The Fear of failure can stop you in all areas of your life — career, dating, exercising and connections with family, partners and friends.

Fear is a powerful emotion that controls our behaviour regardless of what you say you want — it can make you Hide, Shake, Freeze or Scream.

What are we so afraid of? The 5 Basic Fears

  • The Fear of Death or Ceasing to Exist
  • The Fear of Mutilation – physical pain or needles
  • The Loss of Autonomy- emotionally smothering in a relationship or feeling claustrophobic
  • The Fear of Separation – rejection, abandonment and loss of connection
  • The Fear of Ego Death – loss of Identity like a job, humiliation and shame

Our fears are either basic survival values or learned reflexes from memories of past traumas. It’s the memories of past traumas that get us in to trouble and stop us from achieving our goals.

What happens? We experience fear as thoughts and physical reaction at the same time. Our body is reacting to these thoughts by releasing adrenaline and chemicals that were originally meant to help us defend ourselves by either fight, flight or freeze. But the body doesn’t know the difference between an actual threat of imminent danger in front of you or merely the thought of failure. It reacts the same way with stress and anxiety.

Imagine — You’re asked to speak in front of 200 people, and you have no way out. If you are like most people, you’ll feel a flutter and wave of fear in your stomach or tension and panic in your chest. It’s instantaneous, and seemingly without thought. FEAR!! On the surface it appears we’re only reacting to the thought of speaking in public, but the fear of failure has just kicked in. And with it, your thoughts are flooded with insecurities and beliefs about yourself and others based on experiences from your past. Thoughts like – I can’t do this – I’m not a good speaker – No one will want to hear me – I’m not smart. For me, the biggest fear is freezing and forgetting my words. Your body is reacting to the fearful thoughts as if it’s happening RIGHT NOW!! Stress!! Anxiety!!

So, what do we do? By default, we believe these thoughts. They are the ego, our protector, trying to keep us safe after all. Safe from separation, humiliation and shame which could lead to rejection. We choose not to participate to stay safe. We’re being driven by the fear of Ego, Death and Separation. But in staying safe, we’re cutting ourselves off from expressing, participating and connecting with others. See the loop? Our instinct to hide for fear of separation and rejection actually creates the separation and disconnection we’re fearing. We do this because it feels familiar and comfortable. After awhile though, familiar and comfortable can lead to a lonely, indifferent, uneventful, unexciting, dull, uninspiring life.

When we challenge our fears however, we feel alive and connected. And It can be exhilarating. Because fear isn’t weakness – it takes courage to feel the fear and do it anyway. And courage can look like taking a step outside your door if you’re agoraphobic, or smiling at the cute stranger. Little steps can be life changing.

One of my favorite quotes is “Fear is Excitement without the Breath”. I don’t know who wrote it but …Wow. How true.

How to start turning your fear into excitement. By breathing, getting curious and becoming aware of your thoughts. By changing them from expecting to fail to imagining what we want from a situation and expecting to feel exhilarated. So you may be invited to a party but are afraid of groups, or you’re putting off seeing the doctor because you’re worried about the results. Or you’re asked out for coffee and you think you don’t have anything to say. When that feeling of impending danger and insecurities start to well up, I ask you to get curious and think of it as information. That’s all it is — it’s just a thought. A thought about the future based on the past. It’s all just information.

Take the step. The more we understand our fears, the more we can be calm and talk about them and learn where they come from. When we have more understanding, we have more choice and fear has less control over us and our behaviours.


Liz Coleman, RTC, is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor based in Surrey, BC. She specializes in anxiety, anger, insecurity, and relationship problems. If you have any questions about this article or would like to schedule an appointment, please call Ms. Coleman at (604) 809-8947 or use the convenient form on her Contact page.