Fear of Death

Margit Cathrine Moller

It's not that I am afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens.
Woody Allen

Nobody, at least nobody in his normal mind, wants to die. Humans are wired to live and enjoy the gift of life. And since we love life so much, we are afraid of its opposite – death. The fear of death is normal, but to the extreme, it becomes an unhealthy condition. If it is an irrational fear, it is called Thanatophobia, or fear of death.

These are people who live every day avoiding any incident that might cause death. They don’t want to see pictures of dead people. They refuse to watch anything on TV that talks about death. These can be treated as a mental problem and can be healed with the appropriate intervention based on clear diagnosis.

But there are people who are afraid of dying based on a solid reason: it could be that they have a terminal condition such as cancer; or their age makes death real. What are some of the issues attached to the fear of death:

a. Religious and Spiritual Concerns Death is a theme among the major world’s religions. The promise of life after death depends so much on the life lived here on earth. For these people, they are afraid of death because they believe they have not done enough that will make them worth of the afterlife. What therapists can do is to help clarify real from imaginary concerns. They can work with their religious leaders and spiritual directors to thresh out these issues.

b. Physical Issues Some people fear death because of their concerns about the pain that it brings. It is not so much the death that they are afraid of, but the moments of intense pain that the days prior to death might bring. These are real fears and it is best that counselors and therapists work with the rest of the pain management team to ease out the fears and concerns of patients. However, for people who are not even sick physically but are still paralyzed by the fear of death due to physical reasons are already considered Thanatophobic. A good hypnosis session can help clarify the roots of this phobia.

c. Fear of the Unknown and Loss of Control Death is the ultimate form of surrender and letting go. And other people, especially those who are addicted to control (control freaks, to use a street language) are afraid of losing their power to control their life and their destiny. A session with a therapist can identify the root cause of this fear. It is better for people to find a balance between control and letting go.