Dr Albrecht’s 5 Types of Fears—and COVID!

Tarantula One of Albrechts 5 Types of Fears

Many of our fears are basic survival and pain-avoidance. And many fears – as we also know – are literally in the mind. For example, are you creeped out by this picture of the spider?

And while it’s easy to think of individual fears and phobias, it’s hard to find a good article that helps us chunk up those fears into useful categories. If we were to group fears together – to try and understand the TYPES of fears we have, what would that look like?

Well, a favourite thinker of mine, Dr. Karl Albrecht did classify our human fears – and I thought you might find it interesting, especially in these challenging COVID times.

As you’ll see, the current COVID crisis activates 4 of the 5 types of fear below! Hopefully this will help you understand – and rationalise – your very natural fears, and realise you’re not alone!

Here are Dr. Karl Albrecht’s 5 Types of Fears:

1. Extinction

Dr. Albrecht calls this existential anxiety. It’s the panicky feeling we get when we look over the edge of a tall building, or when we think too much about getting a deadly disease (COVID perhaps?).

This is fear of annihilation – of literally ceasing to exist. It’s more than just a “fear of death” or how we might die – it strikes at the very heart of our fear that we would cease to EXIST.

Examples of triggers include: The dark, flying, heights, fatal diseases.

2. Mutilation or Bodily Invasion

The fear of losing a part of our body, having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing a natural function. This would be any fear where we feel physically unsafe or under attack. Getting the COVID virus in your system would fall under this category!

Examples of triggers include: In this pot falls our anxieties about creepy crawlies like spiders or snakes, animals like dogs or sharks – and any animal you believe to be harmful. Also anxiety about crowds, needles, germs, surgical procedures or having to make a trip to the dentist!

3. The Loss of Autonomy

The fear of being restricted, confined, trapped, suffocated. As Dr. Albrecht puts it “the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control.” When it’s a physical fear it’s called claustrophobia, but our fear of being smothered, restricted, unable to take care of ourselves or dependent on others can also apply to situations in our lives – or our relationships.

With COVID, so many people are confined to their homes – and some of those people don’t have their own gardens or backyards to go out in. So many stores are closed, and those that are open have strict and strange rules about what we can – and cannot – do. We’re not allowed to see our friends in person, touch our faces or even go to the hospital without calling first! Today, an entire ferry route – every direct sailing between the island I live on and Vancouver – has been cancelled for 60 days. While we can still travel via another route with dramatically reduced service and a change-over, wow – it makes you a little scared!

On top of this, many parents who would usually be able to go to work and drop their kids off at school, take their kids to a play-date or hire a babysitter and go out – are now at home full-time with their children. It’s a big responsibility, and may leave parents feeling frazzled – and trapped.

Examples of “normal” triggers include: Commitment, poverty, debilitating illness, aging. In addition, situations where we feel  helpless or powerless, for example at work, your boss tells you to do something you don’t want to do, and refuses to discuss it with you eg. when you have to do it or lose your job. It leaves you feeling trapped and helpless. Most parents will also feel this fear from time to time – overwhelmed, trapped and restricted, because they have a responsibility (children) that can’t be given up!

4. Separation, Abandonment or Rejection

We humans have a strong need to belong. From an evolutionary perspective, when an early human was kicked out of the tribe they would probably have died.

Dr. Albrecht specifically refers to a “…loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person – not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else.” This literally threatens our wellbeing and survival.

And this is also my biggest fear. From a young age I have feared upsetting people for fear of being rejected and/or abandoned. I even have a frightening dream where I float entirely alone in outer space, never to see another living being ever again!

And with COVID, we are ALL feeling the pain of physical separation right now. Not just our friends, but neighbours, colleagues and our wider community.

Examples of “normal” triggers include: When a relationship ends – a friendship, divorce or death of a loved one. Sometimes when a relationship ends, we also lose an extended set of friends too increasing that loss of connectedness. This type of fear can also be triggered when a relationship deepens and with that an experience of vulnerability – what happens if this person I rely on leaves me – so a fear of intimacy! An argument or disagreement with someone important to us – at home or at work. Also, have you noticed that when someone ignores us or gives us the ‘silent treatment’ this often feels worse than being yelled at? Triggers can also be less obvious – an extended separation, even voluntarily can subconsciously trigger this type of fear.

5. Humiliation, Shame or Worthlessness

Dr. Albrecht called this type of fear, “Ego-death”. We all need to feel lovable, worthy of love and of value in the world order to have healthy relationships with others – and with ourselves. Shame can be an excruciating feeling – something many of us will go great lengths to avoid. Not only can it leave us feeling physically sick, make our skin crawl or flush or in extremes give us stabbing pains, we want to crawl into a hole and disappear. When we are shamed and humiliated it can threaten or destroy our belief in our worth, our lovability and our value in the world. Without that, we are nobody. Literally. The supposed number 1 fear of public speaking would fall into this category!

Examples of triggers include: Failure, criticism, bullying, victimisation, mistakes, public speaking. There are genuine shame triggers like when we’re caught in a lie or do something considered wrong by society. But, feelings of shame and worthlessness are often triggered be an expectation of judgement or criticism (from ourselves or others) when we mess up – losing one’s job, or if we left our house unlocked and got burgled. In addition, sometimes when we are the victim – whether it’s rape, bullying or slander, we are left feeling ashamed and worthless – literally worth “less”.  Finally, depending on how sensitized we are, debilitating shame can even be triggered by seemingly small things like forgetting to send a birthday card, being told we’re selfish (whether it’s true or not!) or burning the dinner.

Can you think of a fear that wouldn’t fit under these 5 types of fears?

Dr. Albrecht believes there are ONLY these 5 types of fears! And that many of our fears are a combination of the types of fears identified above. For me, this list of the 5 types of fears seems to cover most of the fears I can think of, but…

…I wonder where our anxiety and fear of emotional pain would fit? What about when we’re afraid for our children or someone else – when we worry what would happen to them if something happened to us? What about the fear of success?

Comment below and let us know what you think, or if you can think of a fear not covered by Dr. Albrecht’s 5 types of fears.

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Image of Photo of Tarantula by JakeWilliamHeckey via PIxabay

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