NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Future Regret

Many people allow their fear of failure to create obstacles in their life.  They're so afraid of what other people would think of them if they fail that they refuse to take even the most well thought out calculated risks.  Refusing to take even relatively safe risks can lead to regret in the future, so it's important to understand the root of your fears so that you don't pass up opportunities in your life only to regret it later on (see my article: Fear of Making Mistakes and Overcoming Low Self Esteem).

Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Future Regret

What Fear of Failure?
Fear of failure isn't a diagnosis.  It's an experience that many people have that often gets in the way of  their setting goals, planning or taking advantage of opportunities.

Shame is often at the core of fear of failure.  People who experience fear of failure often doubt their own capabilities even when, objectively, they are quite capable.  Self doubt causes them to back away from taking any risks.  As previously mentioned, people who experience a pervasive fear of failure often worry that if they fail, other people won't like them and they will abandon them.

The root causes of fear of failure often begin in childhood with parents who are either risk averse or who unknowingly undermine their children.

A Fictional Clinical Vignette: Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Potential Regret

Renee started psychotherapy because she was having a lot of anxiety about a major decision she was facing.

She told her psychotherapist that her director offered her a promotion with a big increase in salary for what Renee considered her "dream job" in New York City.

Although her director had a lot of confidence in Renee's ability to take on this new job, Renee had doubts and she wondered if she should remain in her current job which she could do easily rather than taking a chance on this new job and risk failing.

When her director told Renee that she had a month to consider whether or not she wanted the promotion and relocation to New York City, she became highly anxious.  She ruminated about the decision and went back and forth in her mind.

She feared that if she would be in over her head in the new job and that she would disappoint her family, friends, director and colleagues.  She also feared that the people in her life would no longer respect her if she failed.

Her close friends, who knew Renee's experience and capabilities, urged her to take the job. They had confidence in Renee's skills and expertise, and they also knew that she had always wanted to live in New York.

But her parents urged Renee not to take the promotion.  They both feared that there was too much at stake with regard to Renee's career and if she didn't succeed, she might be terminated.  Her mother advised Renee to stay where she was safe in her current job rather than risk failing.

As Renee spoke with her psychotherapist, she told her that her parents were anxious people who were very risk averse.  Her father remained in the same job for 30 years, even though he was offered promotions, because he was afraid of failing.  Her mother once had dreams as a young woman of being a designer, but she never pursued her dreams because she feared the humiliation if she didn't succeed.

Each of her parents often spoke about "what if" they had gone further in life, but their regrets were fear outweighed by their need to be "safe" and not take risks.

Renee's psychotherapist asked her to try to put aside her fears and imagine what she might actually like about the new promotion.

At first, it was difficult for Renee to imagine enjoying her promotion, but when she managed to put aside her fears, her face lit up and she seemed energized.  She talked about taking on new and exciting challenges, making a lot more money, and realizing her dream of living in New York City.

As Renee and her psychotherapist weighed the risks vs. the benefits, it soon became clear to Renee that the benefits far outweighed the risks.  She also knew, when she thought about it objectively, that she could get another job that was similar to the job she was currently doing if things didn't work out with the promotion.

When she thought objectively about what the worst thing would be if the new job didn't work out, at first, she thought about how humiliated she would feel.  But, as she continued to discuss this with her psychotherapist, she realized that her friends and family would be emotionally supportive whether she succeeded or failed.

As she continued to talk to her psychotherapist about the promotion, Renee felt excited about the new opportunity, and she decided to accept the promotion.

In the interim, she and her psychotherapist worked on stress management techniques to help Renee to manage her fear and anxiety.  Her psychotherapist also recommended that when Renee moved to New York City that she find another psychotherapist to work on the deeper underlying issues that contributed to her fear of failure.

A few months after Renee was settled into her new job and new apartment in New York City, she sought help from a psychotherapist who helped clients with fear of failure.

Balancing Fear of Failure vs Future Regret

They were able to trace Renee's fear of failure back to her early childhood when her parents discouraged her from taking even the most basic risks.

Renee also remembered that her mother often expressed doubts about her abilities even when Renee was in elementary school.  Renee's sense was that her mother was being overly protective and she unknowingly caused Renee to doubt herself.  Renee had internalized her parents' fears.

Her psychotherapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy to work on Renee's fears, which included her past fears, her current fears, and her anticipated fear of failure for the future (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy? and How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain).

As Renee was working through her fear of failure with EMDR therapy, she also set limits with her parents, especially her mother, who tended to call Renee in a state of worry and panic about Renee's new promotion.  She told her mother that she appreciated her mother's concern, but her phone calls were making her anxious and her mother needed to stop talking about all the things she feared would go wrong for Renee.

As Renee continued to work with her psychotherapist using EMDR, over time, she became more confident in her ability to do her job.  She started to let go of her fear of failure and address these issues that were under her control rather than worrying about things that weren't under her control (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Over time, Renee's confidence increased, and she received positive feedback from her new director in New York.  She also became increasingly aware that if she had turned down the promotion out of fear, she would have regretted it in the long run.  This was an important lesson for Renee with regard to balancing fear of failure vs. potential regret.

Life is short.  One of the common regrets expressed by older people who are close to death is that they wish they had taken more risks and not worried about what other people thought of them.

Fear of failure often has its roots in early childhood.  Whether it involved growing up with critical parents who unknowingly undermine their child's self confidence or living with risk averse parents who convey that the world is a dangerous place, children learn to fear failure and carry that fear into adulthood.

Getting Help in Therapy
Balancing fear of failure and potential regret is difficult to do if you're not aware of the underlying issues involved.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to get to the root of your problems so that you can work through your fears (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Rather than passing up opportunities that you will regret later on, you can address your fear of failure in psychotherapy so that you can lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome their fear of failure.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.