Why are We Afraid to Fail? The Role of Trauma in Fear of Failure
Can Trauma Cause Fear of Failure?
When we get paralyzed by fear, we get stuck, we do not dare move on, and we refrain from following our dreams, passions, brilliant ideas, and all the risks that make life worth living. This is why understanding our fear of failure and what causes it is so important; so we can heal and live a fulfilling life.
So, what causes fear of failure? In our previous article, we discuss the different causes of fear of failure and how to overcome it. In this article, we provide a greater emphasis on how trauma can shape our minds and motivate us to be scared of failing.
When we discuss trauma, we are talking about our old wounds, painful stories, and the intense negative emotional experiences that we have had throughout our lives. Importantly, trauma does not only stem from our childhood; trauma can also be caused by our adult experiences. For instance, take that in your late 20s you started your own business and it did not go very well. Since then, you do not feel like trying again as you do not want to face the possibility of failure again. This traumatic event now haunts you; making you feel scared of following your dreams and stopping you from venturing outside of your comfort zone. You would much rather prefer staying within your zone of comfort, even though you know that you are self-sabotaging your journey.
This is one example of how our traumatic experiences can shape our present actions and deter us from seeking our goals and dreams. Different types of trauma can lead us on the same path of being too scared of failing. These traumatic events could have occurred in adulthood, as in the example above. However, some traumatic experiences happen in childhood or, in some cases, do not even occur to us at all.
Bullying and Childhood Trauma
One traumatic experience that can cause us to feel afraid of failure stems from one of the most painfully ubiquitous childhood experiences: bullying. Experiencing bullying in our younger years can shape how we behave as adults. Let's imagine that when in class, you raised your hand to answer your teacher’s question, and every time you spoke, the whole classroom laughed at you. Every time you raised your voice, your bullies intimidated and humiliated you, and, what is even worse, nobody defended you, not even your teacher. If you experienced this type of situation only once, perhaps it did not develop into trauma. However, if you have experienced bullying for a long time, this could be why you are afraid to put yourself out there as an adult.
These sorts of emotional traumas can leave us feeling afraid of expressing our opinions, speaking up, and sharing our thoughts. They can deter us from going after our ideas and dreams simply because we are terribly afraid of being humiliated or laughed at again. When we daydream about something we would like to achieve, our negative automatic thoughts deter us from speaking or acting. These thoughts can sound like:
"what if people laugh at me again,"
"what if they humiliate me,"
"what if they will not want to be friends with me anymore?"
These are the sort of things our inner critic anxiously tells us, effectively deterring us from living authentically. In the end, these traumatic experiences do not only cause us to be afraid of failure but also to fear loneliness, embarrassment, vulnerability, and humiliation. Similarly, it can cause us to develop imposter syndrome and low self-confidence. Our fears speak loudly and motivate us to stay safe so as not to jeopardize our image, dignity, respect, and the friends we have. So, we prefer to remain on the sidelines, do not seek the spotlight, and become a wallflower. Believing then that if we do not share much of our opinions, dreams, and ideas and simply follow others, we will be safe and never lonely.
Generational and Inherited Trauma
Sometimes the fear of failure can stem from events that we have not directly experienced. That is, through generational or inherited trauma. Inherited trauma encompasses the epigenetic changes to a person's DNA that pass on through the generations. It also conceptualizes how behaviors can trickle down generations through social and family dynamics. An excellent book by Mark Wolynn describes how this process occurs. In order to further understand how inherited trauma works, we suggest you take a look at his book titled 'It Did Not Start With You.'
So, perhaps we have not directly faced failure in our life, maybe we have not been traumatized or wounded by loss, but other people before us may have. Family members, parents, grandparents, and people from our close environment might have tried something daring and courageous that did not work. This is what is termed the 'legacy of unfinished business.' This concept refers to the fact that someone close to us might have been scared to finish something. Or they did not manage to accomplish something they started successfully and, hence, felt quite sad and disappointed. So, we then inherit this trauma and carry this DNA of grief, fear, and insecurity with us.
For example, think of a parent who was afraid of dating or a family member who believed that making money is wrong because it spoils you. Maybe somebody in your family was against daring for success and extraordinary things. And, just because you love this person and this person was important to you, you took their side even though you knew that there is another truth out there. You took their side so many times that you fostered a pattern of fear of failure, namely as you share something with a person who holds these beliefs or has been through a painful experience. You also might feel that you do not want to succeed, as not to rub it in their face or make them feel even more disappointed with themselves. We think that we are sharing the misery and pain with them and that through this, we are helping and supporting them if we stay there and join them.
Understanding and Overcoming Fear of Failure
Fear of failure can deter us from daring greatly and living a fulfilling and purposeful life. It is caused by an amalgamation of factors such as negative thinking, low self-confidence, and our past traumatic experiences. Understanding what fear of failure is and where it stems from is the first step toward overcoming it. If you want to learn more about the causes behind the fear of failure and how to manage your worries, we suggest you read our article on the topic. You can also join our AntiLoneliness Academy to learn how to manage your fear of failure and the habits weighing you down.
We wish you well in your journey. Remember, you are not alone. Take care.
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