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Failure Schema

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

Individuals who experience some form of impaired autonomy or self-identity formation may develop one or more of these four schemas: dependence/incompetence, vulnerability to harm, enmeshment/undeveloped self, and failure.

We all occasionally may fear failure and not achieving our goals. If you have developed a failure schema, you may experience a pervasive, persistent expectation of failing, being inferior to our peers, a sense of having failed, or the belief that you continuously fail at everything you try. This is often linked to the belief of being stupid, untalented, incapable, or generally less successful.

When activated, this schema may understandably trigger avoidance of situations in which we are confronted with our perceived incapability or risk failure, or even anger at the world around us for evoking these perceived failures and making things tough for us. The true need behind this schema is to build confidence, distress tolerance, and autonomy in decision-making.

Here are some questions to think about if you are considering whether the failure schema resonates with you:

Do you feel that you are not as successful as other people even though you have tried?

Do you sometimes self-sabotage by procrastinating and not studying for an exam or missing a work deadline?

Do you feel incompetent when it comes to success and achievement?

Do you feel tired that so many of things you have tried have not worked out?

Do you see other people as more capable and competent than yourself and does that stop you from trying new things?

Do you see other people as more intelligent than yourself?

Do you experience anxiety when faced with a challenge that may reflect on your achievements, and does that prevent you from going ahead with it?

If you generally answer no to most these questions, you are unlikely to have developed the failure schema. If you think the failure schema applies to you, start observing how it manifests in your daily life. Recognition is key to changing patterns that stop you from achieving your goals.

To find out more about your own personal schemas, book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Esslin Terrighena, please contact (852) 2521 4668 or

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