The 6 Types of Courage – with Examples

types of courage

There are 6 types of courage. These are: physical, social, moral, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. We all face each of these types of courage in our lives.

These 6 types of courage can be used to identify and analyze the themes in a film or book. But we can also reflect on ourselves and think about which types of courage we have, and which types we should try to develop.

Below, I’ll examine and explain each type, with examples.

Types of Courage

1. Physical Courage

Physical courage involves proceeding despite fear of physical harm. You would exercise physical courage when entering situations where your body may be under threat. At times, you know you will be harmed, but you feel you have to proceed regardless because of a moral, personal, or social obligation to do so.

You may also need to use your fine and gross motor skills to protect yourself in these situations. For example, you may need to outrun a dangerous animal or face up to a strong and threatening bully.

Examples include:

Situation Threats Skills Tested
Protecting someone on the street from an attacker. Being attacked yourself. Fighting and running.
Walking over hot coals. Burned feet. Resilience in the face of physical pain.
Entering a lion’s den to save a child who fell in. Being mauled by a lion. Sneaking and running.

2. Social Courage

Social courage is the courage to expose yourself to social situations where you may be vulnerable to embarrassment, ridicule, or discomfort. People who have social anxiety might need this type of courage. They need to muster this courage whenever they enter a social situation.

Others may need social courage when in a leadership situation. They have to ask people in their teams to have faith in them and follow their lead. This can be intimidating if you’re new to a leadership role or feel like your leadership may be questioned by team members.

Examples include:

Situation Threats
Going on a first date. Rejection because they don’t like your personality.
Taking a leadership role. Having your leadership credentials questioned publicly.
Giving a public speech. Freezing up.

3. Moral Courage

Moral courage is the courage to stand up for your convictions despite the sense that it may end badly for you. This is a type of courage that is often exercised when your morals conflict with mainstream social views.

People with moral courage may expect to be ridiculed or socially excluded because of their views, which may even be taboo. They may also personally stand to lose from their actions but do things because they’re the right thing to do rather than because they have utilitarian values.

In these cases, they choose to act out of moral courage due to the strength of their own personal convictions.

Examples include:

Situation Threats
Civil disobedience. Choosing to protest against laws due to moral disagreement. Arrest.
Standing up for the oppressed. Social exclusion and ridicule.
Conscientious objection. Choosing not to participate in something (such as going to war) due to moral disagreement. Social exclusion.

4. Emotional Courage

Emotional courage involves allowing ourselves to feel the full spectrum of human emotions. In some situations, we may try to protect ourselves by appearing aloof, uncaring, or disconnected. But people with emotional courage proceed into emotional relationships with the knowledge that they may be emotionally impacted by that relationship at some point in the future.

Examples include:

Situation Threats
Falling in love. A broken heart.
Reuniting with estranged parents. Rejection.
Seeking therapy. The pain of bringing up a painful past.

5. Intellectual Courage

Intellectual courage is the willingness to learn and expand our horizons. This is a type of courage that’s in decline in a world where everyone is retreating into information bubbles, overdosing on confirmation bias, and embracing cancel culture.

People with intellectual courage are willing to have their minds changed in the face of facts and debate despite the vulnerability of having their views undermined by new information. As with all types of courage, there needs to be vulnerability here (i.e. that you may come up across uncomforting information) in order for this to be considered a form of courage.

Examples include:

Situation Threats
Traveling to a new culture. Your cultural norms are undermined.
Debating people with different views. Your views are put to the test.
Reading banned books. Exposure to unpopular ideas.

6. Spiritual Courage

Spiritual courage is the courage to face up to spiritual questions that may be uncomfortable, a threat to your own identity as a spiritual person, or undermine your own spiritual beliefs.

It is similar to intellectual courage. However, where intellectual courage is the willingness to address issues of logic and information, spiritual courage ventures into philosophical questions that are often unanswerable.

Often, people who do not have spiritual courage will live an unexamined life wherein they choose not to think about their own mortality or spiritual questions.

People can be atheists and agnostics and still have spiritual courage. It involves the courage to ask spiritual questions rather than simply the courage to be religious.

Examples include:

Situation Threats
Attending a religious event for a religion that is not your own. Exposure to new unexplored spiritual questions.
Planning for your own death. Existential crisis.
Reading books by atheists. Having your faith in God questioned.

Discussion

For Literature, Film, and Media Studies: You can see in literature and film that courage is a central theme. Usually, the protagonist needs to overcome their obstacles by mustering the courage inside. Furthermore, you’ll often find that the antagonist (the bad guy) is framed as lacking one or more of each of these types of courage.

For Psychology and Education: Psychologists and educators can teach about the types of courage to help people develop personal values. By examining each type, we can reflect on when we should try to be courageous and be aware of others’ courageous actions. It can also help us be more empathetic to other peoples’ courage, even when we disagree with them on some issues.

Conclusion

Courage is (by definition) something that is hard to do. If you do something without fear, then you are not being courageous – you’re just being you! To be courageous, you have to be pushing through fear and uncertainty.

Thus, even small acts that you might think are easy could be acts of courage by someone else. By being able to identify all six types of courage, you’re more likely to see courageous acts that don’t quite fit into the Hollywood archetype (a strong fireman running into a burning building to save a kitten!).

It’s also worth noting that the above types of courage are not necessarily mutually exclusive. You may do something that requires both moral and social courage (for example, if you know your moral stance will lead to social isolation). Similarly, when you protect someone from an attack, you’re likely exercising both moral courage (doing it because it’s right, despite fear of harm) and physical courage (if you’re afraid of harm but doing it anyway).

The above types of courage are useful to reflect upon in order to identify ways in which you are personally courageous and to identify opportunities to be more courageous and achieve self-improvement.