Being afraid of success may sound like a tale adults tell children to keep them entertained. However, as unusual as it may sound, it is a common yet undiagnosed and misunderstood struggle that shares a few commonalities with the fear of failure.
Fear of success is also a way of self-sabotage, and it can manifest in several ways. Surpringsily, people who struggle with it are not afraid of success but of its potential consequences.
This fear is, most of the time, rooted in childhood events that shaped a person’s beliefs surrounding success. It can also develop in adults who didn’t experience traumatic events related to success in childhood but are now dealing with anxiety, depression, or numbness.
5 Types of Fear of Success
1. Fear of Losing Loved Ones
We all have heard how some artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs lost friends and family members due to the radical changes of huge success. And while not every successful person had the same experience, people fearing success use this thought pattern frequently.
However, the truth is that people don’t have to be successful to lose those they love. Successful or not, losing friends or family members is part of the human experience. Besides, success is a reward for hard work that doesn’t necessarily bring negative changes to one’s life.
2. Fear of losing yourself in the process
We, humans, love our systems – and by systems, I mean habits and routines. The thing is that when success comes, so does change—the number one enemy of routines and habits.
By changing, we are stepping out of our comfort zone to become, hopefully, better than yesterday.
The bottom line is that change is inevitable—unless you want to live right where you are for the rest of your life—and instead of fearing it, we should stay loyal to our values and who we are as a person so that the chances of losing ourselves in the process are low.
3. Fear of The Spotlight
Socially awkward people may have a hard time being the center of attention.
How to deal with all the scrutiny that surrounds success? How not feel anxious when everyone is watching your movements? How to be okay with people putting you on a pedestal that doesn’t do justice to who you really are?
Those are some of the most frequently asked questions by people fearing the public eye. And while unwanted attention is something that goes hand in hand with success, it is unfair to hold yourself back for something out of your control.
4. Fear of Backlash & Criticism
It is the fear of social repercussions that comes with success. Researchers call this phenomenon backlash avoidance. Women, according to one research study, are more likely to experience this kind of fear because the concept of a successful woman doesn’t align with the traditional gender roles.
Being afraid of negative comments, on the other hand, is known as the fear of criticism. And it tends to freeze people until they are no longer able to perform or do the thing that made them successful in the first place.
What people facing both types of fear should know is that on a planet where more than seven billion people reside, there will always be positive and negative comments. So paying attention to the opinions of others and neglecting your own is not a smart move, nor will it help you grow as a person.
5. Fear of Radical Changes
Change is the only constant and, depending on various factors, it can be so radical that your life can take a 180-degree turn in a matter of days. And while that may sound fantastic to some, it is scary and uncomfortable for those afraid of it.
As you’ve read before, change takes you out of your comfort zone to create new routines and habits. But how do you know that the unknown is bad? What if it’s better than you could ever imagine?
How To Overcome It
Identify Its Origin
People afraid of success are either unaware, misdiagnosed/undiagnosed, or ashamed and embarrassed.
So, the first step to overcome this fear is acknowledging the issue—getting past the shame and embarrassment—and then proceed to identify the origin of it. Is it because of a traumatic childhood where success was punished? Or does it have to do with self-perception?
Whatever it is, find the reason behind the fear.
Journaling or audio journaling can be beneficial to do that. Start by writing down your feelings about success.
If you need inspiration, think about how you would feel if success decides to knock on your door someday, or what are the things/values/aspects of your life that you would like to conserve if that happens. Do this practice daily until you discover why the fear has developed.
Become Aware of Your Avoidance Strategies
Discovering the origin of your fear is half the battle. You are now officially in the arena. So, the next step is to become aware of every strategy you employ to avoid success.
For your attention, every time you avoid a specific situation, you signal your brain that there is something really dangerous happening, and it should be avoided at all costs.
What’s more, avoidance strategies only strengthen fear. In the short term, you may feel safe and protected. But, in the long term, however, your brain will be a master at avoiding what can be beneficial to you.
So, identify all the big and small, physical and mental ways you signal your brain to be scared. Write them down if you need to, and start catching yourself in the act.
Once you identify the origin of your fear and the strategies you use to avoid situations that may lead to success, it is time to take action and indicate to your brain that there is nothing wrong with being successful.
Also, remember that this is all about small wins. Take it easy, and approach situations that are uncomfortable but doable.
For instance, making eye contact can be an uncomfortable but doable act for those socially awkward. Don’t go for the big fish yet, and take your time to build confidence first.
If, after following the steps described above, you don’t see results, it may be time to seek professional help. A cognitive-behavioral therapist is usually the right person to help you deal with this fear.
Fear of success is a real and often overlooked struggle that can negatively affect people and momentarily rob them of the opportunity of succeeding at things they love. The best way to deal with it is by identifying its origins, becoming aware of the strategies used to avoid success, and take action or seek help to eradicate the fear.