The other night, while I was trying to sleep, I started thinking about the post I wrote last week where I stated that hatred is driven – at its core – by a fear of death. I couldn’t shake the idea that I was missing something fundamental. Naturally this started to make me feel a little anxious. Which then got me thinking, why I am feeling so anxious? I’m just thinking.
Anyway, I placed my mind on that fear and I asked, ‘what do you want me to figure out?’ Then something clicked. Everything I’d read, all the research I’d done came into focus and the penny dropped, and I thought, ‘holy shit, all fear is a fear of death. That’s what you’re feeling. That’s why it’s so intense. It’s simply a trick. An illusion played by the mind to keep you, and those you love, alive.’
Immediately I started thinking about the implications this simplicity of thought might have. How we could use it to see through and conquer our fears. But also help those consumed by theirs. So I got up and started hashing out my argument (no I didn’t sleep well that night). And well, here’s the result.
Anyway, let me start with a little biology lesson to explain my line of thinking.
The Biology Of Fear
From a biological perspective the purpose of life is life itself. That all our emotions – the full kaleidoscope of experience – can be explained, broadly speaking, by two things. The first is survival (protecting our life and those we love.) Enter fear. The second is procreation and the raising/nurturing of offspring. Enter love.
Now, to forget love for a second (Say what?), let’s talk amount the most important of these two emotional forces – fear (Oh no you didn’t!).
Inside your brain are two little nuggets called your amygdalas. These naughty little nuggets are, biologically speaking, responsible for all of your emotional suffering. This is because they activate something called your fight, flight or freeze response system. And this has everything to do with your survival. (They love you really.)
What those naughty nuggets do when they detect, what they believe to be, a serious threat to your life, is they shut off the rational part of your brain (your frontal lobes). When this happens the only thing your brain becomes interested in is your survival. And it uses the fear of death to drive your actions. Telling you to either run for the hills (fear under flight), tread carefully (anxiety under freeze), or fight for your life (anger or hate under fight). That is what fear is, in essence. Fear is a fear of death. I say that because these responses are based on keeping you alive.
This is why I believe fear, anxiety, anger and hate, are such intense emotions. Why we have a million and one different addictions and mental illnesses in our attempts to deal with them. We are dealing with a fear of death under different guises. And that is no small thing.
The Link To Death
One of the problems I believe we have is we don’t link our fear to death. We lack the awareness. I believe this is partly because our rational minds and ancient emotional response system aren’t of the same era (your naughty nuggets are part of the limbic system which comprises the oldest part of your brain), but mainly because the ego doesn’t want us to figure this out. It’s a deliberate illusion. After all it’s not terribly useful to psychoanalyse your fear when face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger!
But you’re not actually sacred of the tiger (you are, but hear me out). No, you’re afraid of one thing and one thing alone: death. What your brain has done is attach the fear of death to that animal, thing or situation. That’s why everything scares us to death. Because we are. That’s what drives us at our core. This is also why, in the pecking order of love and fear, fear comes first (why we have something called a negativity bias). Of course this sucks the big one, however the logic makes good sense. You must first survive before you can thrive. Before you can use your big one!
In the case of a sabre-toothed tiger the link is obvious. Much like a fear of heights. However others things are much harder to link. Like onomatophobia – a fear of names. (Yeah, for real Bob.) Most often they’re rooted in our unique childhood traumas as part of our attempt to win the love of our parents who weren’t forthcoming with it (which we needed for survival). Other things are less obvious on the surface but make good sense when you consider our ancestry basically roamed around as tribes for millions of years.
It’s worth stressing that when it comes to our emotions we are working with a Palaeolithic operating system. One that’s millions of years in the making based on what the world was like for us for the vast majority of that time. It’s not well adapted to modern life.
How To Conquer That Fear
So now you’re thinking, “Ok Sherlock, now that you’ve made me aware that my crippling anxiety is actually a fear of death underneath, how is this suppose to help me?”
Because now you can ask yourself a couple of important questions. The first is obvious. Is your life really at risk? To use public speaking as an example, is getting up on stage really going to end in death? No, of course not. Then are your feelings rational or irrational? We know the answer to this of course. Now we have awareness on our side. Suddenly it’s clear as day. Now you can look through it because you understand why the feeling is so intense.
That is a good reason to show those feelings love and compassion. That is a good reason to tell yourself it’s ok. And now you can remind yourself what your higher purpose is. What your loving motives are for standing up on that stage. And suddenly that fear starts to loosen its grip.
This allows your naughty little nuggets to calm down, which allows your frontal lobes to come back online. What you’re doing is placing your emotions back in the passenger seat of your car as opposed to the drivers seat. Which is exactly where you want them (except when your life really is threatened.) And so you go ahead and make most passionate speech of your life.
What you’ve done is used love for the purpose it was intended, to overcome your own fear of death. Not only that, you’ve just told yourself you conquered a fear of death which is massive.
Now, here’s where I address the large Woolly Mammoth in the cave room: If a fear of death comes first in the order of our emotional makeup, then perhaps all of our emotions stem from it, including love? And if you think that’s a rather dark hypothesis to end, I would counter by saying how beautifully poetic I believe that is.
Love was nature’s antidote to prevent our own fears from destroying ourselves. It was designed to give us the courage to overcome our fear of death to protect our offspring. To protect our tribe. To protect our larger self.
In an increasingly interconnected world I believe we must use that to cultivate and serve a higher purpose that includes all life on this planet. We must use that to overcome – quite literally- our own fear of death in order to do so. I fear if we don’t, that fear, will consume us all.
Thanks for reading everyone. So what do you think? Are our fears simply a fear of death underneath? And is love the antidote to those fears by design? Thoughts and opinions keenly anticipated. Warm regards, AP2 🙏
You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com
145 thoughts on “Why Everything Scares You To Death”
this makes sense. I could not sleep for How many nights already… Thank you for this:)
You are a Buddha in enlightenment. Well conjured thoughts.
Thank you 🙏
The older I get, the more I think about death so what you say makes sense.
Love is much more complicated than death. Though feared, death is unavoidable and undeniable. It doesn’t matter whether we accept it or not, we’re heading towards it. Love is abstract and governed by many variables. Is it true, is it false? Is it based on desires or can it surpass a conscious level of thinking? I think this is an antidote that needs much research. Would love to have you dissect this and read your thoughts on it. Great post!
Completely agree. Both fear and love are much more complicated than death. The way I look it (and this is a gross over simplification) all of our emotional responses can all be traced to one or both of these two encompassing emotions. Fear is based on survival. Love is about protection, nurturing and reproduction (it’s complicated – of course – not just about one thing).
To go further I would say most
of emotions we deem “negative” – as in they feel bad (not that they are bad) – can be placed under the umbrella of survival (or fear). This includes, anxiety, anger, envy, hatred, etc. On the flip side we can say all the emotions we deem “positive” (as in they feel good) can be placed under the umbrella of procreation and the nurturing of offspring (love). This includes, kindness, compassion, courage etc. There are expectations of course (for example, hope on one side, and grief on the other. Also happiness falls on both sides – short term happiness that we associate with accumulating material goods on the side of survival, and longer term (meaningful) happiness that falls under love).
Anyway what I’ve been trying to do is understand our emotional makeup by going to their root. So I asked myself what’s the very first emotion – the deepest emotion that drives us at our core? Why do we have a negativity bias? Why are we seemingly so consumed by our fears? When we trace our evolution backwards I believe we can place a direct fear of death – survival at the root of all our emotions. I say this because it has to come first. We have to survive before we can love. A baby comes out of the womb crying. They are crying for survival. It’s love that answers the call.
I believe the very first microorganisms were coded with one algorithm: survive. From them evolved all life on earth as we know it. Ultimately for life to survive reproduction was necessary. But it can’t stop at reproduction. We need the next generation to both survive and thrive – love was designed for this purpose in my eyes (again all of that is a gross oversimplification – but I think simplicity of thought that comes for deep thinking is useful).
Thank you leaving such a thoughtful comment. I hope this helps explain my line of thinking a little better. I agree more research is required. Wishing you well 🙏
Thank you so much for taking out the time to reply. YES, it’s all about survival. The want of feeling protected, the need of fighting for a place in this world. Fear like other emotions is natural, circumstantial, situational and conditioned. Survival can be basic or complex based upon what we classify as necessary. Survival is the core of existence even though its merely a journey towards the end. But a worthy ending isn’t possible without all the good and bad emotions driving us back and forth. Thanks for this enlightening and heartening reply. Wish you well too.
Hi AP2, you put excellent effort into this post, and those of us that read your work certainly benefited.
Your hypothesis; “Love was nature’s antidote to prevent our own fears from destroying ourselves” is, in my opinion, undeniable truth. I have two questions for you. How do I find ‘love’ that will overcome my fear of death? What are your views on faith (I don’t mean religion, but faith as in, “I have faith in your ability to succeed’) being an antidote to overcoming fear of death?
Thank you for sharing your post – stimulating.
Thank you for your kind words Peter. Two very good questions. Honestly I’m still trying to figure these things out myself. I believe faith and love might be interrelated when concerning our fears. Self belief will only take us so far so long as we are only serving ourselves. I believe we need to serve something larger than ourselves to overcome our fear of death. A higher purpose to give ourselves to. That doesn’t necessarily mean God but I believe it has to be something we would be willing to die for. If one can make their life about that thing it may well set their minds free so to speak. But I believe we need to very careful what it is we ultimately place our faith in as it becomes something of a paradoxical situation. The very beliefs we hold in order to overcome our fear of death become the very thing we are willing to die for (and in some cases kill for). Perhaps what you are willing to die for you are willing to kill for? I’m not sure. Anyway I plan to do more research and writing on this subject over the coming months and years. The idea has started to fascinate me. Thank for taking the time to read and leave such a thoughtful response. Wishing you well Peter. 🙏
Thought provoking topic and I thank you for reading and liking one of my recent blogs.
I might be a little abnormal as I don’t have a big fear of death, I have a fear of the state of life left behind for my wife and loved ones more than death itself. I fear the insurance company finding a way to screw my wife out of payment on a life policy …yeah like I said I am a bit abnormal in that regard.
I should be more fearful of death. I fear dying in some painful way, like being burned to death, but dying in general, I don’t have a big fear of it.
I don’t believe any of the fears you mention are abnormal. They seem very normal to me. I think fearing the death or potential circumstances of our loved ones is a form of transference. I believe love transfers our own fear of death onto those we love. As a result they become what we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for – what we are ultimately willing to die for if need be. This isn’t a bad thing. I believe a high purpose. People to love may be necessary for overcoming our own fears in that sense. Thank you taking the time to read and leave your thoughts. I appreciate it. 🙏
Hello AP2. Thank you for your very comprehensive and illuminating response to my questions. I would like to take the liberty of sharing a real-life story with you, if I may.
Francis was a fifty-year-old man who had been diagnosed with Carcinomic Cancer; the prognosis was that he would only live for three months. Francis was a church-going man and was loved by all in that small community. (For whatever value this might serve, I am not a churchgoer, although I respect those that do and Francis was no exception to this.) The community prayed for him and Francis said he had faith that he would be healed.
He lived for two and a half years in excruciating pain and progressively degenerated in body and morale. He called me to his bedside and asked if he was wrong to be believing he would be healed.
My answer to him was, “Ask your God this question because only your God can advise you.” A couple of weeks on, late at night, he telephoned me. “I have got my answer. I was right to have had faith to believe I would be healed because however I suffered, I was given some extra time. Now I am tired and I’m ready to go home.”
Two days later he died in the arms of his brother, peacefully, lovingly. Over the years of our relationship, we discussed the matter of death and agreed that we had no fear of dying because both believed (had the faith to accept) we were moving on to another life. Bless you AP2
This was a really great read! Gave me a lot to think about.
Thanks so much for posting!
I’m pleased. Thank you for saying so. 🙏
First, thank you for liking my post (a lot less substantial than your writing!). Very interested in your views and wondered whether/how you might relate it all to the current pandemic and the measures taken by governments across the world to deal with it – which in part seem to involve inculcating fear in the population.
I believe death has been weighing heavily on everyones subconscious this past year or so because of the pandemic. Even those who say they’re not scared – the constant reminder of our mortality – daily death counts, etc. must be having an affect. I believe for that reason many people have been acting out in an attempt to protect their ideological beliefs. To try to give their life more meaning. Unfortunately when fear thrives, so does evil. For many governments – like here in Hong Kong where I live – its provided the perfect opportunity to grab power at the expense of other people’s freedoms. If you’re interested in this subject, I’ve left a link to a fascinating study relating to how our awareness of death (something called Terror Management Theory) has affected people’s behaviour during the pandemic:
Thank you for taking the time to read and leave such a thoughtful question. Wishing you well. 🙏
Thank you for this link. Very intereesting and I was impressed by the conclusion that response to the pandemic can be seen in the light of a conflict between proximal and distal approaches to the fear of death. I would take issue with the authors’ assumption that the scientific and medical community is more or less united in its view of the seriousness of the pandemic and of the value of the measures taken to control it. It clearly is not, and I would dearly like to see more debate rather than mud-slinging on both sides!
This post is absolutely the best take on fear I’ve ever heard! Easy to get a grip on and certainly answers many questions about fear! Awesome job!
Thank you – that’s high praise indeed. I’m glad you found it useful 🙏
Well this is certainly food for thought! Thanks for sharing I will definitely be reflecting on this
My pleasure! I’m pleased it gave you something to ponder. Wishing you well 🙏
Wow, wonderfully written piece.
You’ve put it forward so eloquently.
Thanks for liking my post. 😉
Thank you stopping by and leaving such a kind message on mine 🙏
Great post! Seeing through the fear is always something I’m working on.
Thank you. I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I’ve historically suffered with depression and anxiety so you’re not alone. Wishing you well 🙏
Interesting post here Friend. Fear is something that many people deal with. Fear is just our body’s natural way of trying to protect us from potentially dangerous situations, but of course, sometimes our body over-produces the emotion of fear, sometimes even to things that ought not to scare us. Two quotes that I like concerning fear are:
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears”.
” I can do all things through him who strengthens me”.
While we can try to do things on our own, God is able to help us in dealing with our fears. God is able to put things in order for us and to make things work out for our good. To overcome fear, we need to put God first. God is the king and there is nothing impossible for him to do.
If anyone reading is interested in building a relationship with God, I have a post on that here: https://christcenteredruminations.wordpress.com/2018/08/29/how-to-build-a-relationship-with-god/
There is much more to know about God. I post frequently on my blog about topics related to God. You are welcome to follow my blog to keep up with my content.
-All the best. May God bless you.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I do believe that faith can indeed be a powerful antidote to fear. Wishing you the very best too! 🙏
I LOVE how real and raw you are in the way you think and your style of writing. Your post made me reflect back on a class I once took in college, The Sociology of Death and Dying. Fear of death is something that can hold you captive and swallow you up if you let it. Honestly, the first thing that popped into my head was an iconic quote from Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration…” Sorry. NERD ALERT. I also thought of a recurring dream I’ve had for over a decade. I’m at my own funeral, I can see myself in the casket, there are flowers everywhere, I walk up to the casket and touch my hand, gasp, and then my alarm goes off. I’m curious to get your take on what this dream might mean. I do not fear death, I’m actually quite fascinated by it. So, I suppose knowledge is my antidote to fear, the desire to understand whatever it is that I’m afraid of, it gives me peace of mind.
Thank you Eleanor. I really appreciate your words. I like that quote from Dune. I don’t know much about recurring dreams – most of mine are random and I’ve never had two the same. Your dream sounds fascinating though. Have you talked to a psychologist about it? Of course they will probably ask you what you think it means? I believe everyone fears death – I believe that’s what drives us at our core. I believe if we have a secure self esteem, if we believe our lives are meaningful- that helps to guard against this mortal terror that resides below the surface. If you’re really interested in the topic I can suggest two books. The first is, The worm at the core by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg & Tom Pyszczynski. The second is, The Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker. I read both of them after I wrote this post. I agree that knowledge is often the path to freedom. Thank you again Eleanor. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and leave such a thoughtful comment. Wishing you well 🙏
Thank you for your feedback and book suggestions! I have read The Denial of Death, he does a great job of unpacking the complexity of the human condition and gives an interesting analysis of existential theory. I’ll have to check out the other. Thank you!