What’s Behind the Fear of Success?

Do a Google search for the phrase “fear of success” and you’ll come back with something like 32,600,000 results. Obviously there’s a lot of information out there on the problem, presumably because there are a lot of people out there with that problem.

Are you one of them?

I was.

Two things changed for me though. One was completely unexpected: I signed up for something called release point therapy, which was supposed to release stress and tension in the body and be vaguely similar to massage. The very first time I went turned out to be a life changing experience. It did release stress in my body, but it also affected me emotionally. Suddenly, I knew I could do those things I’d been wanting to do for so long. I sure am glad I went.

The other thing that changed was more recent. I was wondering why I’d been afraid of success for so long. I’d thought about this before, of course, in an effort to stop being afraid, but nothing had ever made any sense. After all, what would happen if I became successful? I’d be able to do the things I wanted to do and enjoy life more. Nothing to be afraid of there, right?

But this time it hit me, and maybe it’ll hit you too.

I thought back to some of the things I’d worked really hard on as a kid, and how I felt afterward. I was happy with what I’d done. I felt good. I was successful. Once a teacher even put something I’d drawn (and worked on for days) up on the wall.

Another kid came along and tore it up, leaving it hanging in shreds.

I cried when I saw it. All my hard work on something I’d really enjoyed and was proud of, and a complete stranger tore it to pieces? Why would they DO that?

That IS the kind of thing that happens sometimes to people who are successful. Think of movie stars, and all the gossip columns and detractors. Think of great comedians, with a heckler shouting from the audience.

The thing is, people are human, and their natural reaction to other people’s success is often to feel not-so-great inside. THEY want to be successful too. Maybe they want attention. Maybe they feel inadequate, or jealous, or whatever, in addition to or instead of being happy for you.

So their response to your success may be less than enthusiastic, at best. Sometimes the response is downright unpleasant. They try to tear you (or your work) down.

Maybe a fear of success is really a fear of being disliked or of dealing with unpleasantness. The thing is, even when we’re not successful, there will be people out there who dislike us or who are unpleasant. We may as well go ahead and succeed.


  • What a mean kid! Gah! :(

    I have “success issues” myself, largely stemming from laziness. Haters, I can handle. But it’s expectation that freaks me out, and I deftly try to avoid it. Naturally, to my detriment. Once you succeed, folks expect things from you. Oy.

    I’m going to look for release point therapy that you suggested. I hope that body-centered therapies gain more attention, because I’ve found them to be incredibly helpful. Odd that traditional therapy focuses solely on the mind, given that the body and the brain work in concert.

  • Success doesn’t scare me, but I have come to the conclusion that I’m selfish enough that I don’t want an 80 hour a week job no matter what it pays. If my blog ever becomes a big hit, I know I’ll have to deal with crappy comments, but I think I can handle it.