The 7 Fear Archetypes & How To Figure Out Yours
Fear is a funny thing.
It's one of our most basic human instincts, intended to protect us from all those dangers that might cause us harm and to jolt us to action when a threat becomes imminent.
And yet that same fear can also be an invisible chain that ties us down and keeps us stuck. Instead of keeping us safe, it paralyzes us and prevents us from moving forward, from taking risks or putting ourselves out there, from having the courage to follow our dreams and create a life we love.
The very instinct designed to protect us also holds us back.
Sometimes we call it anxiety, or worry, or just a general feeling of unease. Sometimes it looks like depression. Sometimes it is that we are just so busy we can't keep up. Sometimes we feel stuck and unmotivated. Sometimes it's just a whole bunch of what ifs.
But underneath all those labels, it always comes down to fear.
The seven archetypes of fear.
Over the past several years, as I've taught more and more people how to build their businesses and set big goals in their lives, I've had so many of my students and customers tell me that they feel like they are sitting on the sidelines of their own life, afraid to go all in, terrified of making a mistake, of letting people down, of failing, or of being laughed at. They see the things they'd like to do and yet don't, simply because they're too afraid.
It made me curious. I started to wonder what was this fear that seems to be holding so many of us back from doing big things in our lives? Does it look the same for everyone? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
And so, in the course of the research for my new book, Do It Scared, I started asking questions, and those questions led to even more questions, until I had surveyed more than 4,000 people—so many that I had to hire a whole team of researchers and psychologists to help make sense of the data.
What we discovered was nothing short of incredible.
What we found was that while fear does look just a little bit different for each of us, there are some very distinct patterns in the way these fears play out in our lives—something we called the Fear Archetypes. They include the Procrastinator, the Rule Follower, the People Pleaser, the Outcast, the Self-Doubter, the Excuse Maker, and the Pessimist.
And that's where it really gets fascinating because while each of us possesses a few qualities of all seven archetypes, most of us have at least one dominant archetype that affects us more strongly than the others and plays out in our lives in more noticeable ways. Like fear itself, each of the seven archetypes has both negative and positive qualities—traits that can either help or hinder us.
So why does this matter?
Ultimately, the fact that everyone experiences fear differently means that the path to overcoming fear will also be a little bit different for everyone. The reality is that most of our fear is happening subconsciously, inside our head, often without us realizing it, and without us recognizing that what we are feeling or experiencing is actually fear. Instead, we experience it as truth.
But when you can start to recognize those fear patterns in your life and start to understand how your own unique Fear Archetype is affecting you and how it might be holding you back, you suddenly have the power to start doing something about it. Identifying your fear is the first step in overcoming it.
As you read through the following archetypes and perhaps start to recognize your own patterns, or the patterns of people you know, remember that while most of us have a little of each of these seven archetypes, there will generally be one—or possibly even a few—that are most prevalently affecting your life. As you go through them, try to identify which ones resonate most for you, and then take the Do It Scared Fear Assessment at assessment.doitscared.com to find out whether your hunch was accurate.
Also known as the Perfectionist, the Procrastinator archetype struggles most with the fear of making a mistake, which often manifests itself as a fear of commitment or a fear of getting started.
Ironically, on the surface, the Procrastinator often exhibits behavior that seems to be the opposite of procrastination, such as planning things far in advance or trying to work ahead.
How it might hold you back: The Procrastinator can often find themselves paralyzed by indecision, especially when that decisive action must be taken quickly. The Procrastinator prefers to spend an inordinate amount of time researching, planning, or getting organized, which can stymie progress when the research, planning, and organization become a substitute for taking action.
Are you a Procrastinator? You'll know you might be a procrastinator if you never feel like things are done or ready, if you like to plan things way in advance, or if you have trouble committing or saying yes to things that are outside of your comfort zone.
The Rule Follower
The Rule Follower archetype struggles most with an outsized fear of authority, a fear that often manifests itself as an irrational aversion to breaking the rules or doing anything that might be perceived as "not allowed," and just the possibility of getting in trouble—even when the potential "punishment" is only imagined—is enough to prevent them from taking action or moving forward.
The Rule Follower tends to see the world in black and white and tends to feel anxious anytime they sense themselves or other people stepping outside the norms of acceptable behavior. They can also be overly concerned with making sure other people are making good decisions.
How it might hold you back: You may avoid taking risks, especially when you're not sure whether there is a "right" path to follow, and your unhealthy fear of authority may prevent you from coloring outside the lines or trusting your own judgment.
Are you a Rule Follower? You'll know you might be a Rule Follower if you like knowing there is an established protocol to follow, if you strongly prefer for things to be done the "right" way, if you are always the one to read the instruction manual completely, or if you spend time worrying about regulations and things not being done correctly.
The People Pleaser
Naturally drawn to seek the approval of others, the People Pleaser archetype struggles most with the fear of being judged, which also manifests itself as the fear of letting people down and the fear of what other people might say. Essentially, the People Pleaser's biggest concern can often be summed up as the fear of how others may react.
Because the People Pleaser is so afraid of being judged—or worse yet, mocked or ridiculed—and because the People Pleaser is acutely aware of how others might react or what they might say, they can sometimes be hesitant to speak up. They may also put a great deal of effort into their appearance, as well as be concerned with status symbols such as a nice car, home, or designer labels.
How it might hold you back: The People Pleaser sometimes has a hard time saying no, setting limits, and establishing healthy boundaries because they are so afraid of letting other people down. This can also result in frequently becoming overcommitted or allowing other people's priorities and requests to override their own goals and dreams. This can sometimes lead to deep feelings of resentment or bitterness that will sometimes bubble to the surface in unexpected ways.
Are you a People Pleaser? You'll know you might be a People Pleaser if you are often worried about looking foolish or being judged, if you worry about letting other people down, or if you struggle to disagree when others share an opinion.
The Outcast archetype struggles most with the fear of rejection or a fear of trusting other people—a fear that often manifests itself by rejecting others before they have a chance to be rejected.
Ironically, to outside observers, the Outcast often appears to be fearless, the quintessential "rugged individualist," a person who doesn't care what others think and who isn't at all afraid to forge her own path, to speak her mind, or to think outside the box and do things differently.
Inwardly, though, the Outcast often believes other people can't be counted on or trusted and tends to view even the mildest slight or dismissal as confirmation of that belief, which in turn causes the Outcast to reject others even more frequently. Even in situations where it is not personal and when they are not actually being rejected, the Outcast will assume the worst.
How it might hold you back: When taken to the extreme, the Outcast persona can sometimes result in self-destructive or criminal behavior. However, on a day-to-day basis, the Outcast can struggle to ask for help or to trust others or may shut people out rather than risk being rejected.
Are you an Outcast? You'll know you might be an Outcast if you're not afraid to do your own thing, but you do have a hard time trusting people, or if you find yourself pushing people away and not letting them get too close.
Often plagued by a deep and sometimes hidden feeling of insecurity, the Self-Doubter struggles most with the fear of not being capable, which often manifests itself as the fear of not being enough.
Because Self-Doubters are frequently worried about being qualified or capable, they can be crippled by insecurity and uncertainty, to the point that they are unable or unwilling to take any action at all.
Interestingly, Self-Doubters sometimes try to hide or compensate for this insecurity by being hypercritical and judgmental of others. They may also struggle with feelings of intense jealousy toward people who are doing the things they wish they could do. Again, this jealousy may manifest itself in the form of sarcasm, gossip, or criticism.
How it might hold you back: You may avoid trying new things or taking risks because you don't believe in yourself or your abilities. Additionally, your propensity toward jealousy and criticism—which ultimately comes from a place of feeling unworthy—can have an adverse effect on your relationships.
Are you a Self-Doubter? You'll know you might be a Self-Doubter if you frequently struggle with feeling unworthy or unqualified or if you tend to be hypercritical of yourself and others.
The Excuse Maker
Also known as the Blame Shifter, the Excuse Maker archetype struggles most with the fear of taking responsibility, which can also manifest itself as the fear of being held accountable, or the fear of being found at fault.
Because the Excuse Maker is terrified of having the finger pointed in their direction, they frequently look for an excuse—someone or something to blame—for why they can't do something. Often these reasons and rationalizations appear to be completely valid and legitimate, which can sometimes make it hard to pin down the fact that the Excuse Maker is shifting blame and avoiding responsibility.
The Excuse Maker is extremely adept at diverting focus and attention from their own culpability to other people or circumstances, and they are masterful rationalizers.
How it might hold you back: You may get nervous at the idea of being in charge and be uncomfortable with making a final decision, for fear of being blamed for an unfavorable outcome. Your tendency to avoid responsibility can be frustrating to others, which can adversely affect your relationships, and you may be prone to blame any current struggles on other people or circumstances.
Are you an Excuse Maker? You'll know that you might be an Excuse Maker if you frequently find yourself looking for ways to avoid blame or often have an explanation for why you aren't able to do something.
Often a casualty of circumstances outside her control, the Pessimist archetype struggles most with the fear of adversity, which often manifests itself as the fear of struggling through hard things or the fear of pain.
Because the Pessimist has experienced some sort of hardship, tragedy, or adversity in their life, either recently or in the past, they have legitimate reason to feel victimized. But allowing themselves to stay in that victim role is exactly what keeps the Pessimist stuck.
Because they are so afraid of adversity and hardship and because they feel like they lack control over their situation, Pessimists are easily waylaid by any difficult or challenging circumstances that come their way. Instead of seeing obstacles as an opportunity for growth and perseverance, Pessimists view their tragedies and hardships as legitimate reasons to give up or to not try at all.
How it might hold you back: You may get stuck in bitterness, feeling like you have been dealt an unfair hand. You may struggle to face your circumstances head-on instead preferring to hide to avoid additional pain. Ironically, this response often makes things worse.
Are you a Pessimist? You'll know that you might be a Pessimist if you struggle with bitterness toward other people or unfair circumstances or if you tend to feel like there is no real solution for your problem and therefore would rather not try at all.
Where to go from here.
So what do you do with this information? And why does it matter?
It matters because it is only once you identify the type of fear that's negatively affecting your life, holding you back, or keeping you stuck that you can actually do something about it. You can't fix something without first knowing what the problem is. Without a diagnosis, there can be no cure.
But once you do know where fear is holding you back, once you've started to identify those patterns in your life, you can also start to take action.
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New York Times bestselling author Ruth Soukup is dedicated to helping women overcome fear and create a life they love. Through her blog, Living Well Spending Less, which reaches more than 1 million women each month, she encourages her readers to follow their dreams and reach their goals. She is also the founder of the Living Well Planner® and Elite Blog Academy®. Her practical advice has been featured in numerous publications and news programs, including Women's Day, Redbook, Family Circle and Fox News. Her podcast, Do It Scared®, launched in 2018.