Fear Of Death (Thanatophobia): Characteristics, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

The fear of death is known as thanatophobia comes from the Greek “thanatos” which means “death” and from “phobia” which means “fear”. Therefore, it is an irrational fear of death in general, the death of relatives and death itself. As with all phobias , psychotherapy is often necessary to alleviate this exaggerated anxiety .


  • Thanatophobia, or “death phobia,” unlike necrophobia ( fear of dead people or things), causes strong anxiety about one’s own death or the death of others.
  • Like all phobias, it causes very strong anxiety symptoms, as well as anti-phobic attitudes, such as rituals or avoidance attitudes, aimed at fighting fear.

Although everyone is aware that they are going to die, thanatophobia makes this fear exaggerated and unreasonable:

  • The thanatophobic is more or less affected by this fear that prevents them, in most cases, from carrying out their daily activities.
  • He flees from everything that, in his opinion, could endanger himself or others.
  • The consequences can be social (withdrawal, isolation), family (fear of commitment, refusal to found a family) or even professional (refusal to drive a vehicle).

Recognized causes of thanatophobia

  • Like all phobias, thanatophobia can be triggered by a traumatic event such as seeing a corpse or the death of a loved one, especially in childhood.
  • It can also be passed on by parents.
  • There is not always an obvious cause, so it is simply excess anxiety that translates this way.
  • There are also thanatophobics among hypochondriacs.
  • Thanatophobia prevents the affected person from living due to this exaggerated fear of death.
  • The thanatophobic has difficulty projecting into the future.
  • He develops obsessive behaviors and ideas around this term, for himself and for others.
  • He worries about not being able to control things, he only thinks about sudden death and what happens after death.


  • To speak of thanatophobia, the following symptoms must have evolved over several weeks:
  • Avoid anything that can cause, hasten death, or endanger (sports, driving, or even leaving the house).
  • Unable to go to a cemetery or hospital.
  • Unable to look at corpses, even in a photo or on a screen.
  • Insomnia from fear of dying while sleeping.
  • Permanent anxiety about death.
  • Panic attacks during the evocation or the confrontation with death.
  • Depression and withdrawal.
  • No matter what your entourage says, thanatophobia cannot reason. For him fear is real and he experiences it in a very distressing way.

Elements to consider

Thinking about your own death is not obvious to anyone.

  • Even for those who accept the idea of ​​dying one day, it is difficult to think about the end itself, says Franco De Masi, author of Thinking about his own death, published in 2010 by Ithaque.
  • According to Freud, he notes, “we are likely to think and represent the death of others, even if it is a painful and disconcerting experience.
  • We can fear the death of a loved one, anticipate it and feel it even before it happens, and we know that we will have to face the emptiness that will follow.
  • But it is not obvious to prepare for the emptiness that relates to ourselves.
  • In this case, the author continues, “the very term ’empty’ seems inappropriate, because we cannot fully oppose it.
  • When we wonder how we hear death, we are faced with the limits of our thinking .
  • Hence the large number of people who at one time or another go through a phase of anxiety at the idea of ​​dying.

Pathological anxiety when paralyzing

  • This anguish is inevitable and inherent in human mortality, but it becomes problematic “when it has a paralyzing effect,” says Lysiane Panighini, a narrative psychoprofessional.
  • «When this fear cuts the vital impulse of the person.
  • When she invades his thoughts to the point of preventing him from carrying out his daily activities or working normally, when he makes him have difficult relationships with those he loves or when he makes him transmit his anguish to his immediate surroundings.
  • In these cases, «the fear of dying could be associated with the fear of living», suggests Lysiane Panighini: «starting from the principle that you cannot take life without taking death because it is part of it, the fear of death is associated, therefore, with the fear of life.

When guilt is the cause of death anxiety

  • Another explanation often evoked in psychoanalysis : the unconscious vows of death that one could make as a child against close beings and that subsequently generate tenacious guilt.
  • It becomes morbid anguish, as if it were obvious to have to be punished.

“For a long time I thought that my fear was linked to the death of my grandfather, whom I loved when I was six years old,” says Adrien.

“But since I started therapy to try to get rid of this weight, I have found that the reasons are probably more complex, and are rather on the side of a great feeling of guilt, which I have always felt.

  • When I was a child, my father had to stop working for long months and I suffered. I have nurtured a resentment towards him that I find it hard to forgive myself.

“Personally, I had a very bad experience with the birth of my little sister when I was two and a half years old. I dreamed that I would disappear to find the exclusivity that I had with my mother “, confesses Anna, 37,” hypochondriac and terrified by the idea of ​​dying. “My psychiatrist thinks that many of my problems have their origin in this period of my life that I have never forgiven myself.”

You might also like: Fear of love 

Recommended treatment

  • Thanatophobia does not always require care.
  • If there are no particular consequences in the person’s life, they can be accommodated and kept under control.
  • However, in the most severe cases, if the psychological suffering is significant or there are consequences in daily life, psychotherapy is recommended.
  • Behavioral therapies, supervised by a trained professional (psychologist or psychiatrist), have very good results.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.