The 7 Types of Fear That Hold Us Back—and How to Overcome Them
Updated: Apr 17
The other day, I listened to a podcast featuring Ruth Soukup, author of the book Do It Scared: Finding the Courage to Face Your Fears, Overcome Obstacles, and Create a Life You Love.
After surveying over 4,000 adults, Soukup and a team of researchers and psychologists found that the type of fear that holds us back in life manifests itself in seven different ways. It’s what she refers to as the “fear archetypes.”
According to Soukup’s study, the fear archetypes include: the Procrastinator, the Rule Follower, the People Pleaser, the Outcast, the Self-Doubter, the Excuse Maker and the Pessimist.
You can probably already see yourself in one (or many) of these categories—I know I could.
“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,” Soukup explains in an article for Mindbodygreen.
At first glance, I assumed my “dominant archetype” would be the People Pleaser, or maybe the Rule Follower. But after taking Soukup’s archetype assessment quiz, I was surprised to learn that I was actually a Procrastinator. She explained this archetype is often associated with those who consider themselves to be perfectionists.
I worried learning more about my “Procrastinator” tendencies would upset me—but after taking a deep dive into the Procrastinator archetype, I actually found the information empowering. It reminded me: By identifying what holds you back, you’re better able to make the changes necessary to overcome it. We all carry fear, and accepting the type of fear you carry is the first step in pushing past it.
By identifying what holds you back, you’re better able to make the changes necessary to overcome it.
So, here’s a breakdown of the seven fear archetypes and how to make them work for you. We also tapped Dr. Alicia Hodge, Psy.D., a psychologist and speaker, to give us her feedback on a few of them.
1. The Procrastinator
As mentioned before, I was pretty surprised to get this archetype, but after reading the description, I felt very seen.
The Procrastinators often obsess over the end product or outcome of whatever they’re doing and insist on it being perfect. Because of this: They tend to spend too much time planning and researching instead of simply diving in. They hold themselves back from even getting started in the first place.
For Procrastinators: It’s important to push past that fear of starting.
“Getting started may feel like a big hill to climb, but you cannot edit or revise something that does not exist,” Hodge says. “Be careful not to place energy into a perfectly finished product; instead use it to troubleshoot an outline or an initial push.”
“You cannot edit or revise something that does not exist.” –Dr. Alicia Hodge, Psy.D.
Hodge suggests setting a deadline for when your planning and researching period will end and when you’ll actually get started.
“Realize that the problem with ‘perfect’ is that nothing will ever be good enough,” she says. “Set realistic standards and work towards doing your best.”
2. The Rule Follower
Quite literally, this person is dedicated to following the distinct rules and guidelines set by those around them. They’re obsessed with always trying to make the right decision, despite its potential effect on their own success.
Allow yourself the opportunity and space to possibly make the “wrong” decision—and, if you do, assure yourself that it is OK.
You’re human, and it’s important to define your own set of guiding principles instead of always leaning on others or outside factors.
Allow yourself the opportunity and space to possibly make the “wrong” decision—and if you do, assure yourself that it is OK.
3. The People Pleaser
Those who have the People Pleaser archetype struggle with the fear of being judged and worry most about disappointing others. They have a hard time setting clear boundaries and saying “no.”
“Having boundaries often sounds scary to someone who is used to putting others first,” Hodge says. “Although this often comes from a genuine and thoughtful place, it can lead you to be the last priority.”
Hodge emphasizes that you can’t pour from an empty cup, meaning that when you’re “in tune with your own wants and desires, you become a better friend, partner, and family member.”
“Taking care of yourself is the only way to learn how to improve in this area,” she says. “Remind yourself that you deserve to be prioritized, just as much as other people in your life.”
4. The Outcast
Those with the Outcast archetype may appear to be fearless on the outside, but on the inside, their biggest fear is rejection. Therefore, they often try to reject others first to avoid being hurt.
Hodge’s advice for the Outcast: “Take the time to ask yourself if you are focusing on the worst-case scenario and what some other alternatives maybe,” she says. “Oftentimes if you only think about how poor the outcome is, you overlook the benefits of a situation.”
Giving others a chance can possibly unearth some unexpected results, too. “Look for evidence that you can trust others and know that if things don’t go well you are already experienced at ending a situation!”
5. The Self-Doubter
This archetype is dominated by the fear of not being good enough. Those who self doubt tend to feel insecure about their capabilities.
They can sometimes find it difficult to put themselves out there—or on the flipside, judge others to mask their own fears.
Those who self doubt are often the hardest workers—they put forth a lot of effort to overcome their fear of not being good enough.
A good way to overcome self-doubt is to step outside of your comfort zone every once in a while—and take note of the outcome. When you practice being proactive about your life, you’ll be surprised to see just how much you are capable of.
6. The Excuse Maker
Those who identify with the Excuse Maker archetype have difficulty taking responsibility for their life choices and goals.
Instead of stepping up to lead every once in a while, they find themselves taking a backseat to avoid accountability. They allow others to make decisions in their own lives.
“Going with the flow can be tempting because then you don’t feel responsible for any negative outcomes,” Hodge says. “The reality of this is that even being passive is a choice. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to meet a goal if you are not actively moving in a direction.”
And allowing others to make decisions for you is tricky because they may not always value your best interest. Hodge suggests Excuse Makers try setting small daily goals—and stick with them.
“There is great pride in accomplishing something that you set out to do!” she says. “You can also ask a friend who seems to be active for some tips or assistance with planning some short-term goals.”
Hodge often uses the S.M.A.R.T. goal model to help create measurable and realistic goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
By breaking down each of your goals, you’ll be able to bring structure and trackability to them. “There is no need to overwhelm yourself when getting started, simply ask yourself how you could improve in small ways,” Hodge adds.
7. The Pessimist
Finally: The Pessimist archetype struggles with the fear of adversity and hardship. Due to past or current trauma or difficulties, those who are the Pessimist archetype often feel victimized—and sometimes rightly so. But Pessimists can tend to look at hardships as stop signs or a reason to give up.
It’s important to practice looking at hardships as stepping stones or lessons, instead of roadblocks. We all go through difficulties in life, it’s just a matter of how we look at them that really shapes the outcome.
We all go through difficulties in life, it’s just a matter of how we look at them that really shapes the outcome.
The next time something tough gets thrown your way, take a moment to step back and evaluate the situation. Think about the lesson this challenge might be teaching you, or how you can make the outcome more favorable.
It takes time, but when we train our minds to think more positively, we’ll feel more at peace.