What are your clients really afraid of? (Illustration: Chris Nicholls)

Many widespread fears can’t stand up to impartial scrutiny. Overblown by the media, they take on larger-than-life significance in the national psyche.

Consider this sample of recent survey findings:

  • 60% of U.S. voters think it’s likely that terrorists are living in their hometown (Fox News)
  • 45% of voters fear that the federal government could use a military exercise to covertly seize control of some states (Rasmussen)
  • 44% of Americans fear machines with artificial intelligence could wipe out the human race (Monmouth University)
  • 38% of adults are afraid to swim in the ocean because of sharks (Ipsos)

As individuals, we may have particular phobias about spiders, heights or being trapped in an elevator, but these personal bugbears tend to trace back to one of a few primal fears. In a 2012 Psychology Today article, consultant Karl Albrecht wrote that all humans dread five basic things:

1. Extinction: Fear of annihilation, of no longer being. Most people dread heights because of this survival-based fear.

2. Mutilation: Fear of having our body’s structural integrity damaged. Dread of spiders and snakes is often rooted in this fear.

3. Loss of autonomy: Fear of being immobilized or trapped by circumstances outside our control. Fear of elevators arises from this fear, as does claustrophobia.

4. Separation: Fear of rejection, of becoming a non-person. This powerful fear explains why people go along with a group that threatens to ostracize them if they don’t.

5. Ego death: Fear of a humiliation so profound that it will shatter our perception that we are worthy of being loved. For example, many workaholics share a fear of failure based on fear of ego death.

Review what makes you feel stressed-out or fearful. Does it relate to one or more of the fears listed above? If so, how realistic is your spin on this primal fear?

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