Our Four Greatest Fears (And What They Say About Us)

Our four greatest fears (and what they say about us)

Acknowledging what we’re most afraid of can help us honour the pain of past hurt, as well as provide insight into the things in life that are meaningful and important to us. Often we share many of the same fears, because humans generally find meaning and purpose in many of the same things – and we fear having these things allude us or dissolve in our lifetime.

Fear is a universal emotion, experienced by every individual at various points in their life. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear served as a vital survival mechanism for our ancestors. When faced with a potential threat, such as a lurking predator, the immediate sensation of fear prompted a rapid response—either to flee, fight, or freeze.

In modern times, many of our fears are not linked to immediate physical dangers but are instead related to psychological or perceived threats. Worries about social acceptance, job security, or health can trigger the same intense fear response as a tangible threat.

Our personal experiences also shape our fears. Through a process called classical conditioning, we can develop phobias or intense fears linked to specific stimuli. For instance, someone bitten by a dog might develop an overwhelming fear of all dogs. Traumatic events can also lead to lasting fears or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where individuals relive the fear and anxiety associated with a past event.

Recently, we took to our socials to ask what scares the shit out of you. Your responses were poignant, raw and honest. And for the most part (aside from the fears of stray hairs and dictators) the fears fell into one of the four categories below. So what do these fears say about us and how can facing them help us live richer, more authentic lives?

Fear of heartbreak/rejection

“Not being loved back.”

“Getting my heart broken again.”

“People not liking me.”

We are biologically hard-wired for connection – in fact, it’s what has allowed us to prosper as a species over the past 250,000 years! Our survival was once so dependent on the inclusion and support of others that, even today, experiences of rejection or abandonment trigger the fear centres of our brain that leave us feeling in real danger. Not only that, past studies have revealed that rejection and social exclusion also light up the physical pain system in our brain – so when we say “heartbreak hurts” we ain’t lying! No wonder this stuff is scary.

The fear of rejection often has deep roots, sometimes tracing back to childhood experiences or past traumas. Recognising and understanding these origins can be the first step in addressing and healing them. Reflect on past experiences, and consider seeking professional guidance if these memories are particularly painful.

Often the scariest part of heartbreak and rejection is that lack of control – because ultimately we do not have power over the feelings or behaviour of others. It’s frightening to let people in, knowing full well that, in doing so, they might rip apart our fragile insides at any time if they so wished. We can cut ourselves off from others, and build a wall around our hearts – but that’s simply replacing one type of pain for another (see Fear of Loneliness).

Remember, rejection doesn’t define your worth; it’s merely a response to a specific situation or context. Your value isn’t determined by external validation but by your beliefs about yourself. When you feel low, time to practice some self love.

To combat this fear of heartbreak/rejection we must learn to cultivate a deep and nurturing relationship with ourselves – one that allows us to connect with our inner stores of strength and reminds us that, although heartbreak is hurtful, we are enough within ourselves to heal, rise and love again.

Fear of loneliness

“The fact that I’m still single. I don’t see myself ever meeting someone.”

“Being alone.”

“Being without any friends or family.”

Western society celebrates the mantra of self-sufficiency and independence, but the truth is that we all still desperately seek connection and inclusion and are terrified by the idea of being alone. The fear of loneliness is real, and is firmly rooted in our biology. It is a testament to how much we value the love, support and care of other people in our lives. It reminds us of the importance of exchanging real, embodied moments of connection with one another. Unfortunately, our modern societies are not always conducive to fostering this deep connectivity, as a result, leaving us with an epidemic of isolation and loneliness. For many, the fear of loneliness looms large, influencing our decisions, behaviours, and overall well-being. But what if we could transform this fear into an opportunity for self-growth?

In today’s interconnected world, staying in touch with our friends and family is easier than ever. While technology can be a bridge to connections, it’s crucial to use it mindfully. Prioritise face-to-face interactions and use digital platforms as supplementary means of connection.
Helping others can be a powerful antidote to loneliness. Volunteering not only fosters connections but also provides a sense of purpose and fulfilment. By giving back, you create a positive feedback loop of connection and community.

To fight this fear, we must resist the urge to numb ourselves or cut ourselves off from others (which makes loneliness a self-fulfilling prophecy). We must love fully, bravely and boldly knowing that it’s this part of life that offers us such immense meaning and purpose. Never stop telling others what they mean to you; have real, vulnerable conversations often; and learn to love yourself deeply for who you are, not just what you do. In doing so, you will never be truly alone. And remember – it’s always OK to ask for help.

Fear of failure

“Not fulfilling my true potential.”

“Disappointing myself.”

“Not being seen.”

“You’ve only got one life – make it count” …bloody hell, I’m trying, ok! We are constantly bombarded by the pressure of living up to the hopes and dreams of ourselves and of others. Our awareness of our limited time on this Earth can make us feel like a clock is eternally ticking on our potential and on our opportunities and this can leave us with an ever-present feeling of anxiety and unease. Not to mention that society pushes some pretty rigid and unhealthy ideals when it comes to success – that we must do this, that we must be that, that we must have done x by z. Trying to keep up can be frankly exhausting.

The fear of failure has probably cost the dreams of many wondrous minds. Who knows what the world has missed because someone has decided not to pursue their crazy dream? The inventor of the steam locomotive was told that a train was too dangerous as people may melt at such high speeds, lucky for us he ignored them and heralded in the age of steam. Society benefited from his brave steps into the unknown.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets highlights the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. By adopting a growth mindset, you believe that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. This perspective fosters resilience and a love for learning, making setbacks less daunting.

Take a moment to consider the worst that could happen if you fail. Often, when we objectively analyse our fears, we realise that the potential outcomes are not as catastrophic as we imagine. Knowing you can handle the worst-case scenario can diminish the fear.

To fight your fear of failure, you must get clear about what success really looks like to you (because it looks different to all of us). This will allow you to build your daily habits around living in alignment with this vision of success. Also, you’ve got to get comfortable that, in a life where you’re actively working towards things that really matter to you, failure is inevitable. You can’t avoid it or safeguard yourself against it. If you are living your truth and taking risks, it’s going to show up and the best thing you can do is learn how to greet it with curiosity, humility and grace when it does.

Fear of failure

“Not fulfilling my true potential.”

“Disappointing myself.”

“Not being seen.”

“You’ve only got one life – make it count” …bloody hell, I’m trying, ok! We are constantly bombarded by the pressure of living up to the hopes and dreams of ourselves and of others. Our awareness of our limited time on this Earth can make us feel like a clock is eternally ticking on our potential and on our opportunities and this can leave us with an ever-present feeling of anxiety and unease. Not to mention that society pushes some pretty rigid and unhealthy ideals when it comes to success – that we must do this, that we must be that, that we must have done x by z. Trying to keep up can be frankly exhausting.

The fear of failure has probably cost the dreams of many wondrous minds. Who knows what the world has missed because someone has decided not to pursue their crazy dream? The inventor of the steam locomotive was told that a train was too dangerous as people may melt at such high speeds, lucky for us he ignored them and heralded in the age of steam. Society benefited from his brave steps into the unknown.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets highlights the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. By adopting a growth mindset, you believe that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. This perspective fosters resilience and a love for learning, making setbacks less daunting.

Take a moment to consider the worst that could happen if you fail. Often, when we objectively analyse our fears, we realise that the potential outcomes are not as catastrophic as we imagine. Knowing you can handle the worst-case scenario can diminish the fear.

To fight your fear of failure, you must get clear about what success really looks like to you (because it looks different to all of us). This will allow you to build your daily habits around living in alignment with this vision of success. Also, you’ve got to get comfortable that, in a life where you’re actively working towards things that really matter to you, failure is inevitable. You can’t avoid it or safeguard yourself against it. If you are living your truth and taking risks, it’s going to show up and the best thing you can do is learn how to greet it with curiosity, humility and grace when it does.

An image of a blurred hand outstretched in front of the camera against a white background.

Overcoming Fear

Often, fear stems from the unknown. If you’re afraid of something, learn about it. For instance, if you have a fear of flying, understanding the mechanics of how planes work and the rigorous safety protocols in place may help you feel more at ease flying.

Fear is a natural human emotion, an evolutionary response designed to alert us to potential threats and prepare our bodies to react. However, when fear becomes persistent, overwhelming, or disproportionate to the situation, it can significantly impact our daily lives, relationships, and overall well-being. Recognising when fear has crossed the line from a protective mechanism to a debilitating force is crucial.

Fear can be tough on your body and your mind. Does fear cause your heart to race? Do your hands shake? Do you feel faint? If your fear is overwhelming or debilitating, it might be time to seek the help of a professional. There are a range of techniques that have been proven to be effective at helping overcome fear, including Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy. CBT and ET can help you recognise and challenge irrational fears, equipping you with tools to manage and reduce anxiety.

Overcoming fear is not about eradicating it but learning to navigate and manage it effectively. Remember, every individual’s journey with fear is unique, so what works for one person might not work for another. The key is persistence, patience, and a belief in yourself. With the right strategies and mindset, you can transform fear from an obstacle into an opportunity for your personal growth and empowerment.

Tell your fears to f-off by creating a life that is brimming with connection, meaning and purpose.

PhotoAYANTHI DE SILVA

ayanthi de silva, Registered Psychologist

PhotoBRE ELDER

bre elder, Senior Psychologist

PhotoNEKIYAH DHARSHI

nekiyah dharshi, Registered Psychologist

PhotoDR NAVIT GOHAR-KADAR

dr navit gohar-kadar, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoMAJA CZERNIAWSKA

maja czerniawska, Senior Psychologist

PhotoEUNICE CHEUNG

eunice cheung, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoANNIA BARON

annia baron, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoTAYLA GARDNER

tayla gardner, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoKATIE ODONOGHUE

katie odonoghue, Relationship Coach & Couples Therapist

PhotoLORNA MACAULAY

lorna macaulay, Senior Psychologist

PhotoSHUKTIKA BOSE

shuktika bose, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDEEPIKA GUPTA

deepika gupta, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDR EMER MCDERMOTT

dr emer mcdermott, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoNICOLE BURLING

nicole burling, Senior Psychologist

PhotoNATASHA KASSELIS

natasha kasselis, Senior Psychologist

PhotoDR PERRY MORRISON

dr perry morrison, Senior Psychologist

PhotoGAYNOR CONNOR

gaynor connor, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoSHAUNTELLE BENJAMIN

shauntelle benjamin, Registered Psychologist

PhotoLIZ KIRBY

liz kirby, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoSAM BARR

sam barr, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDARREN EVERETT

darren everett, Senior Psychologist

PhotoJAMIE DE BRUYN

jamie de bruyn, Senior Psychologist


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