Benjamin Franklin said “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” These words spoke volumes of the inevitability of death. It’s ultimate reality of life which catches up to every human being. Death conjures the fear of helplessness, distress, hopelessness, sadness. In terms of psychology, the fear of death which person experiences is called Thanatophobia. It is a complicated phobia. Some people are afraid of being dead or other are afraid of with the act of dying. One source defines death anxiety as a feeling of dread, worry, solicitude or recurrent thoughts that surrounds death when one thinks of the process of dying. These thoughts are persistent and sometimes find hard to function – which means interfering in their normal day to day life.
In addition to this, anxiety caused by death contained thought which might be classified within clinical setting by a psychiatrist as morbid or abnormal classifies in a degree of anxiety that is constant and intrudes with daily performance.
Robert Lang distinguishes three types of death anxiety:-
1. Predatory Death Anxiety – Its origin lies in the unicellular organisms which possess adaptors that evolved to react to dangerous situations. It arises from fear of being harmed. It is evoked by variety of dangerous situations that put one at risk or threaten one’s survival. It mobilizes an individual’s adaptive resources and leads to flight or fight response.
2. Predation or Predator death anxiety – This form of anxiety arises when individual harms another one physically or mentally. This form of death anxiety is often accompanied by unconscious guilt.
3. Existential death anxiety – This form of anxiety arises from basic knowledge that human life must end. It is known to be most powerful form of anxiety.
Many people have fear of death that is tied to their religious beliefs, particularly if they know what’s going to happen after death. Some people think that path to salvation is narrow and straight but fear that there may be mistakes which will cause them to be eternally condemned. These religious beliefs could be personalized.
Possible causes of fear of death
Fear of unknown- We as individuals are curious by nature. Our curiosity to know and understand the world drives our actions but what happens after death remains a question. Many tried to find the answer but all answers lacks credibility.
Fear of loss of control- As people strives to gain knowledge of the world around them. In similar fashion, control is something which individuals strive for and death is outside of anyone’s control. These individuals tries to keep death away with the help of rigorous and extreme health check ups. Over time, people with thanatophobia may develop obsessive compulsive disorder, hypochondria and even delusional thinking.
Fear of pain, illness- Some people with apparent fear of death do not actually fear death but they fear the circumstances that surrounds the act of dying. People are afraid they crippling, pain or terminal illness. People with form of Thanatophobia suffer from Nosophobia (irrational fear of having any disease), hypochondriasis or other form of somatoform.
Fear of death of Children- Fear of child’s death could be devastating for parents. It could cause irrational fear in parents when thinking about their child’s death.
Concern about family- Some people are afraid that if they die what will happen to their family. This worry for their family and friends causes irrational fear of death in them. Upon asking on people about their first thought on death, individual replied that they are uneasy while some on other hand replied the serenity, the death brings that is feeling of relief or going to heaven.
Above stated are the factors which could be possible reason for people fearing death. Diagnosis of Thanatophobia can be done by trained mental health professionals. The excess fear of death can cause impairment in daily functioning of the individual. One can ask guided questions and recognizes symptoms of related disorder. Thus, prescribe appropriate treatment.
As reported in June 2017 issue of the journal Psychological Science Kurt Gray and colleagues at university of North Carolina studied about the emotional lives of people facing terminal illness. Language offers rich insight to people. They studied the blog post, poetry and last words of people facing imminent death. The researcher compared the results of individuals who are actually knocking the doors of death against the people who are healthy and merely imagined their imminent death results were interesting. Non- patients used more negative words in their blog than patients who are terminally ill. Patients blog were positive than non- patients. Further, the use of positive words increase as death approach nearby. In addition, the last words of the death row inmates facing execution were less negative than poetry produced by inmates who were not facing execution. These findings were trustworthy as they were replicated in a vastly different population. Thus, it would be fascinating to learn about processes that preceded the enhanced positivity and reduces negativity in people who are about to die.
Evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering expresses his view on dreadfullness of death. He quoted to consider the astounding fact that one will never know they have died one might feel that they are sinking deep in water in a way losing the touch of life but isn’t as though there will be anyone around who is capable of ascertaining that once it is said and done, it actually happened. Apart from asleep, the actual process of losing consciousness due to injury or illness, whether sudden or gradual is the experience many of us had gone through. There is no reason to think that temporary loosing conscious is different from permanently loosing consciousness. Comparing death with sleep that we all sleep everyday but death is a kind of sleep where there is no guarantee of waking up. Death is an eternal sleep.
Most people are afraid of circumstances which surrounds during death while others are afraid of mere thoughts of death leading to impairment in daily functioning. Death is inevitable and scares the people at some point in their life. Adding a famous quote “life is a beautiful lie while death is a painful truth.” The truth that becomes very hard for some people to accept.