Thursday, November 17, 2016

Is every fear really the same fear? Of course not!

That’s just intellectual monkeying around. On October 27, 2016 Alan Henry tried to scare us for Halloween with an article at Lifehacker and a YouTube video both titled All Fears Are the Same Fear. He claimed:

“Whether you’re afraid of public speaking, tiny enclosed spaces, or massive crowds, they can all be traced back to one, truly specific fear: the fear of death. They may be nuanced, and have their own diagnoses, and they may be treated differently, but at the end of the day, it’s all the same fear.

You likely already know that when you’re confronted with something you’re afraid of, it activates your brain’s fight-or-flight response, often overwhelming your better judgement—even if the thing you’re afraid of poses no threat or danger to you whatsoever. Fears like heights, flying, or even snakes or spiders make sense in a survival context, but even fears that don’t seem to present mortal threats make sense too when you remember how social human beings are, and how social rejection can be a life or death issue.

The video explainer above goes into more detail about this, and traces a number of these fears, like the fear of losing a relationship, the fear of losing loved ones, or yes, fear of public speaking, back to their very psychological roots.”

Wow! Is this a brand new revelation about the Grim Reaper? No. It is a an oversimplified pile of poop from pop-philosophy and pop-psychology. Perhaps he actually got it from a 2013 YouTube video by Deepak Chopra which said all fear is the fear of death in disguise. Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) similarly had said:

“Whenever you are afraid, try to explore and you will find death hiding somewhere behind. All fear is of death. Death is the only fear source.”

Psychologists currently distinguish between specific fears and social fears, and over two decades ago the U.S. did a very serious national mental health survey that included determining how common they were. See my  2011 post on Putting the fears puzzle pieces together: social and specific fears in the National Comorbidity Survey.

They also distinguish severity between fears and phobias, as I blogged about in another  post from 2011 on What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? And ‘Fight or Flight’ has been replaced by fight or flight or freeze or fawn (but that’s a topic for yet another post).

When you start seriously looking for where ‘all or every fear is fear of death’ came from, you will find that psychologists had discussed this topic over a century ago, as had early psychoanalysts. In the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis for September 1922 (Volume III, part 3) Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) discusses a paper by Granville Stanley Hall (1846 - 1924) from 1915 titled Thanatophobia and Immortality that had appeared back in October 1915 in the American Journal of Psychology. He says:

“Hall first points out how much the psychology of death has in common with that of love, especially from the new psychogenetic standpoint. 'There is a sense in which all fears and phobias are at bottom fears of death or of the abatement or arrest of vitality, and also a sense in which all desires and wishes are for the gratification of love. The one is the great negation, and the other the supreme affirmation of the will to live'.”   

On October 10, 2015 I blogged about Hall having done A study of American childhood fears from way back in 1897.

Wilhelm Stekel (1868 - 1940) also has been quoted as saying similarly that every fear is fear of death. He had said it on page 378 of Volume 16 in his book Conditions of Nervous Anxiety and Their Treatment:

"Every fear is fear of death."

In E. James Lieberman’s 2010 biography of Otto Rank (1884 -1939) titled Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank page 135 (at Google Books) says about Sigmund Freud and his friend Wilhelm Fliess (1858 - 1928):

“He remarked that both Weininger and Swoboda regarded intercourse as partial dying, and quoted Fliess: 'All fear is fear of death.' Freud contradicted Fliess, saying that ‘any anxiety is fear of oneself, of one’s libido.’ We can see in this debate the precursor of Rank’s theory of life fear and death fear.”

A flipped 1888 drawing of a monkey came from the Library of Congress.

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