Complete Guide To Atelophobia (Symptoms, Causes And How to Overcome)

What is harder to handle than failure? The fear of failure.

We have all experienced it to some degree or in some form – performance anxiety, fear of judgment, or avoiding intense relationships.

This fear of failure stems from the unrealistic belief that anything less than perfection or success is unacceptable. In the spectrum of this dysfunction – Atelophobia is the full-blown manifestation.

Atelophobia definition

So, what is Atelophobia?

Think of it this way.

We all have some expression of fear in our personalities – fear of failing judgment, ridicule, and rejection that stops us from pursuing relationships, asking for a raise, trying for a new job, and the like.

However, when you have Atelophobia, your strive towards perfection can become obsessive and irrational, and even paralyze you. 

Atelophobia is a Greek word that can be broken down to reveal its meaning – the Greek word ‘atelo’ – means imperfection, and ‘phobia’ – means fear. 

But, atelophobia isn’t merely a fear of being unable to attain perfection, and there’s a fine line between the two.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” 

While perfectionism isn’t always unhealthy, atelophobia is considered to be a mental illness (a kind of anxiety disorder) that requires special attention and treatment.

The commonalities between Atelophobia and perfectionism makes the diagnosis of Atelophobia difficult. Just because someone is afraid of being imperfect doesn’t necessarily mean they have Atelophobia. It becomes a problem when it develops into an avoidance behavior and starts causing them a significant amount of emotional distress.

So, how do you understand if something’s wrong? You lookout for the common signs and symptoms associated with this phobia.

Symptoms of Atelophobia

An extreme fear of failure characterizes Atelophobia. Everything less than perfect is tagged as a failure. A person with such a belief system starts avoiding unknown situations and becomes incapable of using their real skills and abilities. They are unable to acknowledge the strengths that make them unique.

Physical Symptoms of Atelophobia

The symptoms of Atelophobia and both mental as well as physical. Let’s start by looking at the physical symptoms first. Some of them are –

  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Increased perspiration and hyperventilation (due to severe stress)
  • Panic attacks
  • Oral and skin problems
  • Losing sex drive
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Extreme restlessness
  • Increased irritability and sense sensitivity
  • Heart issues
  • Sleep problems or insomnia

A lot of these symptoms are similar to those associated with an anxiety disorder. So, what exactly sets apart atelophobia from an anxiety disorder?

The difference lies in the root cause behind these symptoms. Those who have atelophobia have associated mental and emotional symptoms that stem from an attitude that says- either I will do it well or not do it at all.

To understand Atelophobia better, let’s have a look at the associated emotional and mental symptoms.

Emotional And Mental Symptoms of Atelophobia

It’s possible to diagnose Atelophobia by paying close attention to how someone functions. Constant worrying, not accepting the challenges, always wanting to run away from the situations, and experiencing a high level of emotions like anger, sadness, jealousy, and hurt – are some of the symptoms associated with Atelophobia. 

Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Being terrified of flaws

While it’s okay to be nervous before an important event, someone suffering from Atelophobia experiences such an intense phobia that in their head, it translates to – ‘If I do this, I might die.’ 

They have unusually strong responses to thoughts about imperfection.

2. Having an avoidance behavior

Someone who has Atelophobia will go to any extent to avoid a situation where they sense a probability of failure or not being good enough. 

Slowly, this avoidance behavior becomes a part of their personality.

3. Setting impossible standards

Those who have Atelophobia set such high standards for themselves that it’s almost impossible to meet them. This can result in difficulty in functioning at workplaces and in general. 

They become highly critical of their own work and are always looking for mistakes.

4. They’d rather do nothing than do something incorrectly

Those who suffer from Atelophobia become their enemy by being extremely over-critical about themselves, leading to severe difficulty in functioning. 

They stop taking action because anything that falls short from perfect is wrong as per their prescribed standard. For them, perfectionism becomes the biggest enemy of performance, and the fear of failure cripples them.

How to overcome Atelophobia?

The great irony is that while perfectionism has an intense drive to succeed, it comes with a crippling fear of consequences of failure.

Fear of failure is not exactly the ideal motivator for success. In fact, it leads to self-sabotaging behavior and procrastination.

Whether it is the butterflies in the stomach before a performance or not trying anything new due to the fear of failure, it will affect the quality of your life. Learning to manage it is possible.

If your personality exhibits the patterns mentioned above, it’ll be helpful for you to seek professional advice. Through psychotherapy, it’s possible to correct the flaws in the thinking patterns and focus on relaxation. 

Below, we’ve listed some of the possible treatments of Atelophobia.

  • Exposure Therapy – In this therapy, the patient is forced to face their fears so that they can overcome them. By repeating this treatment over and over again, the mind eventually halts the negative loop of fear and inaction.
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – Through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, the psychologist tries to modify the negative pattern of thoughts. At least 10 to 20 sessions are required to get results from therapy.
  • Group Therapy
  • Meditation
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Anti-Anxiety Medication

Sometimes a mixture of two or more treatments from the list mentioned above might be required to help the patient.

It’s recommended to seek professional help to overcome Atelophobia. However, if you wish to learn to manage this fear of failure of your own, we have also listed five strategies that will help you handle this fear of imperfection and engage fully with life.

1. Work on your mental game - overcome the fear of failure when it starts

The anatomy of the fear of failure

Fear of failure is not a problem in your rational mind. It is more of a primitive evolutionary response.

Fear of failure arises out of the Complex Planning that goes on a nonverbal level in our brains. Complex planning is a subtle skill: it requires you to both conceive future steps and evaluate whether these steps are a good idea. This served us well in the early stages of humanity, wherein we were fighting for survival.

Unfortunately, the same tendency trips us in our everyday situations that are not precisely of life and death consequence. This often creates an instinctive dialogue within our emotional self and urges us to choose safety overgrowth.

The negativity bias

After that, negativity bias also comes into the mix and makes us focus more on failure outcomes rather than success.

The University of Pennsylvania’s study on ‘negativity bias and negativity dominance’ says that negative entities are stronger than the equivalent positive entities, and combinations of negative and positive entities yield more negative evaluations.

When this happens for years, we develop the self-schema of all the ways we are not good enough and are inevitably going to fail. So even when a new opportunity comes, we end up reconciling it with our existing beliefs and not trying for it.

Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.

Japanese Proverb –

Right now, your brain is equating failure to death. The only way to prove it otherwise is to show it.

You can do this by overriding the negative voice that preaches unnecessary caution.

Whenever you feel anxiety or fear in the face of an opportunity, write down all the negative consequences popping into your mind. 

Now, counter each of them with corresponding positive consequences. You could even add an if-then narrative that outlines what action you can take if the worst-case scenario comes true.

Start working with bite-sized goals at which you can afford to fail. With practice, this process will become more instinctive.

Fear of failure makes you feel powerless to change the situation. Analysing your options and doing a mental rehearsal can make you feel in charge and prepared.

2. Reframe your story - success is not an ‘either/or’ option, include ‘some’ in your narrative.

The effect of success or failure has more to do with how we process it rather than the actual event.

Rewrite this narrative by evaluating how you are processing your decisions, judging the outcomes or even setting the standards for yourself.

The perfectionist scale - atelophobia

Perfectionists aim for unrealistic goals and impractical standards of performance. This mentality of maximization often sets them up for failure even before they have begun. This also stops them from enjoying the fruit of their labor.

Evan Polman’s study into ‘happiness levels of maximizers vs. satisficers’ has found that, ‘maximizers are better at decision making, but their experience of these outcomes is subjectively worse’.

Fear of imperfection leads us to see our achievements in either black or white. This makes us risk-averse and develops the ‘go big or go home’ mentality. Being in this mental space robs you of the opportunity of exercising your innovation and creativity. 

Dr. Bill Knaus says that perfectionists think that their self-worth is contingent upon achieving perfection in a given situation. So, partial completion is not an option.

A perfectionist will further escalate the situation by equating a single isolated failure to conclude your skills, abilities, and personality. So, his narrative goes from, “I failed at this” to “I am a failure.”

In reality between success and failure, there is progress.

When you avoid failure and stay in the comfort zone, you also give up the chance to develop skills to cope with future challenges.

Most of our anxiety and fear stems from the pressure to make a perfect choice and worrying about not making the wrong choice.

If you take yourself out of this mental corner, your opportunities expand. Why not try to view decisions as a bouquet of different choices?

Each choice comes with its own cost and benefits. And we only need to pick the good-enough options instead of ‘the best’ option.

Context makes all the difference in the world. Always try to view events concerning the larger scheme of things.

So, expand your goals to recognize the new skills and abilities acquired.

3. Just do it - embrace the fear of failure to overcome it

Failure or fear of it is not a pleasant sensation. But it is natural.

Being in a state of optimal anxiety can enhance your performance.

Fear of failure can help you prepare better and keep you on your toes. But its unhealthy manifestation and can paralyze you into becoming a spectator of life, one who is afraid to participate.

Your brain on fear - atelophobia

Fear is a limiting emotion.

Emory University neuroeconomist Gregory Berns explains that “when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off. Fear prompts retreat,

When we have the attack of fear of failure, logical thinking is replaced by overwhelming emotions, thus favoring short-term solutions and sudden reactions.

Even worse, you could also pass on this fear to your children, hindering their ability to experiment and grow.

When you experience fear of failing, it means you are expanding your boundaries. You are breaking down the mental and skill barriers.

As you progress along this path and take on bigger challenges, your barriers will rise proportionately. Dealing with these challenges will also improve your skills, knowledge, and competency.

If you do it over and over again, failing will become familiar, and you will fear the barriers less each time.

Repeated exposure lowers the psychological fear response. Stanford neuroscientist Philippe says, “Exposure is hands down the most successful way to deal with phobias, anxiety disorders, and everyday fears of any sort.”

Sydney J. Harris

Sydney J. Harris –

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

Psychologists Tom Gilovich and Vicky Medvec studied ‘The experience of regret’ and came to a conclusion that, “In the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did,”

In the short term, you may regret failing, but in the long term, you will regret failing to try.

4. Know that you are not alone, join the elite club of failures

Failure is not the end; neither is it the opposite of success. It is a part of your journey.

Failure is nature’s way of telling you; you need to change! Failure shows the gap in your knowledge and ability with reference to your goals.

Everybody fails at something. Perfectionism does not guarantee success.

How many times should you try - atelophobia

The anxiety over making mistakes may ultimately be holding some perfectionists back from ever achieving success in the first place.

Psychologist Tom Greenspon says, “Our research shows that successful perfectionists are successful despite it, not because of it,”

Failure is the trend rather than the exception.                                                                          

Take the example of anyone you consider to be a grand success. They have all had to deal with their brand of setbacks.

Travis Kalanick’s startup before Uber declared bankruptcy.

Steve Jobs was thrown out of his own company.

Richard Branson failed when he tried his hands at cola business.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a TV reporter.

Same fear – a different response.

The theme of fear of failure is the same, but your response determines how you go forward. Depending on your perspective, failure can be a roadblock that merely diverts you or the precipice that ends your ambitions.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill –

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

J K Rowling famously said in her Harvard Commencement speech, that to her, failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. She was set free because her greatest fear had been realized, and she was still alive.

Michael Jordan

Take solace in the knowledge that it is possible to go from failure to success. Failure is nothing to be feared about, just something to be dealt with.

You have the power to decide if this failure is just a footnote or your entire story.

5. Stop procrastinating - Now!!!

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of perfectionism and fear of failure in our daily lives.

Perfectionists are in such crippling fear of being not able to complete a task perfectly; they put it off as long as possible. They are forever waiting for the things to align perfectly so that their chance of failure is zero.

Procrastination is simply the gap between intention and action.

Author Mark Mc Guinness says that we procrastinate for three reasons – either we don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to do it, or we don’t enjoy doing it.

Perfectionists are not lazy. On the contrary, they are hard at work – but with a misguided sense of priority.

So, they choose to do mundane jobs with low risk of failure (like checking their mail) against high-risk activities (like learning a new language) that makes them vulnerable.

Psychologist Dr. Fuschia Sirois says that when we procrastinate, “We’re trying to regulate our current mood and think our future self will be in a better state. That somehow, we’ll develop these miraculous coping skills to deal with these emotions that we just can’t deal with right now.”

Now to the solution – how to stop procrastinating?

Eat that Frog – Always start with the task that overwhelms you, and you are most likely to postpone. Getting it out of the way can make way for other work to flow.​

Frog task - atelophobia

Focusing on the whys and hows of a task instead of thinking about the abstract end goal will help you.

The ‘Construal Level and Procrastination’ research has found that, “merely thinking about the task in more concrete, specific terms makes it feel like it should be completed sooner” and thus reduces procrastination.

“The Temporal Motivation Theory” holds that we will most likely procrastinate any tasks that are unpleasant in the present and offer rewards only in the distant future. Instead of focusing on the end goal as the reward, set smaller rewards for your efforts along the way.

Most importantly, set realistic goals that don’t overwhelm you. And commit to just ‘show up.’ That is half the battle won right there.


The choice is not whether you fail, but how willing you are to deal with it.

Even failure itself is not a terrible thing. Failure points to a gap in knowledge or a poor strategy and pushes us to go back to the drawing board and work on it. Without the check of failure, progress becomes limited and complacent.

Lack of failure does not automatically equate success. But choosing inaction definitely results in failure, which you are not ready to deal with.

Effort is required, commitment and dedication are vital, but perfection is unrealistic. Perfectionism is a moving target – you will never be finished.

In life, success is the consequence of consistent effort rather than the pursuit of perfection.

Career Advice

4 Scenarios Where Autocratic Leadership Is Effective

What comes to your mind when you think of an Autocrat?

Is it a political tycoon ready to fight a war? Or a teacher with a bold mustache and a stick in his hand? Or a boss with his eyes popping out to coerce you to complete your assignment?

Intimidating personalty

That’s the mass perception of an autocratic leader. A person who is stubborn, hungry for power, and who treats his subordinates like slaves. 

Someone who would impose his decisions without asking for your opinion and is ready to punish you if you do not perform accordingly. But how accurate is this image of  Autocratic leadership? Well, an autocratic leader indeed assumes that people are naturally lazy, irresponsible, and not trustworthy. However, there are some situations where Autocratic leadership is the best way forward. With all the negative affirmations that are associated with its centralisation of power, we tend to ignore how effective it is.

I have boiled down five broad scenarios with autocratic leadership style examples where you can consider applying this leadership style. Let’s look at them one by one.

1. When dealing with people who have low self-motivation

In all organizations, some people lack the motivation to perform their best. They have a low self morale and tend to pass work on to others. If you let them be in their comfort zones, their laid-back attitude can be contagious to other employees in your organization as well.

Autocratic leadership pushes people out of their slumber. 

With a strictly no-nonsense approach, it brings in the much-needed fear factor to drive them. Through an authoritarian style of leadership, efficiency increases among such employees as the procedures and processes of the organization are precisely defined and enforced.

As an autocratic leader, you assign clear work, responsibilities, and build an atmosphere of commitment and accountability. You set up the deadlines and are able to develop a performance-oriented culture which keeps your employees on their toes.

Millennials possess a lot of passion and enthusiasm to perform, but they lack a sense of direction. You need to channelize their energy in order to bring out their full potential. If you fail to manage their zeal to work, they tend to get distracted and turn inefficient. 

Autocracy in an organisation helps you get the best of less experienced resources by giving them clear directions. You get to provide them with a purpose and groom their skills by pushing them into challenging assignments. 

It allows the leader to give straight forward instructions and define explicit methodologies. Since the inexperienced members are entirely new to the operations of your business, it becomes easier for them to interpret their tasks with these clearly described expectations.

2. When dealing with blue-collar workers

As an autocrat, your decisions are entirely individual. This technique can cause ego issues if you have people in your organization who have the skills to contribute to your decisions.

But when you are dealing with people who lack the qualifications, skills, and talent to respond to any decision-making process, the autocratic leadership style can be highly effective.

Such people can be workers, laborers, and other blue-collar employees. The reason as to why you can implement autocracy with them is that their feedback for decision-making is not going to impact the outcome. Also, giving them stern commands to complete their work is practical since they do not understand the intricacies of your business.

3. During times of emergencies or contingencies

Your business, at times, might face unforeseen situations like an unexpectedly large order with a strict timeline or emergencies like natural calamities, an economic crisis, blackouts, or disruption of communication channels.

During such abnormal circumstances, there is no time to waste. Quick and responsible decisions with swift actions are the need of the hour. You do not have the liberty to consult, discuss, and review the pros and cons of the available options.

Autocratic leadership style can come to your rescue when dealing with such exigencies. By using your power and authority as an authoritarian leader, you make people work towards achieving a common goal. You give them solid directions and coherent instructions which, in turn, helps in crisis management and implementing solutions at a rapid pace.

4. In some specific types of work environments

When you exist in work environments that require following precise specifications, and  where any deviation is unacceptable, you need to follow autocracy.

This can include professions like military, police, or fire services. Also, if your work involves a high degree of complexity or technical stuff that requires strict discipline, you need to use the attributes of the authoritarian leadership.

For instance, during surgery, or in manufacturing units or chemical factories, the outcome can be impacted by even the smallest of mistakes.

Autocratic leadership helps you reduce the risks in the businesses mentioned above by setting up protocols, manuals, and conventions that your employees are bound to follow. With an authoritarian modus operandi, you can expect subordinates to stick to the standard norms and practices, which increases safety as well as improves efficiency. 


As an autocratic leader, you need to remember that you are not supposed to ask for inputs from your subordinates for making decisions. You need to consider options and opt for the best one as per your understanding.

Therefore, you bear the responsibility and accountability for the outcome of any decision made. If something is not working, the blame will automatically fall on you.

Thus, you need to develop a high-level of expertise, in-depth knowledge of the industry, and business processes and operations to be an effective autocrat. Without these attributes, you can easily fail at establishing the authoritarian style of leadership.

What’s your opinion about the Autocratic style of leadership? Do you think there are more scenarios where it can be applied?

Do let us know in your comments below.