How to Overcome Your Fear of Success
Why do we so often trip ourselves up just before the finish line? Why is the prospect of success so often filled with anxiety? Success would seem to be an absolute satisfaction.
I am currently attending the 24th Annual Conference of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology, in Salt Lake City. At a workshop today on Long Term Consulting with Elite Athletes, Dr. Gloria Balague, a sport psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed the psychological consequences of winning. All too often, winning an Olympic gold medal is an occasion for psychic pain. Despite the fleeting joy of achieving the dream of a lifetime, the athlete is prone to become anxious and depressed. “Winning the gold” separates her from her teammates and from her larger community of athletes. She becomes the target of the envy of others.
This phenomenon is universal. Winning, or succeeding, can leave a person feeling alone and exposed, separated from “the herd.” An unconscious awareness of this price to be paid can powerfully inhibit a person from manifesting his full potential. This dynamic is expressed in the common saying in basic training: “Don’t stand out!”
Within the context of a person’s family of origin, the prospect of succeeding often triggers the unconscious fear of surpassing a parent or a sibling. The human psyche is inherently conservative. It will always strive to maintain continuity with the past. Succeeding is a way of manifesting one’s individuality. Becoming one’s own person is inextricably interwoven with the experience of separation from others.
Our “inner child” is afraid to feel separate. To feel separate is to feel alone, from the child’s perspective. People who had anxious or frankly traumatic relationships with their parents have a heightened fear of separateness in later life. Success exacerbates this fear.
How to Overcome Your Fear
➢ The best way to overcome separation anxiety, and the fear of success, is to cultivate close relationships with others.
➢ Security starts within the self. We must develop the capacity to “tune in” to our own inner child, to hold and to comfort her. Only then can we approach others based on love rather than from need.
➢ Loving relationships foster the experience of mutuality. With sufficient mutuality in our close relationships, we can risk asserting our independence.
➢ Mutuality and independence come to be experienced as reciprocally complementary, rather than in conflict with one another.
➢ As a result, we can bear the “risk” of succeeding. We can stand out without undue fear of separation, loss or retribution.
If you are feeling too frightened to complete this journey, psychotherapy can provide a safe space within which you can experience, explore and ultimately overcome your fear of success.