Athazagoraphobia is the fear of being forgotten, ignored, abandoned, or of forgetting, especially if it’s by people you care about deeply.
Phobia is a strong word. It’s that point where a regular fear, which everybody might have, to one degree or another, trips over into something less controllable, more physically affecting and harder to live with. In fact, a phobia can be life changing and not in a good way. At its worst, it is a condition that requires clinical help.
What turns this fear into a phobia, besides being genetically susceptible to the affliction, is usually some trauma or incident (sometimes repeated) where somebody you cared about deeply either ignored or abandoned you, or something similar. For more on the condition, read this link:
I can’t claim expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of phobias, but there is something along a spectrum from fear to phobia, relating to the fear of being forgotten or ignored, that affects many artists, I suspect. Part of what can drive an artist in their work is to seek to remain memorable, or significant to a large audience. Artists frequently strive for recognition, acclaim and relevance. They often hope their work will outlive them and stand as a monument to their existence, if not for eternity, then for a considerable period of time after they’re gone. It’s this form of limited immortality that many artists work so hard to achieve. This could be due to a fear of being forgotten and abandoned.
Unfortunately, where artists are concerned, they are frequently actually abandoned and forgotten by their audiences, as fashions and trends change. It’s not an irrational fear. It can and does happen to artists. Having a reasonable fear of this is somewhat sane. They can be riding the crest of the wave of success and adoration, only for it all to come suddenly crashing down, as their audience, fickle in their tastes and preferences, moves on to other things. Each incident of abandonment, of course, can add to the trauma that started the fear in the first place. It reinforces the idea that one is forgettable or ignorable and hence doesn’t matter or belong. Where the fear becomes problematic is when panic attacks are experienced, or health or normal life degrades, due to the phobia.
At the root of the phobia or fear of being forgotten is a lack of self esteem and self confidence. Regrettably, our education system and economic system both conspire to ensure legions of young artists leave school and begin their working lives as artists with significant damage to both their self esteem and self confidence. Overcompensating, by putting on false bravado, seems not to be the answer, either. You’re simply seen as arrogant, unworthy of your own overconfidence and therefore repellent. Somehow, you need to reconstruct and reinforce your own self confidence and self esteem, in the face of criticisms, on the one hand, and total obscurity on the other.
What is an artist to do? Yes, making better art can be an answer, but the fear of abandonment can be so great, that there seems to be little point in even making a start. An artist can feel so rejected, insignificant, ignorable, detested, disliked and shunned, that they simply give up. They may show up obsessively to places where the people they wish to be noticed and valued by congregate, but in trying too hard to be liked, become unlikeable. That’s a cruel irony. In trying too hard to matter to others, an artist can become somebody that people steadfastly refuse to care about.
So while the fear of being abandoned can drive artists forward, as they seek to produce art so good that it cannot be ignored, it can also overwhelm an artist and rob them of their capacity to try, to improve and to put their work out there to be judged. Building self confidence and self esteem is the key, but hard to accomplish, if there are negative comments about your work being served up by those vitriolic critics that love to do such things. If the critics’ voices are loud, the fear that everybody will disastrously abandon you at once is only amplified.
There are NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) techniques that are claimed to have good results, at least when applied by skilled professional practitioners. If you are an artist that borders on a semi-obsessive fear of rejection, being ignored and remaining in obscurity, there may be some value in investigating these interventions. It could transform your ability to work and produce. You might also lose some of the anxiety and panic associated with producing your art and showing it to others. You might come to realise that you are important to other people, with or without your art and to count those blessings and your many accomplishments, instead of fearing that people will forget you the moment you’re no longer in the limelight.
If you simply have a common or garden fear of obscurity to overcome, the news is a little brighter. If the fear is not a phobia, tearing your quality of life to shreds, then at least you can adopt the mask of a confident artist, while you set about succeeding as one. Fake it until you make it. Your posture, how you greet people, your approach to your work and to other people, how generous and grateful you are to others, how you interact with them are all things you can notice about yourself and improve, so that you become somewhat charismatic and hence noticeable and memorable. As long as you are able to produce work of quality and maintain a confident, but not overly confident, bearing, you can work through the fear of perpetual obscurity until you reach a point where you are assured of your place in the world and of the people that will always love and care about you and what you do.
If, on the other hand, you are so afraid of being alone and ignored that you feel perpetual loneliness, an unfillable void which you try to quench through addictions, or you are making a pest of yourself just to be noticed, you need to look for help. Phobias are not something you have to live with or simply accept. They are also more serious than something you can simply snap out of and get over by yourself. You probably can’t. You might need a little help and guidance from a professional.
My bet is that some degree of Athazagoraphobia is more common than is widely recognised, among artists. Mostly, I think artists will exhibit mild traits related to the phobia, but sometimes worse. My hope is that artists so affected are self aware enough to seek treatment and comfort. Nobody should feel bad, for simply wanting to belong and to matter.