These last two lessons have been about having a phobia of failure (catastrophic thinking) and perfectionist tendencies. Next, we will move on to an important existential question: 

Do you want to be guided by fear rather than pleasure in your life? 

As we have discussed in previous lessons, those who suffer from responsibility syndrome are often governed by their fear of failure rather than their pleasure or desire. You work excessively to avoid the discomfort of your boss asking you to add something or revise your report. Perhaps you don’t invite friends over for dinner, since you haven’t been able to keep your home as tidy as you’d like to, and not having guests over is a sure way of not having to feel ashamed. 

You always take it upon yourself to arrange parties for your friends, since you are afraid they won’t want to spend time with you otherwise. You avoid planning fun things on weeknights, since you are afraid you won’t be able to work as much as you could. 

You say no to a blind date that your friends want to set up, since you want to avoid awkward silence or having to spend a night with a potentially uninteresting person. 

When we are governed by a fear of failure or not being perceived as successful, rather than by our own personal goals and what we enjoy doing, this is a short-term attempt to stay clear of negative experiences and emotions. As we have mentioned earlier, psychologist refer to this behavior as avoidance. 

When we avoid situations and behaviors that could lead to potential failure (such as sending out important emails with spelling errors, inviting friends to a messy home) our discomfort or anxiety momentarily decreases. In the long run, however, this behavior could reinforce your pattern of being guided by fear rather than pleasure. 

In short, being overly responsible has the positive short-term consequence of a sense of satisfaction or calm. This is called negative reinforcement. Your responsible ways are reinforced due to the fact that your behaviors lead to decreased discomfort in the short term. In the next lesson you will learn more about what you can do about this. 


  1. Think about what you are avoiding in your life (through a fear of failure, losing face or such). 

  2. Were you, at some point in your life, more guided by pleasure? What did you do then? How did you feel? What consequences did that behavior have?

  3. Keep setting aside at least one moment for pleasurable activities every day. As little as 15 minutes could be enough.