Fear is a distressing 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 chemicals that cause, among other things, the heart and breathing to speed up or the body to become tense. Fear often triggers stress response behavior and a response known as fight or flight.

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

How do the types of fear occur?

The causative stimulus can be a real or unreal thought, 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 vast 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 basis

The human brain is a deeply complex organ. More than 100 million nerve cells form an intricate communications network that is the starting point for 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 we don’t activate consciously , arises long before our reason has been able to decide anything about it. There are many brain areas related to fear. These are the most important:

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

You can go deeper into the physiological basis of fear in our article: “The physiological and psychological basis of fear”

Types of Fear

Not all people are afraid of the same stimuli, nor are the contents of all fears the same. Below you can find a list with a classification of the different types of fears :

Depending on the existence of the stimulus

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

1. Real fear

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

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

2. Unrealistic or irrational fear

Unreal fear has its origin in an imaginary, distorted and catastrophic thought . For example, the fear of speaking in public or the fear of flying. These are non-adaptive fears in which there is no real danger.

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

According to their normality

Depending on their adaptive nature, fears can be:

3. Normal fear

Normal fear is that which has an adaptive character , and presents itself to a stimulus that can be harmful to the person. It is of short duration, does not interfere with the normality of daily life and puts the individual in a state of alert. For example, when seeing a snake.

4. Pathological fear

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

According to the level of affectation

Depending on the level of affectation of the fear, this can be:

5. Physical fear

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

Physical fear is often difficult to control, as it can cause us to move automatically and involuntarily to avoid what we are afraid of, “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 socially integrated. It is characterized by those situations in which the person feels that he/she can be ridiculed and thinks he/she will be judged and ridiculed by others . Thus, what produces fear is both the anticipation of this humiliation and the consequences that it might have in the future.

Social phobia is at the extreme end of this phobia.

7. Metaphysical Fear

Metaphysical fear is a fear that has an internal origin and does not feed 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 have seen.

8. Fear of uncertainty

The fear of uncertainty is a fear that occurs when we find it difficult to visualize the future we want . It is also called fear of the unknown, and is closely related to personal development. When a person feels fear of uncertainty, he or she does not leave his or her comfort zone.

9. Fear of commitment

This type of fear occurs mainly in relationships. It refers to the feeling or emotion of fear that is experienced when one sees one’s life being given to another person . Sometimes, it occurs because the person simply does not want to give up his or her freedom, other times because the person has suffered in a previous love relationship and does not want to commit himself or herself 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 about his own self-realization or the development of his talents.

11. Fear of being discovered

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

12. Fear of failure

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

13. Fear of loneliness

The fear of loneliness is a fear experienced by everyone, because human beings are social beings and need others to enjoy the emotional balance necessary to cope with the problems that may arise in our daily lives. The fear of loneliness is also experienced by those 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 anguish about getting divorced. If the fear of loneliness is more related to an inherent human feeling, the fear of divorce is more related to culture , to the fear of what others will think of the failure of the marriage.

15. Fear of death

The fear of death is a kind of fear that everyone feels. It is the fear of losing one’s life , because when someone dies it is understood that he disappears forever. People often experience this fear on an ad hoc basis or when they find themselves in a situation where their life is in danger. In cases where this thought is constantly in a person’s mind, psychological assistance is usually required.

16. Phobias

One pathological fear that many people experience and that requires psychological treatment to overcome is phobia. There are many types of phobias and they are also often called conditioned fears.

  • If you want to go deeper into the different types of phobias, you can read this article: “Types of Phobias: Exploring Fear Disorders”