Dr Albrecht's 5 Types of Fears: What We're Really Afraid Of...

FEAR in Scrabble Tiles fro Dr Albrechts 5 types of Fears

Whilst some of our fears are basic survival and pain-avoidance, many fears - as we know - are literally in the mind (how many of you are creeped out by the picture of the spider?) And while there are lots of articles out there which list our fears and phobias, it's hard to find a good article that helps us chunk up those fears into useful categories. If we were to group fears together - to try and understand the TYPES of fears we have, what would that look likTypes of Fears represented by a tarantula spidere?

Well, recently I found that a favourite thinker of mine, Dr. Karl Albrecht did indeed classify the types of fears we have, and I wanted to share it with you! Hopefully this will help you help your clients understand and rationalise what they're afraid of (and realise they're not alone!)

Here are Dr Karl Albrecht's 5 Types of Fears:

1. Extinction

The fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist. This is more than just a "fear of death" or how we might die - it strikes at the very heart of our fear that we would simply no longer BE.

Dr. Albrecht calls it existential anxiety. It's the panicky feeling we get if we look over the edge of a tall building, or when we think too deeply about a deadly disease!

Examples of triggers include: The dark, flying, heights, fatal diseases.

2. Mutilation or Bodily Invasion

The fear of losing a part of our body, having our body's boundaries invaded, or of losing a natural function. This would be any fear where we feel physically unsafe or under attack.

Examples of triggers include: In this pot would fall our anxieties about creepy crawlies like spiders or snakes, animals like dogs or sharks - and any animal you believe to be harmful. Also anxiety about crowds, needles, germs, surgical procedures or having to make a trip to the dentist!

3. Loss of Autonomy

The fear of being restricted, confined, trapped, suffocated. As Dr. Albrecht puts it "the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control." When it's a physical fear it's called claustrophobia, but our fear of being smothered, restricted, unable to take care of ourselves or dependent on others can also apply to situations in our lives - or our relationships.

Examples of triggers include: Commitment, poverty, debilitating illness, aging. In addition, situations where we feel  helpless or powerless, for example at work, your boss tells you to do something you don't want to do, and refuses to discuss it with you eg. when you have to do it or lose your job. It leaves you feeling trapped and helpless. Most parents will also feel this fear from time to time - overwhelmed, trapped and restricted, because they have a responsibility (children) that can't be given up!

4. Separation, Abandonment or Rejection

The fear of abandonment, rejection - we humans have a strong need to belong. This is my biggest fear. From a young age I have feared upsetting people for fear of being rejected and/or abandoned. I even have a visual of floating alone in outer space, never to see another living being ever again! From an evolutionary perspective, when an early human was kicked out of the tribe, they likely would have died. Dr. Albrecht refers to a "loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person—not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else." which literally threatens our wellbeing and survival.

Examples of triggers include: When a relationship ends - a friendship, divorce or death of a loved one. Sometimes when a relationship ends, we also lose an extended set of friends too increasing that loss of connectedness. This type of fear can also be triggered when a relationship deepens and with that an experience of vulnerability - what happens if this person I rely on leaves me - so a fear of intimacy! An argument or disagreement with someone important to us - at home or at work. Also, have you noticed that when someone ignores us or gives us the 'silent treatment' this often feels worse than being yelled at? Triggers can also be less obvious - an extended separation, even a voluntary one can subconsciously trigger this type of fear.

5. Humiliation, Shame or Worthlessness

Dr. Albrecht called this type of fear, "Ego-death". We all need to feel lovable, worthy of love and of value in the world order to have healthy relationships with others - and with ourselves. Shame can be an excruciating feeling - something many of us will go great lengths to avoid. Not only can it leave us feeling physically sick, make our skin crawl or flush or in extremes give us stabbing pains, we want to crawl into a hole and disappear. When we are shamed and humiliated it can threaten or destroy our belief in our worth, our lovability and our value in the world. Without that, we are nobody. Literally. The supposed number 1 fear of public speaking would fall into this category!

Examples of triggers include: Failure, criticism, bullying, victimisation, mistakes, public speaking. There are genuine shame triggers like when we're caught in a lie or do something considered wrong by society. But, feelings of shame and worthlessness are often triggered be an expectation of judgement or criticism (from ourselves or others) when we mess up - losing one's job, or if we left our house unlocked and got burgled. In addition, sometimes when we are the victim - whether it's rape, bullying or slander, we are left feeling ashamed and worthless - literally worth "less".  Finally, depending on how sensitized we are, debilitating shame can even be triggered by seemingly small things like forgetting to send a birthday card, being told we're selfish (whether it's true or not!) or burning the dinner.

Interesting fact:

Did you know that Agoraphobia is not a fear of open spaces as commonly believed. It's actually a fear where people avoid places that may cause them to panic. Essentially they avoid situations that leave them feeling trapped, helpless and/or ashamed or embarrassed. Many people develop agoraphobia after having panic attacks because they fear further attacks and want to avoid the place where it happened.

Can you think of a fear that wouldn't fit under these 5 types of fears?

So, Dr. Albrecht believes there are ONLY these 5 types of fears! And that many of our fears are a combination of the types of fears identified above. For me, this list of the 5 types of fears seems to cover most of the fears I can think of, but...

...I wonder where our anxiety about emotional or physical pain would fit (perhaps the fear of mutilation/invasion?). What about when we're afraid for our children - when we worry what would happen to them if something happened to us? What about the fear of success?

Comment below and let us know what you think, or if you can think of a fear that is not covered by Dr. Albrecht's 5 types of fears.

If you liked this article on the 5 types of fears, you may also like:

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>


  1. Jacinth Tracey

    Thank you for addressing fear in this post. My recent book "Dump Your Fear and Claim Your Power" rose to #1 best-seller status on 3 list on Amazon.com and has sold more than 16,000 copies in just five months. I believe that speaking about fear resonates with our audiences because fear is at the epicenter of our limiting beliefs and keeps us from achieving personal and professional success. No matter the source or reason for our fears, we must learn to overcome them or we will end up living "less than" lives of default, rather than proactively and consciously creating powerFULL lives of our own design.

    To your powerFULL life!

    Jacinth Tracey, PhD
    Best-selling author | Speaker | Success Coach | Corporate Leadership Skills Trainer | Media Personality
    Founder and CEO at Wired2Succeed

    • Emma-Louise

      Thank you Jacinth! Glad you like this post on Dr Albrecht's 5 Types of Fear. Congratulations and good luck with your book. Warmly, Emma-Louise.

    • Enock Gwelo

      Hi I am also trying to write something to do with fear but in a different perspective. Trying to answer the question that what gives the rise of occasion for a person to be afraid??
      What fuels or feeds fear???

      • Thelma Beauchemin

        I have the perfect answer for you. have you ever watched a scary movie without sound? there's no suspense, no music preparing you to be scared and no loud noises or screams to accompany it. In contrast, when I listen to the news I let my imagination give me a picture of the suffering, pain, angst, smells and desperation. A child crosses the street without looking because they have no knowledge of what might happen, but we do. so much to ponder

      • Michela Phillips

        Great point, Thelma! Thanks for sharing.
        - Kindly, Michela

  2. Janina

    Where can I find more information about this? Or about Dr Albrecht?

  3. Marcelo

    Thank you for this post! I was looking for the four existential givens as described by Dr Yalom, as I thought there is a connection between the and the itlrihin of our anxiety and fears. This list seems more descriptive though, although probably does not cover the 4 existential concerns as Dr Yalom describes: death, isolation, responsibility (making decisions that exclude options) and the so aren’t meanlignrss of the universe

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Marcelo, Dr Yalom's 4 existential drives sound interesting! I will look them up 🙂 Glad you found this article helpful! Warmly, Emma-Louise

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Jamie, good question! I had to check myself - but no. They are different people. In fact the Aldi founder died in 2014, whereas this Dr Karl Albrecht is very much alive! Warmly, Emma-Louise

  4. Valerie Fitzer

    While all fear is valid in the mind of the person who is experiencing it, I wonder what outside forces influence the onset of that fear. For instance, in the current pandemic, would the world as a whole be experiencing such extreme fear if it weren't for the media fueling that fear? I don't believe so. I believe the intensity of the fear we experience is subject to the influencing factors we allow ourselves to be subject to.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Valerie, I agree about media fueling our fears (unintentionally or otherwise). And yes, the intensity of the fear will vary according to person - and circumstance. For example, I am minimising how much I watch/read the news. Every few days basically. And I do it in the morning (not at night and certainly not before bed!). Thank-you for your thoughts 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

  5. Patrick Gill

    Before I had heard of Dr Albrecht anywhere, I form a theory of five basic human desires which were as close to universal as possible.
    They were Physical Security, Emotional Security, Recognition, Stimulation and Enlightenment.
    I was delighted to find that my theory was not completely original, but that Karl Albrecht had come up with this theory. In many ways my 5 desires can be seen as "desire for NOT (one of the fears)" - for example, Physical Security covers desires for wealth and material security as well as physical protection, it can be seen as a desire for "not mutilation or bodily invasion", Enlightenment or Recognition could be seen as desires for "not extinction", etc...
    One of the things my theory of five desires could not account for was pure altruism. Not giving for spiritual, moral or philosophical reasons, not giving to gain recognition or form bonds, pure giving for the sake of giving.
    Then "art for art's sake" could be another.
    I couldn't find a place for such things to fit into the theory of desires, so I suggested that they are not desires as such but non-physical needs.
    Perhaps there is a fear which is the cause of this desire, I am not sure.

  6. Emelia

    Interesting. Looks similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory from 1943.

  7. Anne H.

    This article was so helpful because I know that yesterday something triggered me into a deep depression today. So I wanted to learn more about fears and found this article. Turns out I can easily identify 5 fears that originated at an early age. Shame, worthlessness, abandonment, rejection, and the dark. When I was 4-6 years old my brother who was 12 years older called me an idiot when I'd ask him a question and have this maniacal laugh with a facial expression I'll never forget [it's been 75 years]. When I asked my mother for help after he made my doll disappear with magic...she asked him where my doll was and he replied "A true magician never tells"...according to my thereapist, my mother essentially abandoned me in that moment. So I did not want to be seen by anyone in school and never spoke up in a class, etc. I'm working on these fears with a sound healer and it is great. I want to keep in touch with your website and learn more. Thank you so much for the great explanations.


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