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Atychiphobia /əˌtɪkˈfbiə/ is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure, a type of specific phobia.[1] As with many phobias, atychiphobia often leads to a constricted lifestyle,[2] and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities. The term atychiphobia comes from the Greek phóbos, meaning "fear" or "morbid fear" and atyches meaning "unfortunate".[3]

Persons afflicted with atychiphobia considers the possibility of failure so intense that they choose not to take the risk. Often these persons will subconsciously undermine their own efforts so that they no longer have to continue to try.[4] Because effort is proportionate to the achievement of personal goals and fulfillment, this unwillingness to try, that arises from the perceived inequality between the possibilities of success and failure, holds the atychiphobic back from a life of meaning and the realization of potential.[5]

By definition, the anxiety of any particular phobia is understood to be disproportionate to reality, and the victim is typically aware that the fear is irrational, making the problem a largely subconscious one. For this reason there are no simple treatments for atychiphobia,[2] however there are several options available.

Origins and causes[edit]

It is generally believed that phobias arise from a combination of heredity, genetics, brain chemistry, and life-experience.[2] Demeaning parents or family members, traumatic and embarrassing events that arise from minor failure early in life, or when an individual experiences a significant failure and is ill-equipped to effectively cope with the resulting feelings, are all thought to produce the fear of failure in the long term.[4] When a developing brain is raised in a home where approval or the feeling of being loved is linked to performance it becomes difficult to separate the two. Such a person comes to believe that such feelings must be earned, and that they can be withdrawn if failure occurs. In addition, some individuals who struggle with phobias have a genetic predisposition toward anxiety, compounding the problem of atychiphobia and making it more difficult to handle. As a result of these factors, those with an irrational fear of failure often settle for mediocrity to avoid the risks inherent in distinguishing themselves.[1]

Those with atychiphobia create a direct link between the possibility of failure and competition;[6] and in an inherently competitive society, they find that it is best to avoid the problem altogether. The person more strongly motivated to avoid failure, rather than to achieve success, tends to be more unrealistic in aspiration.[7]

Because the modern society places so much emphasis on perfection in every aspect of life, a person with atychiphobia will often not risk trying until perfection is assured.[4] They draw their value as an individual from their success relative to societal standards. This dynamic is most readily observed in the classroom setting, where students are forced to compete for a limited number of rewards, most often the scarcity of good grades. A restricted supply of rewards pushes student aspirations for grades and other forms of recognition beyond the capabilities of many children, with the result that they are unable to keep pace with these inappropriate goals. Such circumstances tend to force a fateful decision for countless youngsters. The child may reason, unwittingly and without recognition of the consequences, that if they cannot be sure of succeeding, then at least they can try to protect a sense of dignity by avoiding failure.[8] In essence the atychiphobe seeks to avoid at whatever cost the same experience he or she may have endured that triggered such a potent and irrational fear of failure.


Those suffering from atychiphobia may experience physiological symptoms typical of phobias such as:

These symptoms manifest when one is confronted with the possibility of failure, such as when they are asked to perform a task at which they believe they cannot be 100% successful. The individual may suffer from a breakdown, and if left unchecked, these symptoms will continue to worsen. A drop in self-confidence and loss of motivation are likely to occur,[9] which can lead to depression.[4] As a result, it is common to avoid situations where this confrontation may occur. However, it is this avoidance that impairs the sufferer’s freedom as opportunities are lost in all aspects of life such as career and family. In addition, the inability to overcome this anxiety is in itself a form of failure.[1][2] Achievement-oriented individuals learn… to strive for excellence, maintain optimistic expectations, and to not be readily discouraged by failure. Conversely, individuals who consistently fear failure… set goals that are too high or too low and become easily discouraged by obstacles.[10]


Atychiphobia can often be treated with SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) which is designed to raise the levels of serotonin in the brain which impacts a person’s anxiety level, making it more manageable. Medication alone is not encouraged however, as this is perceived to simply mask the problem. Rather most physicians recommend a combination of behavioral/cognitive and medicinal therapies.[1]

Counseling is also a popular option in dealing with atychiphobia.[5] A trusted counselor can help a patient come to better terms with their fear and develop new coping methods to deal with stressful situations. In coming to understand the triggers associated with atychiphobia, patients learn to develop healthier belief systems about failure and subsequently are able to effectively manage anxiety. If necessary a health professional may even prescribe more serious treatments for anxiety such as hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Energy Psychology.[2] However Neurolinguistic Programming has been discredited and is considered to be pseudoscience (see Wikipedia's description). Many of the techniques used in Energy psychology are also unproven and often considered by many to be pseudoscience.

Various forms of self-help programs and methods can also be effective in overcoming atychiphobia. One such method, systematic desensitization, involves gradually confronting situations or circumstances that are increasingly similar to the feared ones. More effective however is exposure therapy, where the phobic is repeatedly exposed to that which they fear until the fear itself gradually fades.[2] In the case of atychiphobia, breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces is a first step. Practice of the activity a person is afraid of failing can also mitigate the effects of anxiety. In general, the gradual acceptance of failure as part of a learning process necessary for success can bring the desired results.[4] An understanding or appreciation for the failure experience is vital to an individual, and as long as an individual’s goal is in developing a more accurate sense of well-being and self-esteem rather than appearance, he or she will eventually be able to overcome the fear of failure.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Bauers, Deborah. "An Overview of Atychiphobia." Helium. (Nov. 23, 2010). Retrieved 2011-11-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g PHOBIA. [serial online]. n.d.; Available from: Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 18, 2012.
  3. ^ Colman, Andrew M. A Dictionary of Psychology. (3rd edn, 2009). WP:ISBN 978-0-19-953406-7
  4. ^ a b c d e f Williams, Glen. "Atychiphobia – Fear of Failure." E Home Fellowship Help With Life. Retrieved 2011-11-18.
  5. ^ a b All About Counseling. [Online], (1998) Available: (June 30, 2010)
  6. ^ Fear of failure, fear of evaluation, perceived competence, and self-esteem in competitive-trait-anxious children. Passer, Michael W. Journal of Sport Psychology, Vol 5(2), 1983, 172-188.
  7. ^ Mahone, Charles H. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol 60(2), Mar 1960, 253-261. doi:10.1037/h0047588
  8. ^ Segal , Judith W., Susan F. Chipman, and Robert Glaser. Thinking and Learning Skills: Relating instruction to research . 1. Hillsdale: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 1985. Print.p.391.
  9. ^ David E. Conroy, Jason P. Willow & Jonathan N. Metzler (2002): Multidimensional Fear of Failure Measurement: The Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14:2, 76-90
  10. ^ The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. Ed. Bonnie Strickland. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2001. p440-441.
  11. ^ Fear of failure in the student experience. Beery, Richard G. Personnel &Guidance Journal, Vol 54(4), Dec 1975, 191-203.