We all have a “fear fingerprint,” an instinctive fear that is different for everyone and goes beyond a phobia. And, your specific fear archetype holds you back. TEDxMileHigh Imagine speaker Ruth Soukup has dedicated her life to helping people understand their fear to overcome it. Learn how to identify and overcome your fear in order to move past it.

I am very, very afraid of insects. All of them. From cockroaches to butterflies, if it has more than four legs you will find me as far away as possible from it. I’m also slightly afraid of small spaces and, no matter how old I get, I will always run full sprint up the basement stairs after turning off the lights at night.

Yes, I’m scared of bugs and the basement at night, but I’m also afraid of letting people down. I’m afraid of people not liking me because of my failures. This is the deeper fear Soukup focuses on. Her work aims to help people put words to their feelings in order to understand and deal with them—and her advice comes from experience.

Rock Bottom

At 23, Soukup was just trying to figure out how to live. She was suffering from depression and had scars from several suicide attempts and self-harm incidents. “At that moment, I was a divorced, unemployed, bankrupt, college dropout who had just moved back in with my dad after my last hospital stay because I literally had nowhere else to go,” she said. “I was a mess. And I was completely terrified.”

For the next two years, Soukup focused on herself. She re-learned how to be a functioning member of society without letting her fear of failure control her. She made strides in her recovery. But, when Soukup decided to start her own business, she found herself staring down another path of potential failure. Therefore, she experienced the familiar petrifying fear she thought she had overcome.

“Once again, I remembered how it felt to be terrified every single day. I was so afraid of making a mistake, so sure that I was doing it wrong. I felt like everyone else had it figured out and I was a fraud,” says Soukup. 

This experience led Soukup to question: how does fear show up differently for people? And if you can overcome your fear, what are you capable of?

Fear Archetypes

These questions lead Soukup to start her own research in which she surveyed more than 4,000 people about the role that fear plays in their lives. Soukup and her team discovered two very distinct commonalities about the fear people have and their ability to push past it.

1. Not All Fear is Created Equal

“We all experience fear, but all experience it a little bit differently. We all have a fear fingerprint that is completely unique to us,” says Soukup. This fear fingerprint has both positive and negative effects on your behavior. That is, there are elements that are holding you back and others that can be assets. Regardless, this type of personal fear happens subconsciously.

“We experience it as truth and we think ‘well that’s just the way that I’m wired,’” says Soukup. But identifying your fear and realizing how it is holding you back, and realizing that this doesn’t have to be the way you are wired, is ultimately how you can overcome your fear.

2. Seven Fear Archetypes

Using her understanding of fear patterns and fear fingerprints, Soukup developed the Seven Fear Archetypes

  1. The Procrastinator
  2. The People Pleaser
  3. The Rule Follower
  4. The Outcast
  5. The Self-Doubter
  6. The Excuse Maker
  7. The Pessimist

These archetypes account for our different behaviors and thought processes, but the bottom line of all of them is the same: there is something holding you back, and when you figure out what it is, you overcome your fear and discover your true potential. (To dive into more detail about your fear, check out this article that breaks down each archetype.)

Overcome Your Fear

Here is the powerful part. Now that you have put words to feelings and understand your fear, you can push past it. You know what you’re scared of and now you can take specific steps to deal with your fear.

I know I’m a “people pleaser,” and I know the biggest thing holding me back is a fear of what people will think of me if I fail. I spend too much time worrying about what others think rather than what I need. 

“When you shine a light on your fear, it’s not so scary anymore.” – Ruth Soukup

A doctor can’t write you a prescription without first understanding what is wrong, just like you can’t face and overcome your fear until you know what it is you’re scared of.