What Is Necrophobia?

People with necrophobia might have trouble attending a funeral.
Mummies have been the subject of many horror films that play off of necrophobia.
Necrophobia can cause insomnia, with the sufferer unable to stop thinking about death.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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Necrophobia is an overwhelming fear of dead things or things associated with death. Those with this condition often experience intense anxiety and fear, as well as physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, and nausea when they are exposed to something related to death, such as a corpse, graveyard, or funeral home. There is no one specific cause of necrophobia, but it is possible to reduce the symptoms with treatment.

Symptoms

Like all phobias, necrophobia is an irrational fear. It is different from a simple worry about death or anxious wonders about what happens when a person dies; rather, it is fear or anxiety to such a point that it become debilitating and affects a person's daily life. A person with this condition may fear that there are corpses everywhere, or that he or she will find a dead body. He or she may suffer from panic attacks when exposed to things that remind him or her of death, like a church, a tombstone, or the dead body of an animal. Symptoms of panic attacks include a dry mouth, a fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, and profuse sweating. Insomnia is another common symptom, as the person cannot get thoughts about death out of his or her mind.

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Necrophobic people may develop many other fears, such as a fear of leaving their house because encountering dead things seems more likely outside, a fear of a violent attack or a sexual attack, or a fear of heights or of being in enclosed spaces. Those with this condition often have trouble attending events like funerals, and may develop severe anxiety symptoms regarding situations like this. There are also a range of triggers; some necrophobes may only feel anxious when they are near a graveyard, while others may feel extremely stressed when watching horror films.

Causes

There is no one specific cause of necrophobia, but some people develop it after seeing someone or something die, or after attending a traumatic funeral as a child. Unexpected or forced exposure to a human corpse or dead animal may cause this phobia for some people. There can be a direct cause between past experiences and development of this fear, and parents should take this into account when they must help a child recover from the death of a loved one. Forcing a child to attend open casket funeral, for example, may not be a good idea, though this won’t always cause a person to develop necrophobia.

Some people believe that fear of death and dying things has become much more exaggerated in the modern world because most people have eliminated the natural presence of death in their lives. In the past, people often died at home and bodies were prepared for burial by the family; a casket might sit in a home for several days while people came to pay their respects. In modern times, this happens less frequently, and most people in Western societies die in the hospital, effectively removing death from everyday life.

Treatment

Since there is no one cause of necrophobia, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for it either. Therapists can use a number of techniques to help a person overcome the aspects of this phobia that prevent him or her from living a normal life. Desensitization therapy works by gradually exposing a patient to those things he or she fears, in hopes of making them seem less frightening. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be used to help the person control his or her thoughts and look at those things that trigger the fear differently. Psychiatrists may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medications or antidepressant, which can help reduce panic symptoms.

Necrophobia and Thanatophobia

This condition is often confused with thanatophobia, which is the fear of dying itself. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, particularly since they share many of the same causes and triggers. Thanatophobia is not the same thing as a general anxiety about death or "existential angst," which is dread or fear without a specific cause; it is a specific, irrational fear in which the patient becomes obsessed with the idea of his or her death to the point where he or she can no longer function normally in life. People who suffer from thanatophobia may experience necrophobia as well, and the symptoms and treatment are often very similar.

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Discuss this Article

anon350543
Post 10

Thank you for this article. I get somewhat annoyed when people post things about "necrophobia," but it's really about thanatophobia, which seems more common than necrophobia.

I am very afraid of dead bodies. Before buying a home, I have to ask everybody and my family for reassurance that nobody ever died in there. Even if the body was moved and everything, I am still extremely scared. Also, some of my family watches news or talks about it in front of me and I try to ask them to stop, but they forget. I hear about news of somebody dying and I immediately blurt out, "Where?!" As long as it's in another state or country I am O.K.

One time I heard about some people dying in my state and I never want to go to that city again. I get very disturbed and it does not wear off easily. Then my family is wondering why I am not doing anything productive and just sitting and being snappy and they do not understand. I have never seen a real dead body, only fake ones on TV which do not scare me at all. But if I am told it's real then I would be disturbed. If I ever saw a real dead body I don't know how I would react. Because I am not only afraid of having a dead body near me; I can't even be in a place that somebody died!

It is much, much worse if the person was killed violently, like murdered or an accident, even if there are no signs of it. I believe I am necrophobic but I am not sure if I should propose this to my family because I am afraid they will not believe me or just take it as lightly as they have before.

anon344370
Post 9

I am 18 years old and I am afraid of dead bodies. I am afraid of death, but more afraid of the bodies. When I see a dead body on TV or in a picture, my heart starts racing. Almost a year ago, my great aunt passed away. We went to the viewing the night before and I was very nervous, but I had no intentions of seeing the body. Near the end of the visit, I was told that the funeral, which was the next day, was open casket and I was forced to see the body. Family members were holding on to me and pulling me closer to the room. I couldn't even step through the door because I was so frightened. I began sobbing and crying uncontrollably, not because I was sad, but because I was deeply terrified. I didn't even look at the body for one second and I sobbed even more. Bad experience.

anon336775
Post 8

I'm 14, and I am terrified of death, like the death of my loved ones. I don't know what I will do when my parents pass. I worry about that. A lot. I'm scared of me dying. I'm scared my family will die, and I just don't want that to happen. It makes me cry when I think about this, and I hate thinking about it.

anon281829
Post 6

When I am near a graveyard, if I think of something to be done in my life, I feel it is sentimental and avoid doing this. I am unable to overcome this. For example. if I am passing through a graveyard and at that point in time, I think of doing some activities in my life, but since the thought came while I was in the graveyard I quash the thought and I feel it is sentimental and never do that activity. I am unable to overcome this. Please help me on this issue.

anon176555
Post 5

I have suffered with necrophobia since I was a small child and tried to imagine eternity. The mind can't cope. I had a major operation at 18 in 1964 and the anesthesia frightened me so much pushing me into darkness. I also fear the dark. Now the necrophobia is much worse, related to the aging process I presume now that I'm 65.

I just can't fathom out the ceasing to exist part of death and the lack of control. To anyone suffering, do seek help and don't waste your life as I've done. The situation doesn't seem to resolve itself and just worsens with the passing years. I sympathise with you all but urge you not to waste your life as I've done now that medical help seems to be available.

anon162818
Post 4

@Anon75472: Please, please go and speak to your doctor! I'm 28 and am suffering in the same way as you. My best friend died when I was 13, so if I'm honest, the subject of death has frightened me ridiculously ever since, and I have had brief panic attacks which have only lasted a couple of minutes which I've normally been able to take control and breathe through. Obviously, when losing family members, we all cry and stay strong for each other so I guess I was able to handle it a bit better because everyone was supporting each other.

But it was only recently when my friend lost her mum that things started to come to a head again. I'd been staying strong for her to the help her get thought an awful time, so i guess i had not had the chance for things to sink in, then all of a sudden I became a different person.. not sleeping, loss of appetite, bad panic attacks which made me feel dizzy, cold one minute hot the next, erratic heart beats, over analysis everything. My problem is I have a very over imaginative imagination, which doesn't help when I'm having a panic.

I went to see my doc, and he sat back and let me get everything off my chest, through the sobs, he was very patient, concerned and most differently didn't make me feel stupid, he sent me away with some tablets to help me sleep better and they are great i don't thing of anything! I also have bought this spray from a health food shop called 'Back' when I'm having a panic I just spray some of that on my tongue and the fear tends to become bearable. Also taking deep breathes helps for me thought a bad panic, I look daft doing it, but I'd prefer to do that than be a quivering wreck.

I know it's a horrible subject to fear, but don't bottle it up, speak to family or friends you never know some might feel the same way & have there own way of dealing with it. Remember, you are not alone!

anon109448
Post 3

I am a necrophobic and has been since i can remember. My heart beats fast anytime i see a corpse on television or on a picture. i close my eyes really tight. My only help from this is prayer. sometimes it helps me and sometimes it doesn't. I feel as though i am drowning. help, please!

anon87248
Post 2

I'm 26 years old and am petrified of dying. It has gotten to the point where I'm thinking about it on a daily basis and get weird bouts of depression, only lasting a few seconds at a time when thinking about it and it is really starting to affect me. I seem to cry about it every day at the minute.

I'm toying with the idea of speaking to my doctor about it, but am worried that i will look stupid. I don't really know what I'm hoping to gain from writing on here, as it feels like i will never accept the fact that i am going to die.

I think i just take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone with how i feel and that other people are going through the same horrible feelings i am.

I also want to put across that people need to treat this subject with compassion as mentioned above. It is a very sensitive subject for some.

anon75472
Post 1

I am necrophobic and through a combination of CBT and prescribed medicine I have slowly brought it under control. I will never be cured but the advice on this site is spot on!

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