‘Fear of Success’ is a psychological terms that describes panic attack and depression symptoms associated with experiences of success. For people with chronic low self esteem, experiences of success are foreign and can trigger sensations of panic and fear. ‘Fear of success’ is a coping skill and defense mechanism. It’s not that the person rarely experiences success. It’s that her negative self-image prevents her from perceiving experiences as success. Distorted sense of self distorts how a person sees situations.
For example, person A (with normally functioning self-esteem) completes a project and is rewarded financially and with some praise. Person A feels experiences a sense of success and her self-esteem is encouraged. Person B (with low self-esteem or damaged sense of self) experiences the same situation. In his warped view of self, he discounts his success. He downplays it. He views it as something not related to him, not something he can claim credit for. Sensations of failure produce an equal and opposite reaction. Person A experiences failure. She takes it in stride, realizing that failure is part of the human condition. She may not even use the word ‘failure’ to describe the experience. Person B monumentalizes any perceived failure. It eats away at him. His extreme and irrational sense of failure is in direct proportion to his shallow perception, his ‘blowing off’ of his success. Naturally, misconceptions like these drill home his low self-esteem. He thinks, ‘well no wonder I feel so miserable about myself. Look at this list of my failings.’
But a person with low self esteem can fool himself into a false sense of failure just so often. Sooner or later, he comes face to face with the inescapable fact that ‘wonder of wonders, I’m experiencing success’. And no amount of pooh-poohing lessens the fact that he has had success. There is no one but him to take credit. When this happens, a sort of crisis, albeit a potentially good crisis, occurs in the mind. Contrary to all his old thinking, he is presented with irrefutable success. It doesn’t fit with his thinking. As a defense mechanism, the brain may respond with fear or panic. We call this ‘fear of success’. This fear prevents people with low self-esteem from pursuing other experiences of success.
‘Fear of success’ can be healed with cognitive therapy. ‘Fear of success’ can healed by walking through the feelings and analyzing them. Exploring the etiology of ‘fear of success’ helps the person to accept the success he experiences. As his self-esteem improves, his chances to experience success improve too.