What is Fear of Failure? Why is it a Continuous Journey?

Photo by ABDULLA M on Unsplash

Why do people fear failures? Fear of failure, also known as Atychiphobia, reflects the negative emotional consequences in achieving goals.

According to the American psychologist John William Atkinson, negative cognitions and emotions arise from a discrepancy between a current state and an undesirable outcome. Not only that, people will try to minimize the experience of negative emotions by avoiding the goal or selecting the easiest alternative.

Why do people have fear of failure?

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default” — J.K. Rowling

I was the biggest fan of J.K. Rowling when I was young, and I envied her success. But her success did not come in one day. Twelve publishers rejected her before the book Harry Potter had success.

Here are four signs that you are experiencing fear of failure:

  1. Perfectionism
    You only want to do things that you can succeed in.
  2. Procrastination
    Research suggests that people with the fear of failure often delay tasks.
  3. Shame
    The fear of failure comes from a fear of experiencing shame. To avoid feeling shame or embarrassment, people can protect themselves by avoiding tasks altogether.
  4. Lack of self-esteem or self-confidence
    Often, people who fear failures create negative self-talk, such as “I’m not good enough to do this” or “I am not capable, so I should not apply for this job.”

What caused people to have fear of failure?

Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash

The psychology of fear of failure often stems from the focus of family structure and parental influence.

Most adults with developed fear of failure received critical upbringings. Research shows that children who grew up with critical parents projected the same negative self-talk to themselves as adults.

Critical parenting behaviors include:

  • Demands for early independence
  • Negative or inconsistent feedbacks
  • Punishment for unsatisfactory behaviors
  • Heavy restrictions or rules

Unhealthy family structure also contributes to the development of Atychiphobia. For example, absent mothers and fathers create negative impacts on their children. Consistent parental conflicts also have an impact on fear of failure development.

Overcoming fear of failure: A continuous journey

“Why were you scared in your bed before? What do you need that fear for? There’s actually no reason to be scared! It only just ruins your day!” — Will Smith on December 2016, How to Move On

Overcoming fear of failure is a continuous journey. Growing up with critical parents, I remember very little praise and positive feedback. I developed trauma for the subject mathematics because I was too slow to pick it up.

I remember the overwhelming fear of going home because my mother would be waiting at the table to teach me math.

“Why are you still stupid? Like a pig!” said my mother. But that phrase remains in me to adulthood. Whenever I made mistakes, I would talk to myself in the same manner.

Consequently, I failed math. I hated the subject so much, so I decided to leave my exam blank. I never completed any of the math exams during my first year of high school.

Whenever I thought that I could leave math behind, it’d caught up with me. During my undergraduate degree in psychology, I had to deal with statistics. Similarly, I had to study maths or statistics during my masters and PhD.

I realized that there was no way I could continue my life like this, and I needed to do something different.

Best tip for overcoming fear of failure — practice positive self-talk

I started seeing a therapist not long after moving to Germany for my PhD. I think it was the best decision I have ever made.

One of the things I had to practice a lot, with the guide of my therapist, was positive self-talk. We would revisit some of my childhood traumas, and she’d ask me to think about “what would you tell your child self now?”.

It was strange to practice positive self-talk because I didn’t experience it fully during my childhood. Just before quitting my PhD, I finally accepted that I was not a failure for quitting my PhD.

I also learned to appreciate my strengths and weaknesses. As my mother has always been critical of my personality flaws, I tended to overlook my flaws, too. But I learned to embrace my qualities, no matter good or bad.

Overcoming fears is a continuous process. It is a process of changing the narrative that we have set for ourselves. More importantly, we need to be patient with the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day. With consistent positive self-talk, we can become the author of our story.




Content Creator/Marketer. Third-culture kid. Non-conformist. Weekly: where I talk about culture, personal development, & career: https://www.curiousabout.io

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Diana Shih-Rasmsøy

Diana Shih-Rasmsøy

Content Creator/Marketer. Third-culture kid. Non-conformist. Weekly: where I talk about culture, personal development, & career: https://www.curiousabout.io

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