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.


Your Ultimate Guide to Servant Leadership

The other day, our team received a congratulatory email from Dave, our manager, for completing a crucial project. A little later, John, who had worked on tough assignments for the project, thanked Dave for praising his efforts. He was delighted for not being forgotten, even after a couple of months of leaving the organization.

I was pleasantly surprised to know that my leader carried his relationship with his employees with such grace.

Dave was a true servant leader. He was genuinely interested in the welfare of his employees, often inquired about our well being, and ensured we reach our career objectives, even if this means we may move on. With his serving attitude, he always got the best out of us.

Let’s discuss the servant leadership style to know how leaders like Dave operate and bring success to an organization.

What is servant leadership?

Leadership, for some people, is all about enforcing power. Whatever the issue, they believe sheer strength and brute force can solve it.

These leaders stay at the top in an organization to accumulate power and follow the traditional leadership pyramid model, as explained in the following figure.

As can be seen, the leader is right at the top in such a model, followed by employees, customers, and investors.

Servant leaders, on the other hand, have a serve-first attitude. These leaders help people develop and perform to the best of their abilities. They achieve this by putting the needs of others first. Unlike traditional leaders, they do not try and accumulate power. On the contrary, they share it with other people.

 As a result, they turn the traditional leadership model completely upside down. This model puts leaders at the bottom of the hierarchy and others, i.e., employees, customers, and investors at the top. Here is what the servant leadership model looks like:

Although servant leadership is a universal concept, it was Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term in his essay that he published in 1970.

According to him, servant leadership starts with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first; then, conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. And finally, the best test of servant leadership style is to check if those whom you serve grow as an individual.

To understand servant leadership better, let’s have a look at the attributes of a servant leader.

The characteristics of a servant leader

According to Larry C. Spears, President, and CEO at the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, Regent University, there are ten basic characteristics of servant-leader

Let’s discuss them one by one.


As a servant leader, you follow two-way communication. You not only communicate by saying, but by listening to others as well. When you listen, you can find out the areas of concern, and also the suggestions that can help with better results.

Listening ability also allows you to understand the desires and aspirations of the people around you. As a result, you are able to make better decisions in the interest of your team.


You need to be able to connect to people and understand their feelings to be a servant-leader. When you can relate to the circumstances of others, you can handle them better. Empathy also helps you understand the challenges faced by the stakeholders in your business.

Worried that people may not reciprocate? Here’s why they will:

You genuinely care for people and try and solve their problems by being empathetic. As a result, people endorse and support your ideas and align themselves to attain the objectives you set.


Everyone, including you, goes through rough patches. However, you are expected to deliver accurate results all the time. Hence, you need to have the power to repair the damage caused by poor performances. To achieve this, traditional leaders rely on punishments and penalties.

However, as a servant-leader, you lift the spirits of employees. You understand that a poor show is no one’s choice, and instead of pressurizing, you start healing.

And then, magic happens!

Like therapy relieves the pain of wounds; similarly, healing amends the emotional state of people. As a result, they work with greater zeal and enthusiasm to achieve desired goals.


You need to be aware of yourself and the needs of others to be a servant-leader. When you are self-aware you gain clarity on the issues of ethics and values. You also gain an understanding of how these apply to the situation you are in.

Awareness of others’ needs gives you a holistic view. In case of a problem, you can examine all aspects before you attempt to solve it.  


“Persuasion can take many forms, but the result is still the same – a willing partnership designed to accomplish a shared vision of purpose”  – Dr. Ed Rough in Leadership is Persuasion).

As a servant-leader, you convince people, rather than coerce them, to follow a particular path. You use persuasion, not your authority, to motivate people to take action. You do not dominate people and throw orders at them, but inspire and build trust. You arrive at decisions with consensus.


As a servant-leader, you need to hit the balance between the vision of your organization and the day-to-day operations. Traditional leaders are fixated only on immediate goals; however, you need to shift focus to involve the bigger picture to use the power of conceptualization.

Find it hard to implement? Here’s a quick tip:

You need to think beyond numbers and the operational grinds of the tasks in hand. This can involve helping your team with tools and training that they’ll use not only immediately, but also in the longer run.


To be a servant-leader, you should have the capacity to predict the results of your decisions before you make them. Foresight is your ability to learn lessons from your past and take steps in the present that prevents undesired outcomes for the future.

The skill of having foresight has a lot to do with your intuitive mind. However, remember that intuition is a mix of experience and common sense.

Have a look at this video to understand how foresight helps Jeff Cohen, CMO Seller Labs, develop better customer products & solutions.


Peter Block, the author of Stewardship, defines a steward as ‘someone who holds something in trust for another.’

As a servant-leader, you need to get out of the ‘hit the targets at any cost’ mentality and adapt to a steward’s mentality, i.e., you need to think beyond personal achievements and rewards for the bigger cause.

How do you go about bringing this change in your attitude? Here’s a suggestion:

Make sure every decision you take has something for your employees, customers, investors, and all stakeholders; they should prosper with the service you offer. Do not take decisions that benefit only yourself.

Commitment to the growth of others:

If you want to hit the sweet spot in your journey as a servant-leader, THIS IS IT – you need to get passionately involved in the growth of other people. You should not keep the best opportunities for yourself, allow others to grab them too.

Remember, the most important resource that you work with is people. You need to overcome the fear that they will move on or outshine you. Instead, practice commitment for their growth- take suggestions before making decisions, give them training opportunities for growth, promote them for better roles.

Building a Community:

To be a servant-leader, you need to understand the importance of communities in shaping humans; the way they positively influence lives. Hence, you have to build a community within your organization.  

Build a community! Do you think it will have no impact on your company? Not really, it can actually change the fortunes of your business. Here’s how:

Your employees can easily feel detached and focus on individual goals. When you inspire them to take the goals of others and organization into account, you form a community. As a result, genuine lasting bonds develop.

Now, you are aware of the characteristics of a servant-leader. The next step is to apply these to your business. The following are a few methods you can use.

How to apply servant leadership in your organization?

Do you believe the servant leadership model will work best only in non-profit organizations or humanitarian institutes? Think again!

According to a study by Roger William University, servant leadership is effective in a competitive, for-profit, service organization.

Following are a few practical methods you can use to develop servant leadership in your company :

Change the mindset :

You cannot apply servant leadership unless you have the right mindset. You need to have a ‘serve-first’ attitude rather than ‘lead-first’ to be a servant-leader.

You serve your staff, which in turn serves and benefits your organization. Need an example to understand better?

Southwest airlines’ leadership is a classic case of the servant-leadership model. Founder Herb Kelleher’s philosophy of putting employees first, helped Southwest create employee-friendly policies.

The outcome?

A highly engaged workforce with low turnover resulted in 35 plus consecutive years of profit – quite a feat – in the turbulent airline industry.

How do you build a people-first mindset in your organization? Following are a few tips:

  • Develop a cultural department that evolves the policy of ‘everyone matters.’  This department can form committees to solve employee and client issues.
  • Arrange for regular one-to-one private counseling sessions with your employees. Such forums encourage open discussions and help in identifying their needs.
  • Appreciate people for their work and commitment through monetary benefits. Make sure awards and appreciation recognize every piece of great work.
  • Celebrate anniversaries of clients, investors and stakeholders, and birthdays of employees. Organize family gatherings of your staff. Such events help in building a healthy workplace environment.

Ensure availability of resources:

You need to make sure that everyone has the tools and knowledge they need to meet their objectives. Without the necessary resources, your team will not be able to complete their assignments efficiently and accurately. You have to identify the challenges and roadblocks your employees are facing.

Wondering how are you going to find out the areas where people need assistance? Here are a couple of methods that can be useful :

As a servant-leader, you need to figure out ways to help people open up on the issues they are facing. One-on-one meetings are a great tool to let your team have an open discussion on the bottlenecks. Such meetings are also useful in resolving conflicts and interpersonal issues.

Traditional leaders, at times, expect one employee to do the work of two. However, to be a servant-leader, you need to hit the ‘appropriate workload balance’ culture in your organization. Include a new team member if there are tight deadlines, and employees are finding it hard to meet them.

While it’s important to be there for your employees, hit the right balance between providing them the essential resources, and making them think about solutions themselves.

If you are always there to help your employees, some of them may stop solving problems on their own. Hence, don’t avoid making tough decisions or giving negative feedback when this is needed.

Offer opportunities for personal development :

You need to take care of your employees beyond their jobs to be a successful servant-leader. If you restrict yourself only to the professional aspects, your staff is bound to work only for personal goals. However, if you provide opportunities for personal growth, they will align themselves with organizational objectives.

How can you help employees in their personal development?

Having a learning and development support department exhibits career growth assistance for your employees. You can include mentoring programs, training sessions, guest speakers, and external certifications as support functions in this department. This upskills your employees and upgrades your company to the latest requirements of businesses.

Do not restrict yourself to just work-related offerings as opportunities for personal development. How about running a program to lose weight? Or a policy on providing interest-free loans to your employees for personal needs?

These, and many such employee-centric policies, may not meet any immediate corporate needs, but leads to higher employee engagement and trust, and fosters stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders.

A healthy work environment, built by an authentic interest in the personal development of employees, can upscale customer satisfaction levels as well. As a result, service ratings and customer loyalty increases, which can improve the credibility of your organization’s brand.

Final thoughts:

With a lot of successful stories of servant leadership in the corporate set-up, there is no reason why you cannot apply it in your organization.

However, make sure you analyze your situation before you apply the servant leadership model. For instance, consider applying servant-leadership alongside styles like transformational leadership, where you develop an inspiring vision of the future and motivate people to deliver it.

Also, keep in mind that servant leadership requires time to achieve positive results. Hence, if your organization is going through a financial crisis or there are other reasons why you need a quick turnaround, this leadership style should not be used. You need to be swift and decisive in such a case.

No matter what goals you have, as a leader, you need to consider servant-leadership as a compelling option for delivering results.

How are you going to apply servant leadership in your organization? Have you exhibited any of the servant leadership qualities in your business? Let us know in the comments below.