How to Identify and Deal With a Fear of Success

How to Identify and Deal With a Fear of Success
Photo: Eunice De Guzman (Unsplash)

Fear of failure makes sense. We’ve all experienced failure at some stage, realised it’s not great, and are worried about feeling like that again. But our brains are hard to please. Because in addition to the fear of failure, many people also experience a fear of success.

Though it may sound ridiculous, being afraid of succeeding is very real — although it’s not always obvious. In other words, you may be experiencing a fear of success and not realising it (or are grouping it in with fear of failure). Ideally, we want to avoid these kinds of stresses and fears, so here are some tips for identifying and dealing with a fear of success.

What is fear of success?

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not afraid of the success itself, but rather the consequences of succeeding. Kendra Cherry explains the concept in an article for Verywell Mind:

The fear of success involves being afraid of achievement, often to the point that people will sabotage themselves…Because expectations of success are often based on the idea that achieving your goals means making sacrifices or enduring losses, it is perhaps not surprising that people may be wary of what success might ultimately cost them.

How to identify a fear of success

According to a 2018 article published in the University Journal of Educational Research, fear of success can take the form of any of the following:

  • Being concerned about whether your success could change your relationships with important people in your life
  • Feeling apprehensive about the new responsibilities that may come along with your success
  • Being afraid that your life will become more complicated and feel out of your control
  • Being anxious about being in a position where you are more likely to receive negative comments and feedback — both in general and on a wider scale

How to handle your fear of success

Everyone will respond to success — and their fear of it — in different ways, so it’s a matter of finding what works best for you. If the usual stress-reducing techniques of meditation, deep breathing, relaxation, journaling, etc. will work for you, then by all means, try it.

But for everyone else, these methods may be of more use:

Reframing negative beliefs

Instead of thinking of success the way you are now (in a way that’s stressing you out), reframe how you look at achievement. Here’s Cherry again to explain:

Start paying attention to some of the negative beliefs that you might have surrounding achievement.

Do you associate success with negative outcomes? Are you worried about what other people might think? Once you become more aware of these negative thought patterns, you can start working to replace them with more positive ones.

Get used to tolerating discomfort

Being able to tolerate discomfort is not only a coping skill for the fear of success, but also a range of other uncomfortable feelings and scenarios. Per Cherry:

Because fear of achievement can lead to avoidance behaviours, one way to cope is to improve your distress tolerance skills. When you experience uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions, work on gradually learning to sit with those feelings rather than run from them.

Like anything else, this mentality may take some getting used to, but gradually you’ll become accustomed to the discomfort and be able to push through it, instead of letting anxiety over experiencing it hold you back.

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