Fear of Death

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I have always had a fear of death, after when I was little we lost one of the family pets (We treat them more like family members) and ever since then I have had these strange, at random, panics about me dying, and that I just don’t want my story to end. Its the only fear that i have that does this to me. It happens randomly, I can be watching a TV Show, or just laying down in bed. its weird. On a side note I was hurt by a male family member as a child in a sexual, physical and emotional manner and I do believe this could be the source but I don’t know for sure.

I just guess I don’t want my story to end in life and I also have no religious preference, I believe in a higher power however but that is really all I believe in for I have not felt any connection with any religion I have studied and visited.

I guess I am just trying to see if there is any way to maybe stop these attacks from happening, however I will not take any kind of medication (I.E Anti-anxiety pills, etc) so if there is any kind of mental exercise or some alternative treatment I would appreciate it.

A. The whole issue of being and nonbeing is the basis of existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy and more. It is over one hundred years old and its influence extends into philosophy, psychology, literature and beyond. One of the most famous books in existentialism is John Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. For you to have these ‘existential moments’ is not unpredicted by existentialism.

The issue of death is very real. Everyone you know will die and every baby that is born tomorrow, will eventually die. Anyone who’s ever lived has either died or will die. It is a very deep issue that we all must grapple with. You are apparently more cognizant of your ‘being’ than many people. Many people live in ignorance of their mortality and consequently do not live a good life, according to the existential model.

You have a fear of death but the question is: should you? One option is to turn to religion to search for answers. Many people in the world believe in reincarnation. Hindus and Buddhists, for example, believe that life is simply a cycle. Death is not an end but a new beginning. You can look at all the various religious interpretations but most of them suggest that there is life after death. Most religions are founded on the idea that there is life after death, for people who lead the ‘right’ lifestyle.

You can study more than religion or philosophy and also look at science. Science can help you determine if there is life after death. There are many scientists who have explored this issue in-depth including Dr. Brian Weiss, Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and Dr. Ian Stevenson. All are psychiatrists (medical doctors).

Dr. Brian Weiss is a prominent New York Times best-selling author and Ivy League-educated psychiatrist. He has written several influential books including Many Lives, Many Masters and Same Soul, Many Bodies. The first chapter in the latter book is titled ‘Immortality.” Dr. Weiss believes, after years of working with many hundreds and perhaps thousands of patients, that our souls are immortal and we essentially never die. When Dr. Weiss published his first book in 1988, according to a recent New York Times article, he was censured by the psychiatric community. Now, he currently reports that he receives calls inquiring about his work from many other scientists, doctors and surgeons.

Dr. Raymond Moody wrote the very popular book Life After Life. From a scientific perspective, Dr. Moody analyzed the experience of terminally ill patients who reported near-death experiences (NDE). According to the International Association of Near-Death Studies, a NDE is a profound psychological event. For many, it is immensely positive, life-altering experience. NDEs are generally characterized by moving toward a bright light that many consider a higher being such as God, an immense and overwhelming emotional experience, and a new overall understanding regarding the nature of the universe. Dr. Moody is careful not to make any definitive conclusions about his work. He does believe, based on his work with thousands of individuals who shared their NDE stories, that there may be life after death.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on death and dying is world-famous and foundational in science, medicine, nursing and in the field of social work. Almost anyone trained as a scientist, a doctor, a nurse, a psychologist, a social worker (and so forth) will have been exposed to her death and dying theories. She affectionately became known to the world as the ‘Death and Dying’ lady. After working with at least 20,000 dying patients, Dr. Kubler-Ross concluded that there is life after death. Her first experience with the mystical, was when she saw a ghost in an elevator. She ultimately became convinced that she had “guides” who were directing her life. She too was censured by the medical community but even so, continued to believe that we essentially are immortal and there is life after death.

Dr. Ian Stevenson was a well-respected psychiatrist and former head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Virginia. Dr. Stevenson is known for his work on the scientific documentation of reincarnation. Dr. Stevenson traveled around the world and personally interviewed thousands of children reporting spontaneous past life memories. He methodically documented each case. He also searched for biological evidence to support his findings. His credentials are impeccable and he has published many scholarly papers in academic journals. Dr. Stevenson, like other scientists, was careful not to draw definitive conclusions about his work. Many consider Dr. Stevenson’s work to be the most convincing documented evidence of reincarnation.

There are other notable scientists who study similar topics including Dr. Kenneth Ring (psychology professor University of Connecticut), Dr. Melvin Morse (pediatrician and neuroscientist) and Dr. Bruce Greyson (Director of the Division of Perceptual Studies; Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences University of Virginia School of Medicine).

The aforementioned authors offer scientific evidence of life after death. Of course, no one knows for sure what happens after the physical body expires. I would encourage you to explore the issue of death from all perspectives: religious, psychological, and scientific. It may help to desensitize you to the idea of death and will likely decrease your anxiety. Many individuals who have read the works of the aforementioned authors report no longer fearing death; they have become comfortable with it. You might have the same enlightening and freeing experience. If you do not find relief, you should consider talking to a therapist about your situation.

I wish you well. Good luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Oct 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Fear of Death. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/10/16/fear-of-death-2/