Not a single person in this world can say that they were not afraid to fail, especially when a goal was desirable and important to them. In this case, being afraid is normal, and no one can judge another person for this feeling. However, in some instances, the feeling grows overwhelming and paralyzing, remaining with an individual for the rest of their life. This constant condition is referred to as the fear of failure.
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Speaking more scientifically, it is known as atychiphobia (Sebetlela, 2017). The initial point of the condition is a one-time negative fear-based emotion, but as fear grows stronger, an individual cannot cope with it, so the feeling becomes powerful and controls the further life of the person. From this perspective, what was one an insignificant intimidation – that close to being unconfident – may evolve to become a paralyzing feeling that dictates the rules of play and keeps the person away from controlling and enjoying their life and realizing their aspirations due to the permanent fear of failure, unless treated in a timely and appropriate manner.
To begin with and to understand the influence of the fear of failure on an individual’s life, it is essential to understand what stands behind this concept. Atychiphobia, or the fear of failure, is the irrational feeling – even confidence – that the desirable result of one’s effort will never be achieved. This feeling is abnormal and commonly persistent. Its foundation is anxiety. However, it is connected to the very desirable outcome of actions or choices as well as the negative self-perception.
In this case, it is critical to note that the fear of failure is associated with the belief that not only an individual will fail but also other people, especially the closest one as well as the whole society, will judge or criticize them for this failure (Sebetlela, 2017). Putting it simply, the fear of failure is the incapability to suppress the anxious and irrational feeling of fear that, as a result, affects one’s life (Appling, 2013).
This psychological issue was discovered by John Atkinson in the 1960s. During conducting an experiment aimed at estimating children’s motivation, he found out that there are always two kinds of people: those focusing on rewards and those being afraid of failure. It is essential to note that all of the tasks offered to children were based on rewards. However, some kids perceived them as a way to indeed obtain a reward upon completing one, while others were confident that they would fail.
Therefore, those children belonging to the first group were willing to be rewarded for their achievements, while those from the second were eager to avoid humiliation for their inevitable failure. The first phenomenon was labeled as the need for achievement, while the second became referred to as the fear of failure (Kelsey, 2012).
Before reviewing the influence of the fear of failure on an individual’s life and chances of success and happiness, it is critical to point to the fact that the challenge is commonly associated with the external environment, not only the internal one, as mentioned above. In this way, atychiphobia is pathological in its nature. It means that the earlier the failure, the higher the risks of the development of this condition.
It usually refers to pathological families in which parents do not support their children, thus making the kids think that they do not have talents or are going to fail every single of their beginnings. As a child grows up, this fear turns into an integral part of their personality and makes it impossible for them to understand their identity in a positive way, thus having a devastating influence on their life. Nevertheless, family is not the only source of emotional trauma. Being bullied by peers can as well lead to the emergence of the fear of failure, but the impact of this matter of concern is less significant if a child is supported by their family (Kocchar, 2016).
As for parents’ support, it should be viewed in two ways. The first one stands for extremely high demands, especially if a child does not have a talent for a particular kind of activities. For instance, parents want a daughter to go in for ballet, but she cannot cope with the volume of exercises, so, as a result, fails to become a ballet dancer. In this case, the lack of support – for instance, pointing to her failure in ballet without offering alternatives for realizing her potential and demonstrating talents – is a common ground for the development of the fear of failure.
On the other hand, there is a contrary situation. Assume that a boy does have a particular talent – for example, beautiful voice. However, the boy cannot become a winner of singing competitions. Therefore, instead of pointing to a significant progress when winning the second place, parents focus on his incapability to become the winner. As a result, the outcome is the same – the increased risks of atychiphobia when becoming an adult.
At the same time, it is critical to point to the fact that these extremely high expectations are commonly brought by kids to their adult life. Returning to the experiment conducted by John Atkinson, he found out that those interested in rewards for completing a particular task always set achievable objectives. On the other hand, those with a distinctive fear of failure were not objective in estimating their resources and potential and set goals that were an initially obvious failure. Because setting a high standard – significantly higher than the achievable one – the fear of failure, as well as the failure itself, is a logical consequence of such a behavior (Kelsey, 2012).
Now, as the essence and roots of the problem are clear, it is paramount to speculate on the impact of atychiphobia on a person. In general, there are several ways of seeing the influence of the fear of failure on an individuals’ life, but none of them is positive. Still, all of them have a common ground – a belief that the potential failure is real and, what is even more critical, intense, so nothing can be done to cope with it. As a result, the logical outcome of such an inner state is the subconscious undermining of an individual’s talents, positive character traits, and areas of personal strengths that has a devastating impact on their life and activities.
The first way to understand the criticality of the fear of failure in one’s life is to review it through the prism of choosing to do what one does not want to or love doing. It is associated with the unwillingness to be responsible for one’s life choices and doing what other people tell to, for instance, parents or elder relatives, because they are more experienced, thus may dictate the rules of play to others. In real life, this choice stands for being unconfident in one’s potential as well as being afraid not only to change life circumstance and do what one loves to but also stand out and protect oneself against others’ judging and imposing their opinions regarding what is right or wrong (Appling, 2013).
To support this statement, think of educational or hobby choices most children commonly make. They listen to their parents when selecting colleges and professions, and, as a result, feel dissatisfied. However, in most cases, people do know what they are interested in, but they are afraid of making the desired changes or opposing their parents. That being said, they end up feeling misfits and do not get engaged in new activities.
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Another common way to perceive the role of the fear of failure is taking no risks. It is closely associated with the first manifestation of atychiphobia, but, in some cases, no external influence is involved. In this case, the main challenge is the very fact that an individual is afraid to withdraw themselves from the comfort zone. It means that regardless of possessing a significant potential for turning a dream into reality, a person does not want to because they are afraid that they will screw everything up and end in a failure (Chawla, 2016).
This case is connected to numerous instances of being afraid to switch jobs, create a family, break up with an abusive partner, and get involved in a new hobby. Just like in the case of the first demonstration of the fear of failure, the impact on one’s emotional wellbeing is crucial due to a prevailing sense of discomfort and significant self-esteem issues.
In addition to choosing to remain in one’s comfort zone or continue doing what a person does not want or love to, the fear of failure is commonly related to choosing to take no actions. Simply speaking, it results in procrastination. The common ground for the emergence of this challenge is being dissatisfied with one’s current position on life, but still feeling intimidated by the slightest opportunities to change it.
As a result, a person may choose to procrastinate – get engaged in unimportant activities in order to avoid the activities to oppose failure in the current position due to being not interested in it. The logic is the following: if a person does nothing, the risks of screwing everything up are minimal. This example is a bright manifestation of the fear of failure in education, especially in the case of first-generation students – those who come from the families that never obtained college degrees. Being afraid of failing to meet their parents’ expectations, somehow first-generation students choose to procrastinate, not even realizing that procrastination is as well associated with failure (Belde, 2016; Stuart, 2013).
All of the abovementioned manifestations of the fear of failure are insignificant compared to the last perspective on viewing the impact of atychiphobia on one’s personal development and life – becoming totally isolated from society. This matter of concern is especially critical in case of people coming from vulnerable families – those with a particular social and economic background. Somehow, they are already isolated by their community.
However, they may make effort to cope with the issue and become integrated into the society. Nevertheless, the fear of failure – feeling intimidated by the impossibility of creating effective social bonds – greatly affects their desire to break out of the vicious cycle of vulnerability, thus making them completely isolated and engaged in completing routine tasks without making effort tot change their life. In addition, this case is commonly connected to one’s comfort with extremely low ambitions. It is essential to state that even though this one may be discomforting emotionally, it stands for the decreased risks of failure because no real steps are taken to initiate at least minimal changes in one’s life.
Still, some may argue that there is a positive aspect of the fear of failure – stability. Because one chooses to remain where they are, especially when a current position is socially and economically beneficial, the condition may indeed be associated with stability. However, in this case, there is a question: how is economic and social stability beneficial in case of emotional discomfort and procrastination or other manifestations of the fear of failure?
From this perspective, the positivity of this psychological condition is vague, as the negative aspects and consequences of the fear of failure outweigh the insignificant and relative positive outcomes of the phenomenon. It can be explained by one simple fact – this stability is nothing more than an illusion – illusion of comfort and welfare – because low ambitions are rarely associated with positive changes in one’s life, and inferior stability is a questionable benefit.
That being said, the fear of failure is commonly associated with never starting to realize one’s potential and living a dream. There are numerous causes of the emergence of this psychological condition, as well as different manifestations and consequences of atychiphobia. However, the two main features are the following: a) it devastates an individual’s life making them feel unconfident, unhappy, and depressed and b) it derives from the inability to cope with the imperfections of a person’s internal and external environment. From this perspective, it is possible to prevent the emergence of this complicated emotional condition.
However, to achieve this objective, significant effort – both internal and external – is essential. For instance, supporting one’s child in realizing their potential and not limiting them in choosing hobbies and education is the initial contribution to preventing and even coping with the fear of failure. Making the focus on finding one’s unique talent and recognizing authenticity – either with the help of others or by oneself – is another possible way to address the challenge and avoid its devastating impact on a person’s life. Finally, working thoroughly and persistently to determine achievable and real-life objectives is one more strategy to avoid the development of atychiphobia.
From this perspective, it is possible to minimize the risks of the overall life deterioration by limiting the evolution of a small intimidation into a persistent and anxious condition – the fear of failure. However, being unwilling to do so is connected to a moral paralysis due to the inability of getting away from the vicious cycle of atychiphobia and becoming used to losing control over one’s life and dreams and the ability to live every day to its fullest because of low ambitions, the sense of fear, and issues related to low self-esteem.
Appling, M. (2013). Overcoming your fear of failure: A portion from life after art. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
Belde, M. (2016). The ultimate stress-free productivity secrets: Get better in business, life and relationships. Chennai, India: Notion Press.
Chawla, Y. V. (2016). The Fear of Failure. New York, NY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Kelsey. R. (2012). Is fear of failure holding you back? Web.
Kocchar, A. (2016). The failure of project: The story of man’s greatest fear. Mumbai, India: Body & Soul Books.
Sebetlela, M. (2017). Fear of failure: How to overcome it (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Amazon Digital Services LLC.
Stuart, B. M. (2013). The relation of fear of failure, procrastination, and self-efficacy to academic success in college for first and non-first-generation students in a private non-selective institution. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Libraries.