Atychiphobia (Fear of Failure)
What is atychiphobia?
Atychiphobia is an intense fear of failure. It comes from the Greek word “atyches,” meaning "unfortunate.”
People with atychiphobia may avoid any situation where they see a potential for failure, such as an exam or job interview. It can also mean being afraid of a failed relationship, a failed career or being a disappointment to others.
The fear often becomes self-fulfilling. For example, if you’re so scared of failing a test that you refuse to take the test, you may end up failing an entire class.
Fear of failure can lead to a broad range of emotional and psychological problems, including shame, depression, anxiety, panic attacks or low self-esteem. It may negatively affect how you perform at school or work, or how you interact with friends and family members.
Atychiphobia is different from atelophobia, which is a fear of imperfection.
Are atychiphobia and perfectionism the same?
Atychiphobia and perfectionism have some similarities, but they’re different conditions. Perfectionism means you try to be flawless and have an intense focus on success. Someone with atychiphobia focuses on failure and battles feelings of panic, worry or doom about what could happen if failure happens. Extreme perfectionism can escalate into atelophobia.
What is a phobia?
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes an overwhelming sense of fear about an object, situation or event. The fear might seem irrational to others, but the person with the phobia feels genuinely scared, threatened and at risk.
How common is atychiphobia?
It’s hard knowing exactly how many people have a specific phobia, like atychiphobia. Many people may keep this fear to themselves or may not recognize they have it. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, though.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes atychiphobia?
Possible causes of atychiphobia may include:
- Family history: If mental health disorders such as phobias, anxiety or depression run in your family, you may be more likely to have these conditions.
- Learned behavior: You may have grown up in an environment where people taught you that failure was unacceptable, or that anything less than perfect was failure.
- Other phobias: Sometimes, phobias occur together. For example, a child with scolionophobia (fear of school) may also have atychiphobia. Or someone with mysophobia (fear of dirt and germs) may develop atychiphobia if they feel they constantly fail at staying clean.
- Traumatic experiences: If you’ve suffered abuse or severe punishment as a result of failure, you may fear experiencing those consequences again. Or you may feel that a past failure of yours led to a terrible result, such as death or destruction.
What are the symptoms of atychiphobia?
People with a fear of failure may be:
- Afraid of performing simple tasks at work, home or school.
- Angry or irritable.
- Anxious about being judged by others.
- Depressed or sad.
- Pessimistic (negative outlook on life).
- Prone to procrastination if a task or activity seems challenging.
- Unable to maintain relationships.
- Unwilling to accept constructive criticism or help.
Atychiphobia can also cause panic attacks, which may lead to:
Diagnosis and Tests
How is atychiphobia diagnosed?
There aren’t any tests to diagnose the fear of failure. Your healthcare provider can diagnose the condition based on discussions with you about:
- Your symptoms.
- How long they’ve been happening.
- How they interfere in your life.
Your healthcare provider collects detailed information about your fear of failure. They may ask a variety of questions, such as:
- Do you avoid or put off tasks or activities because you think you may not complete them successfully?
- Does your fear of failure ever cause feelings of depression, irritability, anger or hopelessness?
- Does your fear of failure prevent you from relaxing, sleeping or enjoying activities you used to like?
- How does fear affect your life at home, school or work?
- How long have you had a fear of failure?
Your healthcare provider will also try to determine if you have any other mental health disorders, like:
Management and Treatment
How is atychiphobia managed or treated?
There is a variety of ways to manage a fear of failure, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps you change negative thinking about failure. Your therapist can help you see that some things that you consider “failures” are actually positive opportunities for learning and growth. Your therapist can also give you helpful strategies for coping with fear and anxiety such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Exposure therapy: Gradually exposing yourself to the source of your fear can help you overcome your fear response. For example, your therapist may ask you to recreate a scenario where you feel you failed in the past. You do this in a safe, supportive environment so you can see there’s no real threat or danger in failure.
- Medication: If you have a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, medication may help you manage the symptoms. However, medication isn’t usually a first-line therapy for phobias.
Is there a way to prevent atychiphobia?
Phobias aren’t usually preventable, but you can take steps to reduce their severity:
- Create a strong support system of friends and family members.
- Don’t consume caffeine or alcohol or use drugs, which can make stress and anxiety worse.
- Get help from a healthcare provider as soon as you notice your fear is affecting your life.
- Try to stay active, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep.
Outlook / Prognosis
What’s the prognosis (outlook) for people with atychiphobia?
Most people respond well to treatments such as psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments and medication. In fact, studies show that about 90% of people with a phobia can overcome the condition with exposure therapy.
When should I call the doctor?
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Difficulty functioning in your daily life due to fear of failure.
- Symptoms of a panic attack.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- How long will I need treatment?
- Should I consider hypnotherapy for atychiphobia?
- What is the root cause of my fear of failure?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Atychiphobia is an extreme fear of failure. Someone with this condition may procrastinate or avoid any situations where they don’t feel they’ll be completely successful. They may set unrealistic goals for themselves, which only increases the possibility of failure. If you have severe worry or panic at the thought of failing, talk to your healthcare provider. Most people can overcome this phobia with psychotherapy.
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