But without a compassionate lens, that honesty just feels mean. When you add in compassion, you’re able to be honest with yourself without judgment and be willing to hold yourself accountable for your own progress.
Everyone is on their own journey, which is why compassion is so important to the process. Forgive yourself for being a flawed human. It’s not your fault that these fears drive your life — you probably just didn’t know how to kick them out of the car. So be kind in your self-talk. When you feel yourself getting down on yourself for not making the progress you want to make, take a deep breath and say, “I am enough.”
Be compassionate to others as well. This will go a long way in helping you connect and communicate with, even if you think they’re judging you. This, in turn, will help you move beyond limiting fears like fear of judgment, loneliness, rejection, or forgiveness.
Another word to use to help you give yourself a big dose of compassion is gentle. It’s a word that makes most of my students throw up at first because gentle can feel like I’m asking you to be weak. But being gentle is anything but weak. In fact, it takes a heartful human being with a ton of grit to be gentle with themselves.
Working through your fears is draining. It challenges you to resist all of your core patterns and trust that you can find new ones. This emotional labor can burn you out if you aren’t careful. And if you get too tired, too frustrated, too impatient with your progress, you’re actually more vulnerable to your fears.
So take care of yourself. Eat when you’re hungry, take deep breaths or a walk when you’re angry, sleep when you’re tired, and talk to friends when you’re lonely. You need to take care of yourself — always. And this is the foundation for any other work with fear.
Learn To Identify Your Emotions, React Smarter, and Recover Your Core Self
Just like no one used to have a word for the color blue, many people only have a few words to describe their emotions, like the characters of “Inside Out”: Sadness, Anger, Joy, and Disgust are the only ones seen making emotional decisions.
Actually, we have hundreds of nuanced emotions — like dismay, longing, restlessness, and contentment. We just lack the vocabulary to describe them. But once we expand that vocabulary, practice using those words to identify our emotions, we start to see what’s driving those emotions and learn to regulate them. In fact, neuroscience has now identified your ability to name and claim all those nuanced emotions as the one of the keys to emotional health and self-mastery.
For instance, when I pause to identify my anxiety, I can see I’m feeling anxious that I won’t finish my work by 5 pm. If I pause for longer, I know it’s coming from my Wheel of Fear (my core fear is I’m afraid to be seen as a loser) and that fear’s not rooted in reality. No one is about to fire me or yell at me for not working hard enough. Then, I can choose not to continue working frantically. I can take a break and slow down.
That’s emotional mastery. That’s freedom.
During the Wheel of Fear process I teach in Fearless Living, I help you discover your core fear that drives you. That way, it can’t trick you any longer. Then, we focus on the parts that you’ve left behind while letting your fears drive — grace, playfulness, authenticity, etc. We’ve often jeopardized our most precious attributes in service of our fears. For example, maybe a fear of being judged made you take yourself too seriously, so you lost your playfulness.
Leaning on those will help you move ahead.
Rewire Your Neurobiology
It can be easy to get attached to your fears. They’ve been with you for a long time, and while you don’t like them, you feel comfortable with them. Fear exists to keep you alive, and emotional fears are built from learning to survive a past situation. And with this mentality, you always have the ability to not face your fears.
The only way to change this is to change your perspective and understand that you are most likely no longer threatened by the things, situations, abandonment, loss of control. If you’re not sure this is true, have an honest talk with yourself. If your partner leaves, will you be able to take care of your own needs and find other emotional connections? The answer is likely yes.
Unless you see your fears plainly and recognize they are built on our life stories, not objective truth, and that you are capable, accepted, loved, and skilled, it’s very difficult to overcome them and stop being a victim.
If you’re working with a therapist, they may assign you types of exposure therapies for handling phobias. In exposure therapy, you intentionally experience your phobia head-on. Well, we do a version of the same thing in coaching. We may not have you handle snakes — that’s a phobia that’s beyond our skill set, but we do have you practice. And practice is one of the common ways we “expose” you to growth.
For instance, if you have a fear of public speaking or being judged while speaking, you would try reading something aloud to a trusted family member. Once that began to feel comfortable, you’d add another trusted audience member and so-forth. And soon, who knows, you could be starting your own YouTube channel.
Note: If you have an anxiety or panic disorder, don’t attempt this on your own. You should seek out a health professional or a life coach who can guide you in your exposure therapy treatment. I also advise seeking the support of friends and family as it feels helpful during the process.
You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
A good life coach can help you identify and learn from your fears. They will guide you in your journey, giving you the tools and resources you need to finally face fear instead of allowing it to control your life. A coach will help you leave your limiting beliefs behind, freeing you from fear and empowering you to become your best self.
Get started with my Fearless Living Training Program, which helps people just like you overcome the hidden fears that rule our lives. Fear is keeping you from realizing your wild, fantastic, and out of this world dreams. It’s time to be brutally honest with yourself. What types of fear are guiding your decisions? What core negative feelings are holding your back? We’ll figure that out and get you on your way to overcoming fear.
Get Started With Fearless Living
Do you procrastinate? Not trust your decisions? Worry about the future? Fear failure? Remember: Fear wears many coats and could be sneakily disguised as negative thoughts feeling you’re undeserving, insecurity about your future, or lack of motivation. Fear is holding you back — and it’s dominating more of your life than you may realize.
It’s time to overcome your fear and break free from the hidden patterns that are holding you back. My 10-week Fearless Living program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear. It will help you base your life on what you want, instead of avoiding what you’re afraid of. Stop the invisible patterns that are holding you back! Escape your inner critic! And shoot for the stars!