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Fear of Failure: Against All Odds

“There is only one thing that makes a DREAM impossible to achieve:


– Paulo Coelho

We all have dreams, and we do everything to our capacity to achieve that dream somehow. However, there are instances where we have never even started, but we find ourselves already giving up. Why? Maybe because we have a fear of failing. Lets address this skeleton in some of our closets and shed light on this hindrance and learn what we can do to overcome it.

The Fear of Failure

Technically termed as 'atychiphobia,' the fear of failure, simply put, is the fear of failing. This phobia is an irrational and persistent feeling of not living up to our standards and the standards other people/society have created. This fear of failure may stem from specific instances and scenarios in our lives that we have already experienced. We may also trace it deeper as something related to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

This fear of failure we might have can also come from being a perfectionist. With having very high expectations of how things should turn out, perfectionists may develop an intolerable fear of not living up to unrealistically high standards they have imposed on themselves.

How to Observe This Fear

The fear of failure can eventually develop emotional and behavioral characteristics that become fairly noticeable as time progresses. Some of these common signs include:

  • Feeling anxious

  • Avoiding people as much as possible

  • Creating a sense of losing control

  • Slowly becoming helpless

  • Becoming drained and powerless

People with a fear of failure may also showcase physical symptoms like increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing, trembling abnormally, headache and dizziness, nausea and lightheadedness, excessive sweating, and irregularities in digestive functions.

How to Identify This Fear

We may not quickly identify the fear of failure since it may affect people in different ways. Some people might showcase symptoms differently from others. But in some ways, similar experiences may present themselves, including:

  • Losing confidence in your skills and knowledge in doing something

  • Losing hope in achieving your dreams and goals

  • Being dysfunctional to the point of extreme procrastination

  • Setting people’s expectations low in case of eventually failing

  • Reciprocating that ‘let down’ feeling by underestimating yourself

  • Worrying people will belittle you due to imperfections and shortcomings

  • Thinking of disappointing others when you fail

In some instances, this fear of failure can altogether cause people not even to try. With much fear of not succeeding, they would not try and give their best to avoid the pain, embarrassment, and disappointment they might potentially feel afterward.

What Causes This Fear

The fear of failing can spring from numerous causes and can come from a wide array of origins. These causes can be subjective depending on our own experiences. However, here are some of the potential reasons for this fear:

  • Family Matters

One's upbringing can be very critical in developing this fear of failure. Those with unsupportive family members and loved ones are more likely to experience and develop this fear growing up. Not living up to our families' expectations of us during childhood may eventually find its way as we become adults, continuing that fear of making mistakes.

  • Defining failure

As society develops and creates the different meaning of failing, it can be a contributing factor. These definitions may find their way to our minds, cultivating that fear even more. From creating our own set of expectations that we may find very difficult to live up to apparently up to not achieving something, we have planned precisely some of the definitions we may find difficult to erase in our wheelhouse.

  • Traumatic experiences

Experiencing and repeating failures can be traumatic for anyone who has given their best every time but still finds themselves short of that success they have always wanted. Situations like a past comment from our boss before, having a panic attack during a particular case, or losing our jobs, later on can contribute to how experiences become traumatic for all of us.

Every one of us has that fear of eventually failing every once in a while. However, this condition becomes grave if it hinders you from moving forward and achieving your goals, and accomplishing things you want to have in life.

How This Fear Impacts Us

Eventually, this fear of failure we might have within ourselves can take its toll on us one way or another. These effects can shake our belief in our abilities and motivation as we drive towards our dreams and goals. Some of these impactful repercussions may include:

  • Losing self-esteem and belief in one’s confidence

We can have low to no self-esteem if we let the fear of failure overcome us. We can engage in negative self-talk if we let this fear win, making it difficult to reach our goals.

  • Demotivation

When we fear failure, we become demotivated and may affect future projects and works we may need to achieve our goals. With poor motivation, we may find ourselves refusing to be involved or give up if the task seems challenging or requires us to learn something new.

  • Sabotaging one’s self

With the fear of failure, we can start to undermine our capabilities and even our worth, eventually sabotaging our chances of succeeding. If we succumb to the fear of failure, we can blame no one but ourselves for doing self-sabotage.

  • Feeling shameful

As we fear failure, we can also develop a sense of shame for ourselves, leading to feelings of worthlessness, disappointment, regret, and sadness if we let everything progress and create without doing anything.

The fear of failure can generally strip us of everything we have worked for, down to our very core. In whatever way this fear may impact us, we may never get out of this rumble in the long run if we let this proceed and conquer our body and mind. We need to take control of this fear and destroy it ourselves for us to grow and prosper.

How To Fight This Fear

In determining how to fight the fear of failure, we need to select first the type of experience we had that triggered this fear and the severity this fear has caused in our lives. We can generally seek the help of two (2) general aspects:

  • Treatment

We can talk to and have professional help when it becomes dire in this fear of failing. We can undergo psychotherapy to help us address what contributes to this fear of failure. Medications prescribed for us may also help manage our feelings of depression and anxiety that link to this fear and eventually overcoming it.

  • Coping

A lot of strategies are available to us in helping reduce those feelings of fear about failing. We can consider outcomes, focus on controllable things, planning ahead of time, failure defining, and using and practicing positive thinking are some strategies helpful in overcoming this fear. We have the freedom to choose what methods feel comfortable for us.

One of these two may already work, but it will not hurt us to have additional help if we need it.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

Winning Against This Fear

It is human nature to have a fear of failure from time to time. Experiencing this fear will never become a sign of weakness, so we do not need to succumb and let ourselves get eaten by this mindset. Hence, we should focus and remain motivated and driven in achieving our dreams and goals. Practicing self-compassion and working on small, gradual steps in having the confidence to manage our fears, whatever they may be, can help us overcome anything.

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