If you have a fear of disappointing others then you’re not alone because this is something that lots of people struggle with, and it’s something that I’ve struggled with myself.

Now on the surface of it, you might be thinking, that you’ve never struggled with this challenge, but stick around, because fear of disappointing others can show up in many different ways, and it just might be that you don’t identify it as a fear of disappointing others.

In this article, I’m going to share some of the ways fear of disappointing others can show up in your life and what you can do to start to get a handle on it.

What is Fear of Disappointing Others Called? 

Fear of disappointing others has no specific name, however, there are two other fears which could arise as a result of having a fear of disappointing others. Atychiphobia, which is an extreme and irrational fear of failure, and atelophobia, which is an irrational fear of making any mistake, according to Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College.

Someone with Atychiphobia or Atelophobia can experience stress, excessive anxiety, and even dizziness as a result of the phobia.

While atelophobia can be biological, according to licensed clinical psychologist, Menije Boduryan-Turner, PsyD, it’s often a result of a traumatic experience related to terrible experiences with failures or pressures to be perfect.

Atelophobia and atychiphobia are two extremes when it comes to fear of disappointing others, however, they are an important example of the potential critical impact of having a fear of disappointing others, in an extreme case.

What Causes Fear of Disappointing Others 

Fear of disappointing others stems from our past experiences. What that experience is and exactly how it impacts you is personal to you and is different for each individual. 

According to Good Therapy, a need to please others comes from the need to avoid “bad person feelings” 

The article explains that these “bad person feelings” typically develop early on in childhood. They are a result of some experience that made us feel that we were bad people, rather than our behavior being what was wrong.

Even though our parents most likely didn’t mean for this to be the message, this was the message we took away from the situation. Because of this, as adults, we can then end up with a need to please and a deep fear of disappointing people. 

What’s more, according to the article, by Psychotherapist, Beverly Amsel, when a parent expresses hurt or disappointment by a sigh, a look, crying, head shaking, or leaving the room, the impact can be devastating. It leaves the child thinking, “How can I have done this to my parent? I must be a terrible person.” 

And when parents express displeasure in the form of hurt, it is especially difficult for a child to mobilize a strong sense of self and fight back.  To the child, the parent’s hurt is evidence that they are a bad person. It then feels necessary for the child to always please others and behave in ways to avoid the “I am a bad person” feeling.

Another factor that causes a fear of disappointing others is low self-esteem. According to Mindright Clinical Psychologists,  low self-esteem comes from our childhood and specifically from messages that we received from our parents or primary caregivers and other influential people in our lives at the time. 

This could have been teachers, grandparents, or other people who heavily featured in our lives, especially if we looked up to them. 

Low self-esteem can become a serious issue, affecting your close relationships, your work, and your mental health. What’s more, it can lead to social anxiety, and according to the Mindright Clinical Psychologists, those who suffer from social anxiety are the most likely to please others out of a fear of disappointing others or a fear of rejection. 

How Fear of Disappointing Others Shows Up

Fear of disappointing others can show up in lots of different ways and can affect every key aspect of your life. Including your work, your workplace relationships, and your whole career. 

Some ways that fear of disappointing others might show up include: 

  • Struggling to say no 
  • Often feeling guilty 
  • Feel particularly guilty when you do things for yourself, overdoing things based on what others want
  • Being a people pleaser 
  • Struggling to make decisions 
  • Worrying too much about what others think of you 
  • Constant worrying and anxiety over your performance 

As you can see from this list, a fear of disappointing others has many faces and it can look different in different people. But regardless of how it shows up for you, the potential impact on your life and career can be significant. 

This is why it’s so important to become aware of the situation and to recognize how your fear of disappointing others is showing up in your life and the impact it might be having. 

The Impact of Having a Fear of Disappointing Others 

From the list above, you can start to see how your fear of disappointing others can impact you long-term. 

Not only does it cause lots of anxiety, but it can lead to a whole host of other challenges.

You’ll overextend yourself and struggle to manage your time

If you especially struggle to say no because of a fear of disappointing others, the chances are that you struggle to manage your time and you often feel overextended, with way too much on your plate. 

While saying no is difficult when you have a fear of disappointing others, learning to say no isn’t just important for your own health and sanity. It will also allow you to show up more fully for the engagements that you do say yes to. 

If you don’t learn to say no you could end up feeling emotionally and physically drained. What’s more, you could disappoint others by not being fully present or, where work is concerned, by not doing your best work and even not meeting deadlines, ultimately, causing the very thing that you were trying to avoid, to happen.

You can lose people’s trust 

When you stretch yourself too thin whether at work or in your personal life, at some point, somethings going to give and when this happens, someone will be disappointed. I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but believe me, I’ve been there.

Whether you have to let people down at the last minute, or you’re struggling to meet deadlines because you haven’t properly managed people’s expectations, or been honest about what support you need, there are lots of ways that you can end up burning bridges and losing people’s trust.

Your mental health can suffer 

Constantly worrying about what other people think and feeling guilty is a one-way ticket to anxiety and stress, two things that have a serious strain on you, not just mentally and emotionally but even physically. Ultimately, having a fear of disappointing others can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and ultimately burning out. 

If can stop you from learning and progressing 

The best way to learn is by doing things and making mistakes. Fear of disappointing others inevitably makes you afraid of making mistakes. This in turn slows down your progress and stops you from learning and getting on. 

It can hold you back from achieving your goals

While fear of disappointing others can lead you to be a high achiever, working super hard, and aiming for perfection, it can also stop you from achieving your goals. 

For example, if what your family wants for you isn’t what you want for yourself, a fear of disappointing others will make it seem impossible to choose your own path.

In addition to this, being concerned by what others think and striving for perfection can stop you from taking action, and without action, you can’t move forwards and achieve your goals. 

How To Overcome a Fear of Disappointing Others 

Increase your self-awareness 

First off, recognize your fear of disappointing others for what it is. Being self-aware and understanding the reasons behind why you do what you do, and why you are how you are is the first step towards overcoming potential obstacles and challenges that come with something like having a fear of disappointing others.

Give yourself a break 

No one’s perfect and striving for perfection is stressful at best and crippling at worst. Be kind to yourself. 

This means:

  • Forgive yourself when you make mistakes
  • Hush the negative voice inside your head 
  • Stop judging yourself by an impossible yardstick and then changing the goalposts 
  • Stop beating yourself up for things that are outside of your control 
  • Don’t overlook or undervalue the good things that you do and the things you do well 
  • Seek positive feedback and reinforcement 

Remember you can’t please everyone 

At some point, you will disappoint someone. We all do. Because you can’t please everyone, all the time. The same decision that will make one person happy,  might disappoint someone else. That’s just a fact of life and the more you come to accept it the easier it will become to manage your fear of disappointing others. 

Stop living for other peoples approval

Remember that you don’t know what baggage other people bring to the table. What you do might never be enough for some people, and that will have to be ok. What’s important is that you set yourself a standard that’s high for you and you work to meet that. Because meeting the standards you set for yourself is what’s important. 

If you’re waiting to get approval from everyone around you, you’re likely to be waiting forever.

Start with small steps 

 Once you accept that you can’t please everyone all the time, it’s time to start taking small steps towards dealing with your fear of disappointing others.

Start with small things like actually speaking up about what you’d like to do, where you would prefer to go, and what you want to eat, rather than saying you’re fine with what everyone else decides. 

Eventually, you need to learn to say no. but again, start small and build up from there. Perhaps offer alternative options, if just saying no isn’t possible. 

Work on your communication skills 

From my personal experience, a lot of anxiety can come as a result of ineffective communication. The clearer your communication becomes, the less margin there will be for error. What’s more, the more precise communication is, the clearer everyone is of what’s expected, and this means you’re less likely to be able to create a narrative in your mind, that most likely isn’t true.

Try fear setting

When it comes to a fear of disappointing others, we cause ourselves stress by creating a story in our minds of what might happen, what the other person could be thinking about us, what could happen as a result of some action we have or haven’t taken.

In truth, these are just stories and they often have nothing to do with the reality of the situation. 

Fear setting is about thinking about these worst-case scenarios and thinking them through to the end. What will you do if the worst does happen?

While this might sound like it would only add to your stress levels, doing this exercise will help you to see that the worst-case will likely never happen, and even if it does, it won’t be the end of the world. 

Get professional help and support 

Finally, if your fear of disappointing others is on the more severe end of the scale and you feel that’s it’s seriously having an impact on your life to the point that you can’t move forwards, it’s worth seeking professional help and talking to someone who can help you to start working through this fear.  

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that many of us suffer from some sort of worry, fear, or anxiety in some area of our lives. The key is to take small daily steps to overcome these challenges and to not let them take over and rule our lives. 

To this end, journaling is a powerful tool for increasing your self-awareness, it can help you to become clear on what impact things have on you in your daily life, and why, so that you can start to work through them and overcome them. 

Next steps

  1. Consider starting a journal and writing down some of the ways that fear of disappointing others shows up for you.
  2. Identify when your fear of disappointing others shows up most
  3. Decide on one single action that you could take each day or one small change that you could make to start to overcome your fear of disappointing others.

Hopefully, with these steps, your fear will learn to take a back seat, or even ride in another car, rather than being in the driving seat of your life.