What Causes Fear

If you are wondering what causes fear, either yours or that of a family member or friend, you are not alone. The cause is often a puzzle even to the person afflicted.

Irrational fears orphobias, as they are called technically, sometimes happen as a result of a childhood experience. 

A dog bite as a child might lead to fear of dogs as an adult. Often people with phobias can’t remember the origin.


What is true with phobias, though, is that while the fear is real, the danger is not. To understand different types of fears and also the difference between fear and anxiety, have a look at List of Fears

Overcoming Fear will help with preventing fears from interfering with your life. 

It’s worth the courage it takes to modify your behavior, because fear and anxiety are huge obstacles to building self esteem and confidence. 

The information on what causes fear comes from five books shown below, from online sources, my professional background and from my own personal experience. 

The sources come from professionals in their fields. In some cases the information comes from people who have studied and developed successful and respected self help programs based upon their own unique challenges with fears and phobias with respect to what causes fear. 

Click Here for the books consulted. 

This information on what causes fear is specific to fear. Anxiety is a more advanced form of fear. 

Go to Anxiety Disorder for information on the nature of anxiety, to Causes of Anxiety to understand the origins of anxiety problems and to Help for Anxiety to find the tools to deal with it.

Ten Top Fears and Their Causes

1. Fear of public speaking 

The long term cause for fear of public speaking could be a single traumatic experience speaking in school or performing at a recital. Or it might be that you are naturally shy or have some social anxiety. 

This fear often results from seeing yourself as losing control or being incompetent in front of others. You might imagine yourself making embarrassing mistakes. You may feel that your performance has to be perfect to be acceptable. 

These self defeating thoughts are very stubborn. On an occasion when you do speak to a group of people and make a small error, you may exaggerate the mistake, blow it out of all proportions, even lose sleep over it. Nine chances out of ten, the audience hardly noticed the slip. 

Performance anxiety affects 70% of the North American population and is number one on the what causes fear list. Why?

From my personal experience and from mentoring many speakers in the link Toastmaster program over a ten year period, some people are simply terrified of being in front of an audience, terrified of making a mistake or of forgetting what they had prepared to say. 

2. Fear of flying 

What causes fear of flying is often a traumatic experience with flying. This experience might be related to another phobia such as a fear of heights or being enclosed. 

It could have happened as a result of air turbulence or being sick while in flight or having a panic attack. 

Even seeing scenes of an air crash on TV can be what causes fear of flying. Sometimes an unpleasant association with a flight, such as going to a difficult meeting can start this fear.

The longer you avoid flying, the worse a flight may seem. If you fear flying, you are also not alone. Twenty per cent of the population is afflicted with this fear. It is in the number two spot on the list of fears. 

3. Claustrophobia 

It’s usually difficult to determine what causes fear of confined spaces. Sometimes if results from being confined as a child in some way. 

Most animals and humans don’t want to be confined. People want freedom. But claustrophobia is an exaggerated fear of confinement. 

4. Fear of disease 

What causes fear of disease or hypochondria is sometimes an unconscious identification after the death or serious illness of a family member. You might feel that you too could develop a similar disease. 

Predicted flu epidemics can lead to becoming obsessed with getting sick. Seeing an illness high lighted on TV can trigger worry about that disease.

Experts say that genetics isn’t a factor in hypochondria. But if you have a close relative with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, your likelihood if becoming preoccupied with a particular disease could increase. 

Hypochondria affects equally 3 to 5 percent of the male and female population. Hypochondria may appear as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, O.C.D., because of frequent self checking, doctor-searching and reassurance seeking behavior. 

5. Dental phobia 

As with other phobias, what causes fear of dental work could be a previous traumatic experience. It could also occur from a rough or unpleasant dentist, a fear of the needle for freezing or the dread of having something done in your head.

It could also be the fear of confinement in a chair. More than 50% of North Americans dislike dental procedures. When the fear progresses to avoiding the dentist altogether, it is a phobia and you need help. 

6. Blood/injection phobia 

What causes fear of blood is often other family members who fear this too. Children often internalize this fear from their parents and siblings. 

According to experts in the field of anxiety, phobias of blood, injury and injections tend to run in families. Children internalize the fear from their parents and siblings.

If you are a parent with this liability, you can eliminate these dreads with knowledge and effort. By facing these frights, you and your children will live calmer and safer lives. 

7. Fear of vomiting 

A general anxiety about losing control is often what causes fear of vomiting. It could result from serious vomiting as a child or from seeing a loved one sick and vomiting. 

8. Fear of heights 

Some acrophobia is instinctive in all animals. An exaggerated anxiety could result as a fall in childhood or from the memory of an incident where you were afraid of falling as a child. Sometimes people with balance problems are more susceptible to this fear. 

9. Animal and insect phobias 

It’s possible that fear of some animals is inborn in all mammals. But more often a parent’s fear will rub off on the child. A child is bitten by a dog, scratched by a cat or stung by a wasp can grow up with a fear of that animal or insect. Sometimes a horror movie can trigger this fear. 

10. Fear of death 

What causes fear of death is often just being human. Cats and dogs don’t fear death. But they may fear poisonous snakes.

You may fear the pain of death or the uncertainty of what or when it will be. Religious beliefs around punishment and hell in the afterlife can be very difficult for believers. Sometimes a loved one’s pain before dying causes anxiety over dying. 

What causes fear varies from person to person depending upon childhood experiences and personality. 

References for What Causes Fear

1. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. 



2. Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler Ph.D. and Tony Hope Ph.D. 



3. From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life by Lucinda Bassett. Bassett is a former sufferer of anxiety, agoraphobia, panic attacks and depression. She is president of The Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety. 



4. Free Yourself From Fear: Self Hypnosis For Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias by Valerie Austin. Austin is an internationally renowned English hypnotherapist, trainer, lecturer, author and journalist. 



5. 101 Exercises for the Soul: Simple Practices for a Healthy Body, Mind and Spirit by Dr. Bernie S. Siegel 



With a support team and time, you, your friend or family member will conquer your fear.


Go from What Causes Fear to List of Fears 

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