Ways to Overcome Necrophobia
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
Do you have an intense fear of death?
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.
How intense is your fear 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 . Nothing makes me feel less afraid of death than laughing at it. Death Becomes Her
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.