Fear of Failure Self-sabotage

How do you know if you are afraid of failure?

Everyone has a fear of failure to some extent, which can serve to stimulate the desire to improve and help prevent possible failures. The problem arises when this fear becomes so intense that:

“It comes to limit the activity itself by producing blockages in response to the anticipation of failure and its possible consequences.”

In this sense, it can be deduced that the fear of failure is due to a negative and even catastrophic vision of what it can mean . This dysfunctional – and even unreal – interpretation of events ends up making the person try to anticipate the results, which tend to reverberate in his mind automatically and recurrently, predicting a bleak future, which is not surprising that it can end up causing anxiety.

On the other hand, this anxiety can be exacerbated because, many times, these people tend to see the world in terms of success and failure, considering that both define the person , instrumentalizing it.

Thus, the person can choose two ways to alleviate their fear:

  • Avoiding that situation that generates anguish.
  • Trying to compensate for their supposed limitations at the cost of neglecting their needs or other tasks considered secondary. For example, sacrificing free time or losing hours of sleep.

In some cases, this fear of failure leads to abandonment of goals. This can lead these people to daydream as a way to temporarily resolve their internal conflict by escaping from reality.

But why can these people feel such limiting fear? Does this situation have some kind of relationship with anxiety?

What is the fear of failure?

What is the fear of failure

The fear is an emotional reaction to a stimulus perceived as threatening, regardless of the situation is real or hypothetical. The failure comes from the Italian word “fracassare” which means breaking or crashing. Thus, the fear of failure – also called atychiphobia -:

“It is a constant, unjustified and abnormal fear of making mistakes and being wrong, disrupting future plans.”

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ( DSM-5 ), fear of failure is not a disorder per se , but is part of a broader anxiety disorder (eg anxiety or social phobia).

Fear of failure appears in some anxiety disorders.

In this sense, this fear is due to an insecurity resulting from the negative perception that one has about one’s own coping capacity , as well as the catastrophic vision of failure, which tends to be associated with personal worth at the overall level (p For example, having a failure is not the same as being a failure).

In short, they have a negative image of themselves, they criticize themselves a lot (for example, it is difficult for them to accept compliments) and they blame themselves for failures, which leads them to be too demanding or inflexible with themselves and avoid what provokes them anxiety.

Thus, they end up not setting goals because they do not believe that they will achieve them, which makes them feel insecure and have difficulty making decisions .

This can lead the person to manifest certain symptoms, typical of anxiety, such as momentary memory loss, somatizations (headaches, stomach aches …), hyperventilation, palpitations, perspiration, redness or dry mouth.

Types of fear of failure.

The fear of failure can affect different vital areas, and can be summarized in five blocks:

Fear of school failure.

Fear of school failure.

In these cases there is excessive pressure for academic performance, developing a fear of poor grades. This can lead to blockages in the assessment tests or, even, to dropping out of school after losing motivation for academics.

This pressure may have a cultural, family or school origin (eg having a school scholarship).

Fear of job failure.

Currently, the work culture is highly demanding and competitive, so the fear of making wrong decisions and being reprimanded by bosses can lead to adopting a more passive style and postponing creative projects.

Also, embarking on a new professional challenge (eg a new job) can present a significant internal conflict for these people.

Fear of social failure.

In general, these are people who fear that other people will not like them and that they will not like them. In fact, some may avoid socializing, ending up socially isolated.

It should be noted that, in these cases, situations in which you can meet new people (eg sports activities or trips) tend to be avoided.

Fear of love failure.

It is not uncommon for these people to show difficulties in starting or establishing a romantic relationship due to low self-esteem or previous negative experiences.

Fear of success.

While it is true that the possibility of success is attractive, people with low self-esteem:

“They fear that they will not be able to maintain their success and become objects of criticism for it, since they consider it in a certain way undeserved and, therefore, unsustainable.”

This fear causes the person to fall into self-sabotage, making their own success more or less unconsciously impossible.

Fear of failure can lead to self-sabotage.

What are the consequences of fear of failure?

Of course, novel situations generate uncertainty that can be scary, in the same way that it is natural to want to give a good image of yourself. The problem comes when one avoids taking risks as a form of self-protection , stopping himself and staying in what is known as the comfort zone , that is, in the routine, which does not produce growth .

In fact, staying in the comfort zone usually ends up generating dissatisfaction, as it leads to the person:

“To postpone the goals that awaken their illusion, reducing their self-esteem by not testing their own abilities, confirming that feeling of not being worth enough.”

As can be deduced, the consequences of atychiphobia are multiple, the most common being:

  • Vital stagnation : Obviously, a person who is not able to overcome his fear of failure will tend to be conservative in terms of his lifestyle and habits, avoiding facing new challenges that generate discomfort in order not to be criticized.
  • Suffering from anxiety : The physical symptoms of fear of failure described above usually occur when the person has to face what generates fear. In some cases, this anxiety can become so great that the person experiences panic attacks .
  • Reduction of self-esteem : Not feeling capable of doing things together with the possible social comparison generates discomfort in oneself, discontent that in the long term can reduce self-esteem.
  • Not achieving the desired life goals : Both avoiding situations and falling into extreme perfectionism will be a limitation when it comes to achieving life goals, which usually causes frustration and, in the long term, even depression .

What is the origin of the fear of failure?

What is the origin of the fear of failure

“It is important to know that the fear of failure does not abruptly break into a person’s life.”

Atyphophobia develops slowly and insidiously, ending up blocking self-initiative and productivity, as well as personal creativity. But what situations can lead to this exacerbated fear of failure?

Cultural pressure.

Today’s society tends to promote the image of perfection, relating the everyday and normal with mediocrity, which leads people to want to project an image of perfection that does not correspond to reality.

On the other hand, Asian countries are highly demanding regarding the quality of the results, associating them with family honor:

“In Asian countries like Japan, many young people commit suicide at the beginning of the school season or after not achieving the results obtained.”

Rigid and highly demanding parents.

While it is true that the task of parents is to encourage the growth of children’s abilities, sometimes parents are too strict and perfectionists, putting a disproportionate pressure on the child to achieve success.

Fear of failure may be due to parental demand

Very perfectionist personality.

The high level of demand and the rigidity of self-imposed criteria can lead to the fear of failing in the proposed goals, which are not usually considered high enough.

Negative self-image.

Internalizing negative beliefs such as “I am not good enough” or “I am not capable” coupled with a high level of self-demand and perfectionism makes it difficult to interpret failure as a form of learning, since it is lived as a confirmation of what one feels.

History of failures.

The regret of failure can strongly influence a person’s life history, especially when he or she experienced great shame due to high expectations and criticism from close friends.

Fear of success.

P aradójicamente, some people feel dizzy at the prospect of succeeding because of changes that may result in their lives and insecurity, so that end boycotting their chances of success.

What factors sustain and foster fear of failure?

  • Need for approval : Giving too much importance to the opinion of others can lead to not taking risks in the face of the possibility of receiving criticism from others.
  • Low self-confidence : Low self-esteem predisposes to negative thoughts, which causes the person to end up avoiding performing normally those tasks in which their supposed ineptitude may be discovered.
  • Excess self-criticism : Focusing on one’s own mistakes and blaming oneself for them is psychologically exhausting, negatively impacting performance by making the person constantly question their own ability.
  • Perfectionism : Having an inflexible posture and criteria can generate stress and a feeling of chronic failure, since you are never satisfied with your own results.
  • Focus only on the result : There is a tendency to assess the success of a project depending on the results, when, in reality, there are another series of criteria that influence the results and that do not depend on oneself (e.g. the time required ).
  • Low tolerance for frustration : Emotional management helps regulate and accept both pleasant and unpleasant emotions, allowing the person to move towards their goals by maintaining their motivation despite failure.
  • Do not adjust expectations : Demanding great successes, in addition to supplying great pressure and an excess of responsibility, makes the person end up underestimating the small achievements necessary to achieve greater goals.

Fear of Failure May Be Due to Unrealistic Expectations

How to overcome the fear of failure.

Given the discomfort and suffering that comes with fear of failure, strategies to overcome this problem will be offered in a later post. It will explain how to start setting goals and live them with hope, assimilating mistakes as learning.

For this, strategies will be offered to make a fair assessment of oneself and their situation, assuming their reality and working to achieve it, without being blocked by negative predictions resulting from fear of uncertainty or thinking in dichotomous terms.

Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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