How to overcome a death phobia

Life is too short to worry about dying  >   We received many comments about our last Post, pointing out that we had not factored in the fear of dying *. This Posting tries to put the death phobia into perspective, or, the quote the client above …. ‘Life is short – so mile while you still have teeth‘!

As no-one is born with a phobia, it is logical to assume they are either caught or taught. If caught, it is due to something happening that the person could not cope with at the time, so it goes into the subconscious.

If taught it is a case of learning from our peers or close relatives – consider how many children must inherit from their parents fears of heights and spiders, or weird superstitions such as not walking under ladders, and the fears of the No 13 (triskaidekaphobia) and cats (ailurophobia).

The fear of death phobia is no different and most likely can be traced back to an early death in the family, a scary experience like witnesses a fatal car crash, or ill-timed comment during a bereavement. But is the solution lengthy hypnoanalysis sessions to delve into the subconscious to discover the catalyst?

The quick answer is ‘no’. Tonic’s therapists use Solution Focused Based Therapy (SFBT), which simply means focusing on the positive aspects of our lives. The technique helps to desensitise you from emotions of past events to achieve new goals and ways of thinking. We thus work on the basis that solutions lie in the future rather than the past.

But having said that many psychologists recommend sufferers revisit their early years to discover what nasty memories lurk in their subconscious. Using analytical techniques, sufferers are encouraged to talk about their fear of death and introduce an alternative view. It may be found that those who fear death are afraid of losing control or loss of dignity, or afraid for their family.

Of course every parent fears a child dying, but this dread is unlikely to develop into a full blown phobia, unless such a death is experienced.

So which treatment is best?

Like medication for depression, there is no single cure-all pill with different people responding in different ways. But the most important point to remember is that a cure is available and, if you choose to go down the complementary therapy route, there will be many highly skilled and Government approved therapists in your area to choose from.

However, whichever therapy you feel is best, you have to want to be cured. That may sound strange, but many people who have a morbid fear of death actually have found a comfort zone within their distress. The phobia serves a purpose, either helping to block out other feelings or transfering them on to the phobia.

In summary, if you are a sufferer you must break the cycle of anxiety that causes it. So start living and die another day.

Footnote > * A fear of dying phobia is known as thanatophobia. which should not be confused with necrophobia, which is a specific fear of dead or dying people.

17 thoughts on “How to overcome a death phobia

  1. Mrs L says:

    I’ve had this fear since I was a child. I just have to distract myself from it. I lie alone in the dark, or wherever I happen to be when it comes over me and distract myself with trivial things – looking for new books to read, new shoes, tidying a shelf. I saw a psychologist and got cognitive behavioural therapy. It worked for me but only for a time.

  2. Rosie (you know me!) says:

    Who knows why one person, faced with ill-health and a reduced life expectancy, fears death and the next person in the same circumstances is at peace with death?
    I am afraid of the process of dying, and in particular of dying in hospital given the culture of chronic neglect that pervades my local hospital. I have done an Advanced Directive (“Living Will”) in the hope of shortening the process.

  3. Jensen Yelland says:

    A fear is not the same as a phobia. For it to be a phobia it has to be a persistent fear of an object or situation which is disproportional to the actual danger posed.
    I don’t hear anyone saying that the label of a phobia should necessarily to attached to a fear of death. It’s all a question of degree, and of how much it’s bothering you. If you are losing sleep over it, you might want to get some help to managing your fear.

  4. T-Tee says:

    I attribute my own fear to losing several childhood friends who were, like me, disabled. I still feel like I’m living on borrowed time.

  5. Tom (Whitby) says:

    It is irrational to lie awake at night frightened of death, when you are in good health and are of an age that is decades below the life-expectancy in this country. Of course there are unexpected deaths, but they are sufficiently rare that it doesn’t make rational sense to lie awake at night worrying.
    It seems to me that the fear of ceasing to exist possibly suggests that in some way you feel you have not made enough of the brief life you have. It is not the eternal loss or emptiness that’s the problem, but the sense of loss or emptiness in life, and that is something than we all can do something about.

  6. dog-boy says:

    I have had two very close shaves with death, and I am in the minority who survive the medical crises I have experienced. Far from increasing my fear of death, they have decreased it. I accept my own mortality. I have found that fulfillment, for me, comes not from the things we are encouraged to value, like success and money and recognition and fame, but from much simpler things. We each have to find for ourselves what really matters in the end.

  7. Ted (client 109) says:

    Why should fear of death have the label of a phobia attached to it? It’s perfectly natural and rational. For me, it is the thought of having to leave my loved ones, and not having any control over it as I slip away.

  8. Shelley says:

    Anxiety UK is a brilliant resource for finding phobia and anxiety therapists. They have a list of people who specialise in dealing with specific phobias rather ‘just’ anxiety which can be really helpful.

    • Larry (W. Worthing) says:

      I agree with Sheila that it is certainly worth seeking out a therapist who specialises in phobias, especially thanatophobia. I also suggest exploring spirituality in one from or another.
      Watching my old dad’s terror of dying is terrible. He is now so very frail, death cannot be far away, and yet he is in complete denial that he is even old, let alone at the end of his life. His atheism brings him no comfort whatsoever. I find that a bit illogical, because surely non-existence is preferable, say, to the possibility of ending up in the traditional Christian Hell, but he clearly finds non-existence terrifying.

  9. anon says:

    No one knows for certain what happens after death. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the spiritual aspect of existence which is there for the exploration .Perhaps it is better for people with this phobia to gain some equilibrium or some peace by not only exploring psychological remedies, but also the spiritual possibilities

  10. Joy Thomas says:

    I have found my spiritual explorations, combined with a lively interest in science have given me a greater hope that existence may not end just because we stop breathing; that being here in the first place is considerably more unlikely than existing in a different context post-mortem.
    I do not “know” that my hopes will be realised, but my experience over the years of spiritual exploration has given me hope that my hope is not misplaced. We are all fearful of the unknown, but we needn’t be ruled by it.

  11. Jim-9 says:

    Can I recommend ‘The denial of death’ by Ernest Becker? Nothing can make this fear go away entirely, because it is actually quite rational, but Becker’s approach can help to keep it down to the level of an ordinary neurosis rather than being overwhelming.

  12. Olive Thorne says:

    I find this phobia and difficult to relate to. It is one thing to be afraid of dying–a process which often involves a lot of pain and suffering. But I am not at all afraid of not being around anymore–if I am not here, then I won’t be here to lament that I’m not here, to suffer, to regret, or to miss anyone. In fact, I find the thought that I will one day simply pop out of existence to be rather comforting.

  13. Nadine says:

    My husband has an extreme fear of death. It comes on at night and I have been able to help by distracting him through talking. What I hadn’t realised was how often it occurs. He hates talking about it – as it makes it more real, which he cannot bear. His older brother died at a young age, after a year-long illness, and I think this might have influenced my husband’s fear, but he says he’s had it since he was a boy.

  14. Katie says:

    Nadine – say something to your husband like: “What would you like to happen? I’m here for you,” when he has an attack. Your husband isn’t helpless so encourage him to make the choices.

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