Do You Have a Fear of Success?

Do you have a fear of success? Maybe you’re thinking “No way!” or “Who in the world could be afraid of success?” For most people, the fear of failure is a lot easier to wrap their minds around than the fear of success. In fact, it can sound preposterous.

While it may sound odd, it’s a lot more common than most people think. It’s so common it might even be affecting you right now.

Where Does the Fear of Success Come From?

How often have you seen someone achieve 90% of a goal, only to seemingly throw it all away at the last moment? This is living proof of the fear of success.

Being afraid of success has many components. It also has some common symptoms. First let’s take a look at some of its causes, then we’ll follow up with a look at its symptoms. In the final part of this article, you’ll get some ways to mange it. 

Causes of the Fear of Success

1. Fear of change.

Your brain is programmed to avoid change. It doesn’t matter how much you need to change; your brain will naturally try to keep you away from having to make a change.

Why do you have this fear of change even if it would obviously help you get out of a miserable situation? It is because, at an evolutionary level, even if you are highly unhappy with your life, you’re still surviving. For your primitive brain, this is what really matters. Your primitive brain is concerned about what might happen if your situation changes. Your primitive brain thinks, “Life might suck but I’m still alive. This is a lot better than happy and dead.”

2. Fear of greater responsibility

Success at nearly any level brings more responsibility. In many cases, an employee becoming more responsible is how a company defines success. The real problem is when you become successful people expect more from you.

For example, starting a business and experiencing success is great, but now you might have employees that rely on you. Another example is building a real estate empire sounds great, but now you have tenants, debt, and complex taxes to deal with. The responsibility can seem daunting.

3. Fear of greater standing out

Have you ever heard of the Poppy Tree Syndrome? It’s described as “a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down, strung up or criticized because they have been classified as superior to their peers”.

This is the problem with standing out. People notice your success and may dislike you for it. Jealousy and feelings of mediocrity can bring out the worst in others. This is why so many internet trolls come out of the woodwork when someone else is succeeding.

People often prefer to just blend into the background because of the Poppy Tree syndrome. When you stand in the spotlight people take pot shots at you.  This can really nourish the fear of success.

Symptoms of the Fear of Success

1. Self-sabotage

Everyone has experienced this. You’re making great progress. Everything is doing peachy. Suddenly it seems like the wheels all fall off. You make silly mistakes. You make poor choices. We can often see self-sabotage in others but are blind to identifying it ourselves.


2. Constantly Changing Goals

You are nearly to the finish line then suddenly decide to change your mind and do something else instead. You do this again and again. This is a classic symptom of the fear of success. Here the problem when you constantly change direction, you never make any real progress.

3. Procrastination

You are almost to the finish line and then a sudden, large lack of motivation smacks you in the face. “I can do it tomorrow” is the refrain that goes through your head, over and over again. This is a common sign of the fear of success.

Managing the Fear of Success

You can manage the fear of success using the following techniques:

1. Determine the cause

There is no way to defeat an enemy you can’t see. When you find yourself self-sabotaging yourself, ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of?” you want to determine the root cause of your fear of success. This will give you an opportunity to confront it.

2. Notice how the fear changes your thoughts and behavior

The manifestations of the fear of success are thoughts and behaviors. What thoughts does the fear of success put into you? What avoidance behaviors do you find yourself doing? In what ways are your thinking and behavior altered by this fear?

3. Face your fears

Courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is facing your fear and then doing what needs doing anyway. Avoiding your fear leads simply to failure.

Develop strategies for facing and then working around your fears. This will help you become more resistant to fear. For some this is giving yourself a pep talk. For others it is enlisting the help of a friend. Do whatever you need to do to continue to move over your fear of success and onward toward your goals and dreams.

You Don’t Have to Let Fear of Success Stop You

How successful do you think you have been to this point in your life? Are you underachieving?

If you are having problems achieving your goals and you’re not sure why, consider the possibility that you have a fear of success. Take a few moments to go back through this article. Do any of the symptoms ring true for you?

When you consider the source, a fear of success often makes sense. But even though your primitive brain might think so, it isn’t your most desirable option. Try using the techniques you find here to overcome your fear of success. You can achieve the greatness you desire!

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