Why Everything Scares You To Death

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 feeling 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. 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, this post was the result.

Anyway, buckle up boys and girls, because I’m about to take your mind down a rabbit hole that will blow it wide open. But first let me explain my thinking with a quick biology lesson. (I’ll try to make it fun.)

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. 

These two broad encompassing emotional forces drive everything. They represent the light and dark side of the force. Yin and Yang, Male and Female, Ross and Rachel, Bert and Ernie… you get the point. It’s a delicate tussle counter balancing one against the other. However we need both of them.

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.)

Now, what happens when those naughty nuggets detect what they believe is a serious threat to your life, is they shut off access to 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. (Have I blown your mind yet?)

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. This is partly because many of us live in denial and 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. 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. 

For example, we understand that standing up on stage and making a public speech won’t kill us, (rationally we understand it won’t matter one iota), yet many of us are still scared to death at the thought. Why? Your surface level rationale is probably saying something along the line of, “if I mess this presentation up I’ll make a fool of myself and my coworkers will no longer respect me.” But so what? That rationale doesn’t justify the level of emotion it evokes.

Well, consider this.

Imagine you’re living as part of a tight-knit tribal community. A small group of hunter gathers where your survival depends on you getting along with everyone else. Suddenly social anxiety – fear of sticking your neck out – starts to make more sense. If you stand up and talk to the tribe and the tribe rejects you, it’s possible they’ll make you an outcast and now you really are fucked. So tread carefully (anxiety). You do not want to piss off the alpha! In today’s world, rationally, we understand the stakes aren’t so high, however your ancient emotional response system doesn’t.

This is also why we care so much what other people think. This is why we get so worked up over nothing. This is why we hold our beliefs as absolute and why we cannot stand to be challenged. (Please don’t disagree with me on this.) 

This is worth stressing.

When it comes to our emotions we are working with a Palaeolithic operating system. It’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 Your 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 my previous example, is getting up on stage really going to end your life? No, of course not. Then are your feelings rational or irrational? We know the answer to this of course. But 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 the fuck 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 to be (except when your life really is threatened.) And so you go ahead and make most passionate speech of your life (maybe).

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, not simply a fear of public speaking, which is massive.

Now, here’s where I address the rather large Woolly Mammoth in the cave. If fear – a fear of dying – comes first in the order of our emotional makeup, then perhaps all of our emotions are related to a fear of death, 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 love 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 🙏

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

20 thoughts on “Why Everything Scares You To Death

  • Thank you for the interesting and indeed thoughtful read. I certainly never thought of death in that context but it makes a lot of sense. You see that fight or flight mode in animals for sure… and I’d also argue in young children. But I think as adults, we become a bit more emotionally sophisticated and develop coping and survival mechanisms… one of which is love. That’s why those who encounter trauma are always in perpetual fight or flight mode. Thanks for that interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ab. It’s a theory. I believe all our fears can be traced to a fear of death underneath. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that may be the case. Of course I’m talking about genuine fears as opposed to rational concerns. Unlike animals we don’t simply respond to stimuli. We attach fear to things by thinking about potential negative repercussions. It makes me wonder if over coming our actual fear of death could help to overcome other ones? A common Buddhists mediation is to imagine your own demise. This has proven to cultivate greater peace of mind. At any rate love and acceptance are clearly important ways to deal with our fears. Much like kids who have a tantrum. You cannot simply use logic to talk them out of that state. They need love. They need to understand that they are safe. That you are there for them. Ultimately they are frightened. So many forget that anger is a form of fear. Wishing you well Ab. I appreciate your comments.

      Liked by 2 people

  • This recurring theme of fear of death is strange enough for a young person, least of all someone whose profile pic shows him skydiving! Please don’t start using this notion of fear of dying (which isn’t precisely the same as our survival instinct) as an excuse for bad behaviour. Please don’t try to tie things like overt racism and misogyny to someone having a fear of death. How about mankind’s predilection for the Seven Deadly Sins, are those behaviours also explained by fear of death? This theory you’ve embraced has to be twisted into a double negative to have any positive takeaways. I’m still not convinced, AP2; I guess you can tell!

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    • Jane, I suspect you’ll never agree with me on this. I would never excuse racism or misogyny (what makes you think I am?) but if we don’t seek to understand why how can we ever expect to change it? Hate – the emotion – is a form of fear. That’s not to excuse the beliefs that trigger that emotion (or the actions taken by people consumed by it) but the emotion exists for a reason. What does putting hate in a neat little box that says bad achieve?

      These aren’t easy conversations which is why I refuse to shy away from them. I’m not excusing anyone for their behaviour. I’m simply trying to come to a deeper understanding. And from that understanding help people. That is all I am trying to do. Both posts have offered examples as to how this lining of think might help people so they don’t allow their fears to control them. So they don’t engage in bad behaviour.

      And we all have the capacity to do bad things. To be misled in the cruelest kind of way. What we don’t understand about ourselves ends up controlling us. Worse – we end up being controlled by others who do. We must understand before we can change.

      Martin Luther King said we must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. He was far smarter than I. Why would he say that? The conclusion I’ve come to is that love has to be the answer to our fears especially if what we’re really dealing with is a fear of death underneath. That perhaps love was designed for exactly that purpose. Is that a double negative? I see so many people hate hateful people. They put them in a box that says other. Can you not see the problem/contradiction with that? And what does hating on hate achieve exactly? What does hating on any emotion or person achieve? It gives them strength! It’s like fighting fire with fire. It. Does. Not. Work.

      Truthfully I’m trying to work out how to resolve my own emotions towards a certain former president. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am/was scared. And that I was acting out against him instead of acknowledging my own fears. Instead of showing myself the love that I should have. I’ve come to a deeper conclusion that my fears can be traced to a fear of death. There is a lot of evidence for this in modern psychology. (You can check out a book called the denial of death by Enerst Becker if fancy challenging your thinking on the subject). And why not link our sins to a fear of death? What do you think survival instincts are driven by if not a fear of death? I may well be wrong Jane but that’s not the point. I’m trying to challenge people with my writing. I believe that is a healthy thing.

      I understand you don’t agree with me – that you don’t like my line of thinking – but I’ve offered evidence to support my thinking on the matter. I welcome a genuine counter argument. Please give me your understanding on the matter. But I need more than racism and misogyny are simply bad. To me that’s not good enough.

      And I do appreciate your comments Jane. I appreciate you speaking up. I think it’s important we feel free to speak openly and honestly with one another. But I feel it’s very unfair to imply that I’m trying to make excuses for bad behaviour. I’m not!

      Wishing you well Jane. 🙏

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      • Thanks for such a considered reply, AP2. I appreciate that you’re looking for answers to the same questions about life that so many of us are, and for you this theory obviously seems helpful. The reason I rise to the bait with each post on this subject is that for me the idea that hate and egregious behaviour can be blamed on a fear of death is offensive. For me. It’s such a negative starting premise. But if it helps you, go for it. I’ve said more than enough. I am confident that we both have similar concerns about the world and are seeking for positive and constructive ways forward, we just don’t find resonance in the same approaches. Wishing you well also, AP2.

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      • Why should it offend you? It’s just a theory Jane. At the end of the day. Why wouldn’t such a negative premise be right for explaining hateful and egregious behaviour? Do you want a positive one? Hate is such a strong emotion. Does it not make sense that it’s heavily rooted in survival? I don’t mind being criticised Jane but I need a counter argument. I need something else to ponder. Simply criticising doesn’t help me think differently. You say you’ve said enough but I don’t as yet understand what you’re line of thinking is on all this. Just that you disagree with me. Is it that people are simply bad? Does the buck stop there? That’s fine. Maybe that is the case. Maybe you’re right and I am wrong. I won’t get offended either way but I am curious to know your rationale. Wishing you well Jane.

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      • I’m not criticizing you. I just do not agree with the premise of that theory. I think I’ve explained my sentiments on it enough. I’ll just pass on this particular tropic from now on. 😊🙏

        Liked by 1 person

      • No problem Jane. I completely respect your options and beliefs and I admire your willingness to speak up for what you believe in. I just wanted to make it absolutely clear that I’m not trying to offend you or anyone else. And that I’m certainly not trying to excuse bad behaviour. Wishing you the very best 🙏😊

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  • AP, I fear pain and disability more than death, although I don’t want to die. I have had a living will for many years. Your article was very interesting, and I read it twice. I still think there are some things worse than death.

    Younger people may wish to live enough to undergo pain and heroic measures more than senior citizens, especially when they have young children to raise.

    Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cheryl. I don’t necessarily fear the idea of dying but I certainly to prefer to stay alive. I think we can be ready to accept our fate when it comes but still fear death. Honestly I think we are wired to fear death for the purpose of staying alive. That’s why we look both ways when we cross the street etc. That’s fear doing it’s job well. It just got me thinking that maybe all fears can be traced to a fear of death. Maybe that’s the primary function of fear. That maybe we can use that knowledge to look through our fear when are lives clearly aren’t threatened. It’s a theory. Although I may be wrong. So long as it challenges people’s thinking then I’m happy. And I agree. I’d rather die than suffer miserably and become a burden on society and my family. Wishing you well Cheryl 🙏

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  • I don’t really fear death at all… I faced it a few times now… plus my profession takes away the fear too. I only fear to lose those I love – but I do not fear death for myself.

    I do however fear Satan still – any words for that? 😝

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Trisha. Good to hear from you. I think I’m comfortable with the idea that I will die. I believe we are wired to fear death. In so much as we want to stay alive. That’s why we look both ways when we cross the street. That’s fears doing it’s job well. We might not have a problem with accepting our fate when the time comes but still want to remain alive and healthy for as long as possible. I think we can hold both ideas in our hearts at the same time.

      As for Satan – I guess that’s up to the big man himself. My biggest fear is not being everything I could be in this life. Not helping people to the best of my ability. I’ve always meant to be a good person although I have failed to be one on many occasions. Still I’m a better person for the ways in which I’ve failed in this life. I realised there’s no point second guessing what God may or may not want from us (should one believe in him) but to simply try to be the best we can. Simply do what we believe is right. Have faith that if we do things will work out. That we can at least rest in peace knowing we did when our time really is up. Wishing you well Trisha 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  • I do not fear death- I never have. I am not brave – just an atheist who believes everything stops for me once death comes. It is inevitable and natural.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I should be clear that what I’m talking about is not the concept of our inevitable demise. The readiness to accept ones death when it comes. There is a term for a direct fear of death called Thanatophobia. What I’m talking about is our fear response system. The reason you look both ways when you cross the road for example. That’s because you want to stay alive. We are wired to fear death in that sense. That’s fears primary function. I am in agreement with you. I ultimately see death as part of the process. We return to where we came. Still I like being alive so will try my best to keep it that way. Wishing you well 🙏

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