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How Does a Fear of Failure Play Into Social Anxiety?

An african american woman is standing in the hallway of an office building covering her face with her hands. In the distance we see her two coworkers having a conversation together.

How Does a Fear of Failure Play Into Social Anxiety?

An african american woman is standing in the hallway of an office building covering her face with her hands. In the distance we see her two coworkers having a conversation together.

Social Anxiety comes with many fears, such as fear of rejection or fear of judgment. Among those fears that we see most powerful in our therapy practice in Woodland Hills is the fear of failure. You may think of failure when it comes to tasks; therefore, it may seem unusual for fear of failure to trigger social anxiety. As fear of failure and social anxiety coexist, they can reinforce each other, where fear of failure fuels social anxiety, and social anxiety reinforces the fear of failure.

Think about how easily conversation flows when you’re feeling totally comfortable in your skin. Now think of how stressful it feels if you have to do a public speech or have a serious meeting with a boss. The difference in those scenarios isn’t who you are, what you are capable of, your value, your ideas, or anything of that nature. The difference is in your confidence in yourself and the odds that your outcome will be positive. It is one thing to talk to your best friend about something and a totally different thing to talk to a stranger.

How is a Fear of Failure Connected to Social Anxiety?

A young Asian woman is sitting on the couch in her living room. Her legs are up on the couch as she puts her hands on top of her head, with a distressed face.

Imagine a scenario where someone with a fear of failure enters a social situation. The heightened anticipation of not meeting expectations can trigger the fear of judgment or embarrassment. The last thing someone who is afraid of failure wants is an audience. You might think that it’s normal not to want to be embarrassed in front of others, and that is true to a point. However, when a fear of failure becomes overwhelming, it creates an aversion to social settings that are very difficult to navigate.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Catastrophic thinking. You always assume the worst possible outcome will happen.
  • High expectations of self. There is no room in your mindset for slip-ups or flubs.
  • Low tolerance to mistakes or hiccups. When you do make a misstep, it really throws you off and upsets you.
  • Role of people pleasing. If you are someone who feels a need to make everyone around you happy and/or proud, your social anxiety may be exacerbated by your fear of failure.
  • History of being bullied or teased. Many of us develop our sense of social confidence in our younger years. A history of not being accepted by the “group” can teach us that that pattern is bound to continue.

3 Steps to Overcome Your Fear of Failure and Social Anxiety

1) Self-Compassion:

A young blonde woman is sitting on a yoga mat in her home. Her dog is laying beside her as she writes in her journal.

Treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer to a friend who’s struggling. If that means that you have to imagine your friend is telling you their struggles and practice what you would say to them, do it. Write it all down if you have to. When that is done, read your words of encouragement back to yourself. You may find that you offer reassurance such as, “It’s natural to feel anxious when the stakes are high,” or, “You are not alone in this.” Remind yourself of these things. Your brain will problem-solve and recover faster if it is in a more relaxed state than if it is navigating a fight-or-flight response. The only way to that state is through kindness toward yourself. In providing social anxiety counseling in Woodland Hills, we see many people at your practice who are very hard on themselves. It is easier said than done to begin to speak to yourself with more kindness, but it is important work nonetheless.

Through self-compassion, you are also able to make a plan. How will you speak to yourself if you misspeak in some way or don’t understand someone’s comment or joke? What sorts of affirmations can you say in your head or even aloud? If you experience anxiety in a situation you can’t avoid, like staff meetings at your workplace or during holiday events, being kind to yourself about them will make problem-solving feel more possible.

Self-compassion does not mean pretending that something isn’t happening. It means accepting what is true and being kind to yourself about it. It means that you’re allowed to have sympathy for yourself when you struggle, when your perfectionism is challenging to navigate when you are triggered, and when you take chances that don’t pan out. When we approach situations from a curious point of view, we more easily see situations as learning opportunities. We are also more likely to reach out for help and support because we aren’t sitting in judgment of ourselves. The truth is that it is easier to take care of ourselves when we show ourselves care. If you have to fake it until you make it, then do it!

If you struggle with self-compassion in real time, set aside some quiet time to reflect and to speak kindly to yourself. Keep a journal of what you are proud of, what you like about yourself, the achievements you are making, and the risks you are taking. Read and review it when you can’t summon any rallying affirmations for yourself. Write to yourself with empathy and encouragement. Listen to podcasts that make you feel empowered. Speak to your therapist about how to utilize your calm and regulated times to help you in your anxious times.

2) Redefine Success and Failure:

A young beautiful woman is standing in her office as she smiles and holds her tablet in her hand.

Challenge the notion of success and failure. Instead of viewing mistakes as crushing defeats, consider them as stepping stones toward growth and learning. In the past, you might have viewed success as making everyone laugh or never stumbling over your words. Determine a new metric: You showed up, spoke to someone you didn’t know, and actively listened instead of trying to come up with the perfect response. All of these are achievements, and all of them would be deserving of celebration!

When it comes to your idea of failure, take away anything that has to do with how you assume others feel about you. This cannot be accurately measured and isn’t in your control. In your new system, you might view a failure as not showing up at all, not taking a risk to make a connection, or not having properly prepared for the social event with proper self-care beforehand.

If you are very hard on yourself, it might seem outlandish to think of celebrating “small things”. Unfortunately, we get a lot of messaging in our society about “having it all” and “doing it all.” We are told, “Never let them see you sweat,” and “You have the same 24 hours in a day as…” (insert the name of a wildly successful person here). In reality, most of us are doing everything we can just to get by. Financially, emotionally, physically. The average person might have a job, run a household, have family and friends they want to invest in, have hobbies they care about, and more. Gone are the days when one person worked out of the home, and one person was responsible for the entire house. Those were two full-time jobs done by two people. Nowadays, most of us do it all. I say all this to say that sometimes, it is a victory to do all the dishes before bed or get up and walk around the block. Sometimes, being successful means showing up and trying, even if you had to try slowly or even if you didn’t make the kind of progress you wanted. When you recognize all the things you are trying to manage, you are able to truly see all that you accomplish in a day. Furthermore, you are able to realize that the people you encounter are likely in the same situation as you are in. Everyone is just trying their best. While it’s always best to determine your self-worth and not compare yourself to others, you can also be gentler on yourself when you connect with the people around you about how hard it can be sometimes. And you can remind yourself not to be intimidated by the life you think other people are living.

In a situation where you would normally feel like you have experienced “failure,” take time to break down what has actually occurred and how serious the repercussions truly are. Combat catastrophic thinking by remaining grounded in the present. One of the ways catastrophic thinking can get the better of us is when we ruminate about past missteps and berate ourselves for our current situation being a reflection of our “pattern.” In other cases, we worry about the future ramifications of what is happening, assuming that there will be a domino effect that leads to our worst fears. Both of these are very human experiences but entirely unhelpful. When you encounter a situation that feels familiar, talk to yourself about it. “I cannot change the past, I only have control of myself in this moment.” You might want to remind yourself, “Thinking about this is unhelpful and won’t make me feel as happy as I deserve to be.”

3) Gradual Exposure:

Three young individuals are having a conversation together at work. There is an Asian man, a white woman, and an African American women standing together. They are all smiling and laughing together.

Gradual exposure to social situations can be immensely helpful for individuals with social anxiety. Start with small, manageable interactions and gradually work your way up to more challenging ones.

The TED Talk “100 Days of Rejection” by Jia Jiang is one of our favorite talks to share with our clients, especially those who specifically attend therapy for social anxiety. Everyone’s idea of a small interaction will be different. It is up to you to consider where these events might fall on your comfort scale and pick one that is just a little bit uncomfortable to begin with. When thinking about your options, try to remember what will push you a little and what will ultimately be safe for you. For example, testing yourself out by being locked in an escape room with strangers for an hour might be too much too soon. Take time to imagine a location that feels comfortable and familiar, an event that you can exit at any time (whether to take a small break or to actually go home), and if someone might be able to be there with you for moral support.

It is important to support exposure therapy with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation. These techniques can help manage the physiological responses associated with anxiety. The people we see for anxiety counseling in Woodland Hills come to us with a variety of experiences with mindfulness and relaxation, as well as ideas about what that means. What works for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa. Most people picture it as sitting crisscross with your eyes closed and breathing deeply. That is one method, and it might be your go-to. However, mindfulness is more than being calm and quiet. It is a practice of being present in the moment. If that means you are speaking to yourself or using your body to ground yourself in some way, then that is great. For some people, exercise is a great way for them to relax and be present as they blow off steam and as they tune in to their heartbeat, their breathing, and what their body is doing. However it looks for you, whether you need a dark and quiet room or a bright, loud workout studio, is the best method. You will likely find that your requirements shift as you undergo more and more exposure therapy, maybe even fully reversing at some point. The key is to be accepting of the information you obtain about yourself as you go along.

A young beautiful Asian woman is sitting in her home at a table. She is writing with a pen as she smiles.

There is no way to guarantee that you’ll never be nervous doing public speaking or meeting certain people for the first time. This is a natural part of life, especially in high-stakes situations. What can hopefully change is your fear of failure, contributing to your anxiety. When you view everything in black-or-white terms, there is no space to have neutral experiences. Inevitably, anything that isn’t “perfect” becomes categorized as a disaster. This perception feeds into more social anxiety, more pressure on yourself, and more desire to “make it right.” If you have had social anxiety for a long time, you may be so accustomed to the feeling that you can’t imagine what it would be like to release some of that fear. This is why being kind to yourself and patient with your process is so important. Change never happens overnight. Revisiting your previous perceptions and gradually adjusting your behaviors can make a big difference. And the best part is that once you begin to see small changes, you understand that you can continue to push a little harder, a little further. Imagine your social anxiety drawn in a small circle around your feet. Inch by inch, the circle expands as you take new chances and make new investments in yourself. Maybe sometimes you feel it shrink a little. But when you know it’s possible to push it out again, sometimes that’s all the encouragement you need.

Social Anxiety Therapy in Woodland Hills 

Social Anxiety is a debilitating anxiety due to fear of being judged by others that can cause serious problems in your social, work, or school. And it can be hard to manage it on your own.  In our office in Woodland Hills, our anxiety counselors understand how social anxiety can hijack you from connecting with others. With CBT, exposure therapy, and mindfulness tools, you can learn ways to better manage your social anxiety and be more present. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.

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