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Five types of fear

Fear is not just fear


There are five basic types of fear, which can be distinguished only through curiosity and discernment.


  • Validated fears

  • Paper-tiger fears

  • Red-herring fears

  • Non-specific fears

  • Hidden fears

Most often, a particular fear will combine two or more of these five types of fear.

Regardless of which fear it is...


With every fear, whether valid or not, we must learn to embrace it, breathe into it, allowing ourselves to use and align with its vital energies.


With every fear, whether valid or not, we must honor ourselves for the courage to embrace and feel that fear and take appropriate action, if any is necessary.

Validated fears


Most of us, most of the time, act as if all our fears are validated fears. However, most of our fears have little, if any, basis in fact. Here are some examples of validated fears:


  • “If I drive drunk, I am much more likely to have an accident.”

  • “If I continue to smoke, there is a good chance I will significantly degrade the quality of my ‘golden years’

  • and die several years younger than otherwise.”

  • “If I continue to scream at my employee, she is likely to quit.”

  • "If I continue to avoid the fear of being rejected, I am not likely to find a job I want."


Paper-tiger fears

A paper-tiger fear is a fear that disappears when the fear is examined up close and/or when the fear is confronted and found to be illusory.

Here are some likely examples of paper-tiger fears:

  • “If I ask her out on a date, she’ll think I’m foolish and tell everybody else.”

  • “If I ask for a raise at work, my boss will dislike me.”

  • “If I take a trip when the stars aren’t right, something bad will happen.”

  • “If I say ‘no’ to my friends, they won’t be my friends anymore.”


Red-herring fears

A red-herring fear is a specific fear that draws our attention away from the main fear. The main fear is usually a fear of disapproval or a fear of not looking good.

Here are some likely examples of red-herring fears:

  • “I’m frightened that I won’t be able to do a good job.” (meaning: “I’m frightened that they will disapprove of my performance.”)

  • “I’m frightened that I don’t have credentials." (meaning: “I frightened that they will think less of me because I don’t have credentials.”)

  • “I’m frightened I won’t say the right thing if I stand up and share my thoughts with the class.” (meaning: “I’m frightened that they will think I am stupid and/or foolish.”)

Non-specific fears

A non-specific fear is a feeling of fear or general anxiety that seems unrelated to any specific event or condition.


Hidden Fears

Most fears are hidden fears. Since almost all of our fears are resisted fears, they end up going underground, causing major damage to the quality of our lives.

Here are some examples of hidden fears:


  • “I don’t feel comfortable taking on this project.” (hidden fear: “I’m frightened I’ll won’t succeed and then I’ll be criticized by others.”)

  • “I resent her for talking so much.” (hidden fear: “I am frightened to speak up in a way that might change the situation.”)

  • “I feel guilty that I forgot your birthday.” (hidden fear: “If I don’t beat myself up first, then I’m frightened that you will blame me for forgetting your birthday.”)


Here is a list of feelings/behaviors that can be full or partial expressions of resisted and hidden fears, notwithstanding the equivocal meanings of many of these words. It is often an interesting challenge to find the hidden fears inside these feelings/behaviors:

  • abusiveness

  • anger

  • arrogance

  • betrayal (feeling)

  • bitterness

  • blame

  • boredom

  • busy

  • complaining

  • controlling

  • crankiness

  • criticalness

  • cynicism

  • defensiveness

  • depression

  • dispirited (feeling)

  • disrespect (showing)

  • disrespect (feeling)

  • domination

  • envy

  • expectations

  • foolish (feeling)

  • guilt,

  • hate

  • helpless (feeling)

  • hope/hopeless

  • hostility

  • impatience

  • indecisiveness

  • inflexibility

  • ingratitude

  • insensitivity

  • intolerance

  • jealousy,

  • lack of self-confidence

  • laziness, low self-esteem

  • lying

  • malevolence

  • nagging

  • obsessiveness

  • overwhelm

  • perfectionism

  • petulance

  • procrastination

  • racism

  • rebellion

  • resentfulness

  • resignation

  • righteousness

  • rudeness

  • self-consciousness

  • self-criticism

  • self-suppression

  • seriousness

  • shame (feeling)

  • stubbornness

  • submissiveness

  • trying

  • uncomfortableness

  • victim (feeling like one)

  • whining


Get curious about your fears


Whenever you experience fear or whenever you experience what might be a hidden fear, breathe into the energy of the fear, honoring yourself for the courage to examine it and feel it fully.


Your fears can be so fascinating if you begin to make friends with them to understand them more fully.


One of the 166 essay

This suite was created from one of the 166 essays in my book, "Courage: the Choice that Makes the Difference—Your Key to a Thousand Doors," published in 2004.

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