What is fear of failure?

Let’s first look at what fear of failure is and then how to dissolve it. Fear of failure is also called performance anxiety and it is basically the fear of being rejected, criticized, judged or attacked. For example, if you have the fear of speaking in front of a group, you are afraid that you won’t do well, that you will fail. And you are afraid to fail because you unconsciously have the belief that if you fail that you will be rejected, criticized, or judged.

Fear of failure is one of the biggest fears people have. It is a common fear and one that limits us very much in our lives. It keeps us from growing, from realizing our potential and from doing what we want. Fear of failure keeps us from living life to the fullest.

You can experience fear of failure as mild anxiety; you find it exciting. But it can also be experienced as intense fear; the sweat breaks out on you, your heart pounds like crazy, your mouth dries out, and you are trembling on your legs. You may also become nauseous or even get a stomach ache. The fear can become so intense that it feels like all the cells in your body are saying “This is not good, this is dangerous, don’t do it, or get out of here!” Psychologically, you experience it as a sense of lack, as a sense of deficiency. You don’t have what it takes to do what you need to do. You feel that you are not able to accomplish. You feel like you’re going to fail. It is the opposite of being at ease, feeling supported and confident.

To avoid experiencing this very unpleasant feeling of anxiety, you restrict your life. You avoid situations that trigger fear of failure as much as possible. For example, fear of failure keeps you from making contact with someone you like, because you are afraid he or she will reject you. It hinders you from meeting new people or doing new things. It also hinders you from making a commitment because you are afraid you cannot live up to it and will be rejected as a result. Another example is that fear of failure stops you from speaking up in a meeting, or giving a presentation, because you are afraid of being rejected. Fear of failure limits you in your personal and professional growth. Solving fear of failure will therefore give you great freedom to develop yourself and live life to the fullest. Solving fear of failure completely and permanently begins with understanding the cause of fear of failure.

The cause of fear of failure

As children, we were centered in our pelvis. We were naturally connected to our base; our pelvis. And we were therefore connected to our life energy, the strength and support that flowed from our pelvis. Because we were connected to our life energy, to our life force, we were also naturally oriented to life, to creativity, to joy and fulfillment. And you can see this very well in children. They are oriented to play, to joy and fulfillment, very naturally. There is zest for life in them. There is libido in them. We felt safe and at rest in our Being, in our spontaneous flow of life energy. We were not centered in our heads. We became that later.

One of the things that often happened in the interactions with our parents when we were just being ourselves, when we asserted ourselves, when we expressed ourselves, is that we were rejected, criticized, judged or even attacked; verbally or non-verbally, directly or indirectly. Or we were even physically attacked. And because we were centered in our pelvis we felt every rejection, attack, criticism or judgment in our pelvis. And we experienced that as a shock, and we tried to deal with the shock by contracting that area, by shrinking it, by closing it.

Every time we were rejected or criticized, we closed our pelvis. And eventually that resulted in us becoming cut off from our pelvis, from our base, and therefore from our support and from our spontaneous flow of life energy. As children, we were not supported in who we were and we no longer felt safe to just be ourselves. Therefore, we automatically pulled up from our ground, from our pelvis. We went to our heads to figure out how we needed to be in order to be seen and loved, so that the connection with the significant other, the parent, was guaranteed. We learned to adapt. And we identified with the adapted self.

How the fear operates in our adult lives

Now when you want to assert yourself as an adult, when you want to show up, to manifest and express yourself, your presence, your awareness, descends from your head back to your pelvis. The will to be, to be yourself, to show up, brings you back to your pelvis, to your ground, to your base. And this triggers the fear of being rejected, of being criticized, of being judged or of being attacked. It brings this old fear that is stored in your pelvis back to the surface. You don’t feel safe because of this and you instinctively contract your pelvis and block your will to be present, to show up, to be yourself. And this is what keeps you from doing things where you need to show up, where you need to express yourself, such as giving your opinion, speaking in front of a group or giving a presentation.

But the attacks, or judgments you now are afraid of, have already happened. The rejection you now fear has already happened. Nothing is going to happen now. They are just stored fears and memories brought up by your will to be yourself. When you were yourself, when you showed up as yourself, you were rejected or judged. And this feeling with the images and the thoughts is stored in you. Unconsciously, you now believe that if you show up, you will be rejected or judged. These fears are actually leaving your body now.

The solution

To dissolve fear of failure completely and permanently, it is important to become aware of this process. It is important to see, understand, acknowledge and allow this process. This allows the fears and associations tied to your will to be yourself and show up to dissolve. In this way, fear of failure, the biggest blockade to showing up, disappears forever. You feel deeply grounded in yourself again. Over-effort and feelings of inadequacy dissolve. You feel that you are able to be present to all the challenges in your life without losing balance. You feel at ease, supported and confident to do what you want to do. you now feel you can accomplish whatever you need to do.

Inquiry practice

When did you feel the fear of being rejected when you were a child? Was it in relationship with father or mother, or with another person. How did it happen? Was it verbal, nonverbal? Directly or indirectly? Indirect is for example: if you want my love, you will do what I say!

How does it feel in your body? Where in particular do you feel it? 

Allow as much as possible whatever arises in you; feelings, sensations, thoughts, images. We are not trying to get rid of anything. Welcoming and acknowledging whatever you are experiencing, with understanding and love, makes your experience clear, transparent and open.

We allow ourselves to face the reality of being rejected, rather than defending against it. Our natural state, our openness, is what will ultimately heal the fear and dissolve the defense mechanisms.

You can do the exploration with someone else for fifteen minutes each, or you can do the inquiry in writing.