Few people feel comfortable sharing their fear of success. In the major scheme of things, it almost seems like a silly thing to be afraid of.
After all, why would you ever be afraid of success? Isn’t finding success one of life’s major focuses for most people?
For some people, it’s not the success itself that they fear. It’s that they fear the circumstances surrounding success.
Success brings other complicated issues with it. Not only are there higher expectations of you, but you might also need to deal with people who don’t have your best interests in mind and who want to use your success for their gain.
Sometimes, a successful person may be struggling with imposter syndrome or feeling like a fraud. A successful person may be afraid of other people finding out that they actually aren’t as good as previously believed and the consequences of that reveal.
But for other people, a fear of success comes from a much deeper place…
A person who survives abusive circumstances may develop an aversion to success because they suffered negative consequences for their success.
A child brings home a report card with high marks, and the parent scoffs and asks, “Why didn’t you do better?”
An adult goes home to their partner with success at work and is met with belittling comments about it.
The mind comes to associate success with negativity as they hear it that way from people who are supposed to be loving and supportive.
Fear of success is a very real, very serious thing that should be treated with the same gravity of respect we would give any other fear.
It can prevent you from living a fulfilling life by causing you to avoid taking risks and pursuing the goals that you want to accomplish.
Let’s take a look at how you can start to work through a fear of success.
Step 1: Identify the origin of your fear of success.
To better solve a problem, you must first understand where that problem originates from.
Take some time to consider how long you’ve been experiencing a fear of success.
Where did it start for you?
When was the first time you felt an aversion to success?
Did it start after a negative experience you had? An abusive relationship as an adult?
Does it reach back into your childhood and a complicated relationship with your parents?
Step 2: Identify what you’re afraid of specifically.
You’ll want to clarify what it is that you’re afraid of as precisely as you can.
What about success makes you afraid?
Is it the expectations that come with it?
Is it other people and how to know who you can trust?
Is it that you feel as though you don’t deserve or aren’t good enough for success?
Is it that you are afraid of the attention success might bring?
Is it that you worry success might negatively impact your current relationships?
What, specifically, is driving your negative feelings about success?
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Step 3: Identify your avoidance strategies.
People who are afraid of success often subconsciously (or consciously) develop strategies to avoid being too successful or noticeable.
Avoidance is a common maladaptive coping mechanism that people use to keep themselves from experiencing discomfort.
After all, your fear of success can’t be triggered if you’re not successful or actively avoiding any kind of spotlight.
Identify the ways that you avoid experiencing your fear of success.
The best way to go about this is to look around the situations in your life where you could have been successful but chose not to be.
That could look like not applying for a promotion you really wanted, not creating that piece of art that you felt that you needed to, or not taking risks on something that you want to do.
Look for the situations that made you feel afraid or uncomfortable and then look for how you avoided those situations.
Step 4: Confront these negative situations and fears.
Confronting a fear head-on is not the right way to go about overcoming fear. Yes, you can try to jump in headfirst and attempt to overcome the fear, but that may not help you in the long-term.
The goal of overcoming your fear of success is to dismantle the fear, so you don’t need to keep hyping yourself up to jump in headfirst.
You want that fear to subside so that it is no longer something that holds you back.
Accomplishing that goal starts with addressing the smaller discomforts. Picking out the individual parts of the fear allows you to take bite-sized chunks out of the problem instead of trying to swallow the whole thing at once.
That’s where knowing your avoidance strategies comes into play.
When you start to feel uncomfortable, you’ll want to look for the type of strategy that you would typically employ to avoid the problem, and then go after a specific solution.
Let’s look at an example to better illustrate the point.
One of the pieces of Susan’s fear of success is that she doesn’t feel as though she is good enough to succeed. Susan plays the flute and wants to join an orchestra.
The first thing she can do is look at what gives her an edge in what she’s doing. Maybe she’s been playing the flute for 20 years. That’s a lot of time spent mastering a craft, time that other people may not have invested.
The second thing she can look at is the reasonability of her perspective. The worst thing that can happen is that she applies and doesn’t get in.
Of course, that will sting, but it’s not like she can’t apply again or to a different orchestra. It may not have anything to do with how good she is at all. Maybe she just applied when a whole lot of other flutists applied, so the competition was fierce.
Susan can reframe the situation by focusing on all of the things that can go right, rather than just what can go wrong.
Maybe she applies, they love her, and she’s immediately accepted. Maybe it’s the best time of her life. Maybe everything goes wonderfully, and it makes a positive impact in her life.
This is a process that will need to be repeated with each piece of your fear until those negative feelings go away.
The more you approach the uncomfortable aspects of your fears and anxieties, the greater resistance your brain will build up to them. And over time, they will reduce in magnitude and fade away.
Don’t expect it to be an overnight process. If you’ve spent years of your life avoiding success because of the discomfort it causes you, then it’s going to take a long time to retrain your brain to have better habits.
Do seek professional help if you need it.
Fear of success is a serious matter that might have deep roots in other areas of your life and past.
If your fear of success is really interfering with your ability to conduct your life, it would be a good idea to seek help from a certified mental health professional.
You may need greater support than what self-help strategies can provide to unmake and overcome the fears that are holding you back from the type of life that you want to live.
You don’t have to live a small life, avoiding your fears. Take steps to confront them, take risks, and see where your ambitions can lead you!