Phobias Types What Is the Fear of Failure? By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management. Learn about our editorial process Updated on December 22, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Characteristics of the Fear of Failure Identifying Causes of the Fear of Failure Impact Treatment for Fear of Failure Coping With Fear of Failure The fear of failure, also known as atychiphobia, is an irrational and persistent fear of failing. The fear of failure can stem from a number of sources. Sometimes this fear might emerge in response to a specific situation. In other cases, it might be related to another mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. The fear of failure may also be related to being a perfectionist. Because perfectionists have such high expectations for how they expect things to turn out, they may experience a nagging fear that they won't live up to those often unrealistically high standards. This article discusses the signs of a fear of failure and what causes this fear. It also explores treatments that can help and how to prevent this fear from holding you back. Characteristics of the Fear of Failure A fear of failure can produce emotional and behavioral symptoms. Some of the common signs of this fear include: Anxiety Avoidance Feeling a loss of control Helplessness Powerlessness In addition to emotional and behavioral symptoms, people with a fear of failure may also experience physical symptoms including rapid heart rate, chest tightness, trembling, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating, and digestive problems. Identifying the Fear of Failure The fear of failure may affect people in a variety of ways, which means that it's not always easy to identify. Some of the ways that people may experience the fear of failure include: Believing that you don't have the skills or knowledge to achieve somethingFeeling like you won't be able to achieve your goalsProcrastinating to the point that it affects your performance or ability to finish on timeTelling people that you will probably fail so that expectations remain lowUnderestimating your own abilities to avoid feeling let downWorrying that imperfections or shortcomings will make other people think less of youWorrying that you will disappoint others if you fail In some cases, the fear of failure may cause people to avoid trying altogether. Because they are so afraid that they will try and not succeed, they simply decide not to try at all in order to prevent potential pain, embarrassment, or disappointment. Atychiphobia While fear of failure is not listed as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it is possible that you might be diagnosed with a specific phobia if your symptoms meet certain diagnostic criteria. In order to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, your symptoms must: Involve excessive and unreasonable fear Involve an immediate anxiety response Be marked by avoidance or extreme distress Limit your ability to function normally Last as least six months and not be due to another condition Causes of the Fear of Failure A fear of failure can have a wide variety of causes. Some potential causes include: Critical Upbringing People who grow up in households that are highly critical or unsupportive may be more likely to experience a fear of failure. Because they felt that they could never live up to their family's expectations during childhood, they may continue to fear making mistakes as adults. Definitions of Failure People often have different definitions of what failure means. For some people, it means not achieving something exactly as they planned. This can create a set of expectations that is very difficult to live up to. Genetics Anxiety is also influenced by genetic factors. If members of your family also have anxiety conditions, you might be more likely to develop fears and anxieties yourself. Perfectionism Fear of failure sometimes stems from perfectionism. When people have extremely high standards, it often seems like nothing lives up to their expectations. This includes their own performance and achievements. Because they fear not reaching the high standards they've set, they may experience an intense fear of failing. Trauma People who experienced a difficult or even traumatic failure may also be very afraid of repeating that experience in the future. Having a panic attack during a presentation or being ridiculed for your performance, for example, could contribute to feelings of fear. Negative consequences resulting from failure, such as losing a job or not getting into a college, can also be risk factors that contribute to the fear of failure. While everyone may be afraid of failing from time to time, it becomes more serious when it inhibits your ability to pursue your goals and achieve the things you want to accomplish in life. Impact of the Fear of Failure A fear of failure can take a toll on a person’s belief in their abilities and their motivation to pursue their goals. Low self-esteem: People who fear failure may also engage in negative self-talk or have low self-confidence that makes it difficult to pursue goals. Poor motivation: When people fear failure, they may also experience a lack of motivation that makes it difficult to get started on projects and work toward goals. When something seems too challenging or involves learning new skills, people may simply give up or refuse to get involved. Self-sabotage: It isn't uncommon for people who fear failure to engage in acts of self-handicapping that undermine their own chances of success. Research has found, for example, that students who fear failing often engage in self-handicapping behaviors that actually limit academic success and perpetuate failure. Shame: The fear of failure often stems from a fear of experiencing shame or embarrassment. Failing can trigger feelings worthlessness, so avoiding trying in the first place can sometimes serve as a way to protect the self from disappointment, regret, and sadness. Treatment for Fear of Failure Treatment for the fear of failure depends on a variety of factors including how you experience this fear and the impact that it has on your life. In many cases, people can use self-help strategies to cope with these feelings. If your fear of failure is impeding your ability to function normally, it is important to talk to a professional. Treatment options for a fear of failure might include: Psychotherapy Psychotherapy can help you address the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to a fear of failure. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that helps people identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to feelings of fear. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may also be helpful. Medications Medications may be prescribed to help you manage feelings of anxiety or depression that might be linked to your fear. Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that are commonly prescribed to treat mood conditions and anxiety. Anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam), may also be prescribed. In many cases, a combination of these two treatment options with lifestyle changes may be the most effective The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Coping With Fear of Failure There are also a number of strategies that you can use to help reduce feelings of fear about failure. Some of these include: Consider the Outcomes Sometimes thinking about the worst possible outcome—and then coming up with a plan for how you’ll deal with it—can help reduce anxiety when you are pursuing your goals. Focus on the Things You Can Control Instead of worrying about aspects of the situation that you have no power over, focus your energy on things that you can control. Plan Ahead When you are facing a challenge that might trigger your fear of failing, work on developing alternative plans just in case your initial efforts don’t go as planned. Having a plan B (or plan C) can help you feel less anxious and more secure. Redefine Failure Changing how you think about failure may also help reduce your feelings of fear. Failure is part of life and can be an important opportunity to learn and acquire new skills. It can certainly be disappointing, but it is important to maintain a healthy perspective toward the potential benefits of failing from time to time. Remember that success is often reached through a series of progressive failures that lead to new information, skills, and strategies. Press Play for Advice On Growth Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to build a growth mindset by recovering from your mistakes. Click below to listen now. Subscribe Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Use Positive Thinking Avoid negative self-talk that can undermine your confidence and create feelings of anxiety. Instead, work on thinking more like an optimist to keep your motivation high. Visualization May Backfire While visualization is often touted as a tool for success, research actually shows that this motivational strategy can backfire with people who have a high fear of failure. One study found that people with a strong fear of failing experienced strong negative moods after they engaged in an activity that involved visualizing success. A Word From Verywell The fear of failure is something that everyone experiences from time to time, but this can become much more problematic when such feelings become persistent. Practice self-compassion and work on taking small steps toward building your confidence and managing your fears. 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013. Meier SM, Deckert J. Genetics of anxiety disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019;21(3):16. doi:10.1007/s11920-019-1002-7 Kelly JD 4th. Your best life: Perfectionism--the bane of happiness. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2015;473(10):3108-11. doi:10.1007/s11999-015-4279-9 Bartels JM, Herman WE. Fear of failure, self-handicapping, and negative emotions in response to failure; 2011. Hjeltnes A, Binder PE, Moltu C, Dundas I. Facing the fear of failure: An explorative qualitative study of client experiences in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program for university students with academic evaluation anxiety. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2015;10:27990. doi:10.3402/qhw.v10.27990 Langens TA. Tantalizing fantasies: positive imagery induces negative mood in individuals high in fear of failure. Imagination, Cognition and Personality. 2002;21(4):281-292. doi:10.2190/HGH6-3RM6-2VCG-YCQH By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Phobias Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.