What Does Afraid of Your Own Shadow Mean?

Afraid of Your Own Shadow Meaning

Definition: Afraid of everything; cowardly.

Origin of Afraid of Your Own Shadow

This expression has existed in English since the 1500s. It may have come from similar expressions in other languages.

To understand the idea behind it, imagine the following situation. It is late at night, and you hear a strange sound in your empty house. Quietly, you go downstairs to make sure no one broke in. All of a sudden, you see a quick movement to your left, and you scream! However, what you saw was only your shadow.

This is an example where someone is scared of one’s own shadow.

Examples of Afraid of Your Own Shadow

afraid of own shadowIn the following example, a woman uses the expression to describe her young son.

Kerry: Hey! How was your day today?

Christine: Actually, it was pretty terrible. Robbie is going through a stage where he is scared of everything. He is scared of the dark. He’s scared of the toilet flushing. He’s scared of the basement. He’s afraid of his own shadow!

Kerry: Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that. But don’t worry. That happens to a lot of kids. They all eventually grow out of it.

Christine: Really? I hope so. I can’t take much more of this.

afraid of his own shadowIn this dialogue, a woman uses the expression when a friend invites her to a haunted house.

Arlena: Hey! Are you dressing up for Halloween?

Nyima: Yeah, but I’m not sure what my costume will be yet. Are you?

Arlena: Maybe! I don’t really like Halloween.

Nyima: Are you serious? I love Halloween. You would like it if you gave it a chance. I’m going to a haunted house this weekend. You should come with me.

Arlena: No way.

Nyima: Why not?

Arlena: I’m terrified of haunted houses. I would be miserable.

Nyima: Are you sure? It’s not even a scary haunted house. It’s more for children than adults.

Arlena: Trust me. I’m sure. I’m afraid of my own shadow.

More Examples

This excerpt describes a violent criminal who looks like a coward, according to the man in the quote.

  • “He looks like he’s afraid of his own shadow,” said Paul Aponte, 40. “That’s why this is shocking to say the least. He’s not one of these guys who’s out here all loud.” –New York Daily News

This excerpt is about investors who are very scared to invest after experiencing a natural disaster.

  • “Lenders are generally afraid of their own shadow,” Miller said. “So they’re looking for reasons not to lend.” –New York Daily News


The expression to be afraid of one’s own shadow describes a person who is very timorous and frightened of everything.