I'm a web developer, Internet marketer, and a recovering anxiety sufferer. I write about mental health/wellness issues and technology.
Death. It's inevitable, something we're all destined for, whether we like it or not. It's the fate of all living things, including us human beings.
Death is the ultimate step into the unknown. In fact, it may be the final end of ourselves, a complete loss and dissolution of everything that makes us ... well ... us.
Mind-blowing when you really think about it, isn't it?
An abnormal fear of death or corpses.
Fear of death is something we all have in common
All humans experience the fear of death at some point. As conscious beings, I don't believe we can face the cold fact of our own or our loved ones' demise without fear. Maybe a saint could, but I don't personally know any of those. Being afraid of death is, at least to some degree, a normal part of being human.
Most of us are able to cope with this fear most of the time. We're somehow able to compartmentalize it, to cordon off the reality of death from our conscious awareness. Some of us can do it until we're actively dying.
Maybe it's just a case of basic denial. If so, it's probably necessary. No one can live with constant fearful thoughts about death. We have to be able to push it away.
But what if you can't?
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
— Albert Pike
Enter necrophobia: The pervasive, obsessive fear of death
Necrophobia is a specific phobia, a type of anxiety disorder. Derived from the Greek words nekros (corpse) and phobos (fear), you have necrophobia if you live with intrusive, terrifying thoughts and feelings about death which may include:
- Dread and trepidation concerning your own death.
- Intense worry about the death of a loved one or a pet.
- Extreme aversion to death-related objects like coffins, headstones, graveyards, skeletons, even churches.
- Avoidance of dead bodies (including those of animals) or rottenness, decay, and decomposition.
- Traumatic reactions to portrayals of death and violence in movies, TV shows, drawings, etc.
You may experience symptoms of extreme anxiety and panic attacks when faced with anything that triggers your fear of death, such as:
- Shaking, sweating, hyperventilating.
- Blurred vision, dizziness, feeling like you will pass out.
- Feeling that you could die or go crazy.
- Feeling trapped.
- Feeling disassociated from your body.
Common causes of necrophobia
Although necrophobia has no one specific cause, you may have experienced one or more of the following:
- A traumatic childhood encounter with death. Perhaps someone close to you died unexpectedly, or maybe you encountered the corpse of a person or an animal and didn't know how to cope with it. You may have witnessed violent acts that resulted in the death of a person or a pet.
- Early exposure to violent media. Some children are traumatized by inappropriate exposure to scary movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. This American Life recently aired a piece about an adult man who's still trying to heal from a painful encounter with Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" when he was six.
- A near-death experience. Perhaps you had a close call with death yourself, an experience in which you nearly died and suffered PTSD about afterwards.
- Family attitudes about death. Some families have very strong taboos around talking about, grieving, or even acknowledging death. Maybe your family instilled in you attitudes that later became necrophobic in nature.
Some experts hold that modern life itself also causes necrophobia. Until pretty recently, it was common for family members to die at home, thus exposing children early on to the idea that death is a normal part of life. People in the modern world mostly die in hospitals now. Death is no longer part of everyday living, and this could be helping create abnormal fears about the realities of death.
Best ways to overcome necrophobia
The good news is that, like any phobia, necrophobia responds favorably to some well-established forms of treatment. If you're struggling to overcome necrophobia in your own life, you may want to consider some of the following options:
- Talk about it. Just being honest about your fears to a person with a sympathetic ear can feel tremendously freeing. Talk with someone you know will not judge or criticize you. You may also benefit from professional help with an phobia treatment specialist, like the one I used to help me overcome my driving phobia.
- Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a time-limited form of psychotherapy geared towards correcting irrational thoughts and their accompanying emotions. It's usually done with the help of an experienced CBT therapist, although you can learn the basic principles on your own. CBT has been clinically proven one of the most effective forms of phobia treatment.
- Use hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is another form of psychotherapy shown to be effective at treating phobias. It's a gentle way of reprogramming your unconscious, automatic reactions to the things that frighten you. It can be a great way to release traumatic thoughts and feelings around the fear of death.
- Do guided meditation / relaxation. Somewhat related to hypnotherapy, meditation and relaxation help reduce the psychological and physical stresses of phobia. There are many useful sources of online information about meditation.
- Try Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT, aka "tapping," is a self-help therapy that works with emotions on a physiological level. It's a blend of alternative therapies, including acupuncture and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), that help change "stuck" emotional states within the body / mind. EFT may seem like a somewhat bizarre practice, but I've found it extremely helpful for my own problems with phobia.
Other ways to overcome necrophobia
In addition to the suggestions above, you can also deal with your necrophobia in other ways, including:
- Learn to see death as a release. The death of those we love is always hard, but it can also be a positive end to their suffering. Learn to view death not as "the end," but as a kind of transition for loved ones to a better place. The release into death can be a necessary, merciful event.
- Realize that death is part of life. Far from being something traumatic and awful, you can learn to see death as a natural, normal part of living. Every living thing eventually dies. Death is an integral part of the great mystery of life.
- Be of service to others. Helping and honoring the experience of other people is one of the most life-affirming things we can do. Saying "yes" to life takes a lot of the fear out of the end of life.
- Live your life to the fullest. Since our time on Earth is limited, it behooves us to live as passionately, boldly, and as fully as possible. This is not a drill. Seize the moment and live NOW, to the fullest extent you're capable. Our inevitable mortality calls upon us to live with meaning and true substance.
- See the funny side of death. Humor is one of the main ways I deal with my fear of death. It may sound strange, but "black" or "gallows" humor is a human coping mechanism about death. It can be very effective for shedding some of our fear of it. Try watching a black comedy like Death Becomes Her. Nothing makes me feel less afraid of death than laughing at it.
Phobias are much more common than you may think. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that up to 18% of Americans suffer from some kind of specific phobia like necrophobia. Phobias are one of the most common mental health issues in existence. Fortunately, there are now effective and proven treatments available for overcoming almost any type of phobia, including necrophobia. I hope these suggestions have been helpful for you.
P.S. What ways to overcome necrophobia have worked for you? Share them with all of us in the comments section below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Maureen on September 20, 2019:
I am not afraid to die. I am afraid of the dead body , coffins and everything else that comes with it. I know I do not what any of That when I die since have such a fear of being in a casket and having a viewing and getting buried that I decided to donate my body to science. The paper work is done and I feel I can help others by being a cadaver then being in a box in a hole. I feel like a million pounds have been lifted off me knowing I will not be shown and in a casket and helping others when I die.
Krystal on August 17, 2019:
My fear isnt my own death or funerals or anything like that mine is corpses it doesnt matter what kind human dog cat mouse chicken bug anything dead. That being said I can cook and eat pork chops hamburgers sausage hot dogs bacon ham lunch meats chicken breasts stuff like that but as far as the whole chicken I wouldn't be able to cook or eat it and if I'm eating a burger and think about it being a dead cow I'm done it will literally make me physically sick to eat it. I work in a nursing home and have for over 4 years and by the grace of God I haven't had anyone die on me yet I've had residents die but not while I was in charge of taking care of them and I dread the day it happens because I will probably be looking for another career because I honestly believe I wont be able to handle it and will be left with no other choice but to leave the job that I really do love doing all because I have a phobia of touching dead things and dont know how to get passed it. I remember once as a teenager i was asked to take the bag that has the insides out of a store bought chicken 4 hours later the bag was still inside the chicken and in biology when we had to dissect a frog yeah that didnt happen either and as far as dissecting a pig i quit school before i had to. I would really like to get past my fear but I just dont see how I can
scare of death on August 13, 2019:
thank you very much
Kirk on September 01, 2018:
Most nights i fight my thoughts of someday this will all end.... ITS SO SAD AND THE PAIN INSIDE IS EXCRUCIATING It wont go away
.. each night memories of my family and love ones floods me and tells me to do something for them and show them my love until its too late... Filling my mind with what ifs But most of the time I say to myself that even if I die can I keep my memories i dont care if my life on earth was hard I dont care if Ill feel lonely... Ill endure it for the sake that with my memories They will serve as proof that I once lived with the people whom I Loved... Thats all I ask for each and every day of my life
Sabrina2 on January 11, 2017:
I feel that my classmates toss around the word death so lightly, but for me it is serious. I hate that I will have to one day vanish into the unknown. I can't stand graveyards and wake up often at night scared out of my mind. I love my life and don't ever want to die. I hate the though of anyone in my life dying. I want to live life with no fear of death. People have suggested a mandala necklace or a saying to remind me to live out my life. I really want to not be scared of this. What do I do?
bc200bc on March 31, 2016:
I'm not sure how strange it may seem to others, but because I have a cold-logical way of thinking and being a student of science, my fear stems from the fact that everything ends, mainly towards the fear of my own death and that nothing exists afterward... And somewhat limitations on what we can do in life because of financial reasons and the like, it does feel a little restricting on top of my fear.
I have tried a few of the self-remedy one's, but were unsuccessful, could anyone help me? Or even help change my view on death?
Any help is appreciated
WannabeFarmer on July 02, 2014:
My phobia is specific to corpses. I don't obsess about death or particularly fear my own, but show me a dead rat (I'll touch and handle ANY animal if alive) and I start sweating, hyperventilating and my heart feels like a drum on steroids.
Strangely, I was recently able to slaughter, pluck, gut, skin and cook a rooster (by myself and by choice!). Knowing the animal was newly dead (not rotting or decomposing) and being part of the process to turn it into food made the experience fairly natural and I did not freak out in the least. I'm currently building a rabbit hutch and fully intend to raise meat rabbits. I plan to process them myself and don't anticipate this phobia taking over.
Today, however, I went into full on panic attack mode while trying to feed our snake an already dead mouse. I find these frozen critters to be more than I can bear.
I have no idea where the disconnect lies and I hope my rabbit adventure will begin to blur the lines and help me journey away from this phobia that makes me feel so ridiculous.
Sabrina on April 21, 2014:
the better place thing doesn't help me. what about people that don't believe in a better place and don't want to stop living!
Greg Weber (author) from Montana on August 02, 2013:
Thanks for your comment. Hope the Hub wasn't too triggering!
Fr on July 28, 2013:
Deep breaths. Running around the house and screaming