Icarus Syndrome: Silenced Self-Criticism

There's a sad background to the Icarus syndrome. Indeed, people who suffer from this condition are often talented people who, due to overconfidence, end up not achieving their goals. They're like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and got burned.
Icarus Syndrome: Silenced Self-Criticism

Last update: 18 December, 2021

Icarus syndrome often tends to occur in individuals with a special talent. It’s connected to narcissism and occurs when people, due to being overconfident fail to achieve their goals.

In general, Icarus syndrome occurs in circles of political, economic, sports, or artistic power, among others. The term ‘burned’ is common in referring to people who got close to reaching the peak but didn’t make it.

Self-confidence isn’t only a virtue, but also a great advantage in the social world. However, when it’s not supported by firm foundations, it can lead to Icarus syndrome or a false perception of one’s own abilities.

“Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes when you fall, you fly .”

-Neil Gaiman-

Politician speaking

The myth of Icarus

In Greek mythology, Daedalus was considered the most outstanding architect and inventor of his time. Therefore, King Minos entrusted him with the task of building a labyrinth to enclose his enemies and confront them with the Minotaur of Crete.

To keep the construction of the labyrinth secret, King Minos decided to keep Daedalus and his son Icarus in captivity. For this reason, Daedalus decided to build wings with crisscross feathers glued with wax for his son to fly off the island.

Daedalus advised Icarus not to fly too high because the heat of the sun could melt the wax on his wings and cause him to fall. Icarus took flight, however, blinded by pride and attracted by the power of the sun, got too close. His wings melted and he plunged into the sea and drowned.

Closeness to power

Power intoxicates and obscures certain things with a veil. This makes it difficult to practice the exercise of self-criticism. Hence, these people are unable to listen to others and correct their mistakes. With Icarus syndrome, they certainly don’t listen to others, least of all those close to them.

Closeness to political, economic, or other power comes accompanied by certain temptations to which people find it easy to succumb. This is more prevalent among young and talented people. In fact, they often serve as simple cannon fodder. On the one hand, they’re willing to do anything to find that one opportunity of a lifetime, so they put all their efforts into getting it. However, on the other hand, their degree of immaturity leads them to make wrong decisions regarding their future.

A misguided talent

With Icarus syndrome, people’s misdirected talent turns into both virtue and misfortune. For instance, on the one hand, it works as something that allows them to stand out from the crowd. On the other, excessive ambition and ignorance of their own limits ends up leading to failure. That’s why it’s common to find this phenomenon in young people with a promising future.

There’s an additional factor here that plays an important role. It concerns a lack of experience. Consequently, there’s a certain naivety and lack of foresight in these people when it comes to taking on challenges because they don’t consider the possible risks.

Some characteristics of Icarus syndrome

Those with Icarus syndrome are often characterized by arrogance. Furthermore, they’re convinced that they’re unique and that their capabilities can’t be matched by anyone. At the same time, they show excessive submission towards their superiors on the hierarchical scale. They do this because they consider it an essential requirement in order to achieve a high social or economic position.

Deep down, these people experience strong feelings of helplessness with low levels of self-esteem. They’re often thoughtless, temperamental, and exhibit unpredictable and erratic behaviors.

The big fish devours the small fish

Selfish people who think according to their own interests to achieve their purposes often suffer from Icarus syndrome. However, at the same time, they’re quite naive. In fact, they’ll take on any risks if their bosses want them to.

Furthermore, it’s extremely common for their bosses to give them special treatment. In fact, they tend to pamper them, are extra tolerant, and overlook their faults.

Unfortunately, by the time these flaws or mistakes become apparent, it’s usually too late and their wings end up scorched, so they rush off into the void. In a similar way to Icarus, who after flying very high, ended up falling out of the sky.

The fall of Icarus

Origin of the syndrome

Icarus syndrome usually arises as a result of inattention from parents during the sufferer’s early childhood. In fact, as a rule, their achievements are usually ignored or disapproved of by their parents.

This situation leads to them feeling confused as adults and not being clear about who they are. They also tend to maintain an incoherent scale of values. They’re not comfortable with who they are, so they’re constantly searching for self-assertion.

These people often don’t appreciate their colleagues or people in lower positions than theirs. The relationships they establish with others are only for practical purposes. In fact, each individual merely acts as one more piece on a human chessboard for them. A wrong perspective with possibly fatal consequences.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • De Rosa, Lorena y Valle, Ariel Dalla y Rutsztein, Guillermina y Keegan, Eduardo (2012). Perfeccionismo y Autocrítica: Consideraciones clínicas. Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica, XXI (3), 209-215. [Fecha de Consulta 16 de Noviembre de 2021]. ISSN: 0327-6716. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=281929021003
  • Ghiles, F. (2011). EE UU y el síndrome de Ícaro. Una historia de arrogancia.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.