1. Fear of death
Situation. Andrey, 32, has a very busy period at work. After an unpleasant conversation with the leader, he went out into the corridor and felt a strong heartbeat. Andrey suddenly remembered that his grandfather had died of a heart attack, and was very scared that he would die now. These attacks of rapid heart rate and panic began to recur daily. Examination of doctors showed that he was completely healthy.
Expert comment: This is a basic fear, closely related to many others – fear of war, illness, helplessness … But the reasons that aggravate it may be different. In the situation with Andrey, the fear of death triggered the accumulated stress. Fatigue and overexertion often cause strong feelings that a person may consider a sign of a dangerous illness.
Experiencing tragic events or the strong reaction of someone close to death also triggers this fear. Most often this happens to people with whom in childhood and adolescence they did not talk about illness and dying. The child has a need to be explained what death is, and that it will inevitably have to be accepted. Without such experience, it will be difficult for a person to come up with a concept in adulthood that will help him come to terms with it.
There are very few mechanisms in our life that save us from the fear of death, one of them is religion. Therefore, today, when people are not characterized by truly deep faith, this fear increases.
The task of the psychotherapist: Help the client accept reality and adequately perceive possible risks. That is, to distinguish between situations that are deadly and those that are not so scary. For example, for someone who is afraid of crashing on an airplane, it is important to show how small the likelihood of such death is.
2. Fear of failure
Situation. Olga, 43, does her best at work, and then does household chores until late and helps the children with lessons. She strives to be a better mother, a wonderful wife and a responsible employee. And she is very much afraid that something will not work out for her and she will make a mistake somewhere. She fears that she will make a mistake and will be fired for it. Sometimes she thinks that because she is a “bad” mother (although she actually pays a lot of attention to her children), her children will grow up with psychological problems and will be unsuccessful in life.
Expert comment: Perfectionism is usually behind this fear. Such a person has been oriented by his parents to achieve high results from childhood. But some in adolescence themselves come to this idea: “If I am successful, achieve a lot in life, I will feel good and will be needed by other people.”
Often such a person wants to be the best in everything at once, which means that his anxiety about not coping with something increases many times over. Unfortunately, perfectionism has a lot of sociocultural support. Fear of failure is one of the consequences of a competitive culture, a problem in big cities where the strongest survive.
The task of the psychotherapist: Reduce the client’s level of perfectionism, help him notice and appreciate his intermediate achievements. An extreme perfectionist usually thinks in terms of “everything” – “nothing”, “winner” – “loser”, so it is important for him to learn to set realistic goals and realize that one project can be successful and the other not.
3. Fear of loneliness
Situation. Nadezhda, 30 years old, has a young man. She doesn’t like him too much, but she is very afraid that she will not marry, will not have children and will be left alone. Therefore, she clings to this relationship with all her might, is ready to put up with what does not suit her. When a partner yells at her and raises her hand, she forgives him. Upon learning of his betrayal, she thought that the problem was her and she should show more care and attention so that her partner would not leave her.
Expert comment: The pressure of the family and society plays a huge role here: have you not yet given birth, are you another one? But there is another root – the broken attachment in the early relationship with the mother, the fear of abandonment, due to which the person gets involved in a relationship that does not suit him. He does not believe that he can find something better and that he is able to keep other people close to him.
The task of the psychotherapist: Strengthening self-esteem. A person who accepts himself and is confident in his abilities is more calm about the pressure of public opinion, he can refuse a relationship in which he feels bad and wait for another meeting.
4. Fear of uncertainty
Situation. Elena, 49 years old, fears that the economic situation will worsen even more, and she will not be able to give children a good education, and she is also afraid that something will happen to the children, constantly calls them and sends messages.
She also worries about health problems for which she does not understand. She constantly thinks that something will happen to her apartment, and returns home if it seems to her that she forgot to turn off the gas. Thoughts constantly revolve in her head, in which she sees the catastrophic outcome of any situation.
Expert comment: Anxiety before the future is familiar to everyone, it is especially strong in our country. But some of us are ready to recognize it as an inevitable part of life, while for others the state of uncertainty is unbearable. Everything that such a person deals with becomes a reason for new fears.
Uncertainty tolerance is (not) developed in childhood. A calm adult will say: “Well, nothing will be, it will be so.” Anxious parents, on the other hand, tend to panic and plan hard. When some of their plans are thwarted, the course of life collapses. Usually, the child learns the parent’s reaction to something unexpected.
The task of the psychotherapist: Help the client accept uncertainty in general. Such people are very restless, they endlessly ponder all possible solutions to the problem, which only worsens their condition. The psychologist teaches them to think rationally: “Can I change the situation? Then I change it. I can’t – then I try not to think about it. ” In working with this fear, mindfulness techniques (a type of meditation) are also useful, which allow you to stay in the “here and now” and not look into the future.
5. Fear of losing control
Situation. During a working dispute, Mikhail, 35, had the feeling that he would jump up and hit a colleague. After that, he began to fear all his negative emotions. As soon as anger rises in him, a picture immediately appears in his mind that now he will not be able to restrain himself and will hit the interlocutor. This thought becomes so intrusive that it increasingly prevents him from communicating with others.
Expert comment: Such a person does not see the difference between emotions and behavior. Most likely, in childhood, his parents strictly forbade him to show negative emotions, and the child did not learn to grasp the gradation of feelings and actions. He does not understand that it is possible to get angry, but this will not lead to a loss of control over himself.
When faced with strong emotions in adulthood, he experiences intense fear and tries to suppress any negative impulses and thoughts. A person may feel that he wants to throw himself in front of a train – and stops going into the subway in fear that he will do it. But in reality, such impulses almost never lead to a loss of control. A person who actually tends to lose control does not care about it at all.
The task of the psychotherapist: Change behavior, not thinking. The psychologist conducts experiments that show the client: no matter how afraid he is of losing control, no matter what terrible thoughts come to his head, on purpose he cannot lose it. Gradually, a person learns to distinguish between these things.
6. Fear of fear
Situation. Vasily, 41, suffered from panic disorder and was afraid of dying of a heart attack. Now, after examinations and detailed explanations from doctors, he understands that he will not die. But at the same time, all the symptoms of panic persist – the heart is pounding, the head is spinning, the palms are sweating. As a result, Vasily began to fear the very manifestations of anxiety. He doesn’t even have a clear picture of what will happen, but this state is simply intolerable.
Expert comment: Everyone has their own sensitivity to anxiety. Some people tolerate it relatively easily, while in others, the physical manifestations of anxiety can quickly trigger panic attacks. It is very important for such a person to listen to himself and when signs of “first level” fear appear, try to deal with it as soon as possible in order to prevent the escalation of the problem.
The task of the psychotherapist: Show the client experimentally that he can tolerate his fear. For example, there is a special exercise called “hyperventilation” – very fast and deep breathing, which causes physically extremely unpleasant symptoms, similar to very intense fear – palpitations, dizziness, sweating.
Having artificially caused a state of fear in the client, the psychologist asks not to do anything. Together they watch the reaction calm down and nothing terrible happens. After regular training, a person gradually gets used to the feeling of fear.
About the expert
Yakov Kochetkov – clinical psychologist, candidate of biological sciences, director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy, chief consultant of the private clinic Udensroze in Latvia.