Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/17/2023
Having a fear of failure probably makes sense to you. After all, who wants to fail? But what you may not realize is that we can have fears or phobias that don’t seemingly make a ton of sense.
For example, some people have a deep fear of success. Given that success is generally thought to be a positive thing, it may be confusing to have nervousness around it. But there are actually a number of reasons someone may develop a fear of success — worries about maintaining your success, worries that your success isn’t deserved or hasn’t been earned, worried that the success you’re feeling isn’t genuine and many others.
Keep reading to learn why someone may fear success and how to identify if you do.
There is no strict definition of what it means to have a fear of success phobia. However, it may help to understand phobias in general.
A phobia is when you have an uncontrollable or irrational fear of an object, situation or activity. Phobias can be so intense that they can cause things like panic attacks or force people to avoid the things they fear.
Phobias affect people of all genders and ages and can range in severity from mild to debilitatingly severe.
With this information about phobias in mind, one can make the connection that having a fear of success means you have an irrational fear of achievement. This can be in your professional or personal lives.
So what might this look like?
Say you’re totally rocking it at work and get a big promotion. You may suddenly find yourself feeling anxious or nervous.
Or maybe you start dating someone and it’s going really well. Despite being in love and happy, you start freaking out. Maybe you worry about how hurt you’d be if things started going poorly or you fear you could do something that would wreck it all.
No matter how unreasonable these feelings may be, it doesn’t illegitimize that those fears exist.
When it comes down to it, phobias around success come down to a fear of failure or worrying about a negative outcome.
There aren’t exact, diagnosable reasons that someone may fear success. Though some mental health professionals do have thoughts on what may cause this phobia — and it turns out that high-achieving individuals may be more at risk for it.
This can make it difficult for someone who has accomplished a good deal to feel proud of what they’ve done.
People with imposter syndrome may feel like their success is due to luck or an error and they worry that will be discovered. Imposter syndrome can create feelings of deep anxiety and stress.
Another reason some people fear success is that it can bring about change.
Anything new — whether it’s a fresh stage in life or a different job — can be intimidating because you do not know what to expect or what could happen.
Once people get used to things, anxiety can ease.
Finally, success can bring about a lot of responsibility. Take, for instance, the examples mentioned above.
If you’ve finally found yourself in a successful relationship, it can be scary to know that you are suddenly responsible for someone else’s feelings. If this is uncharted territory for you, that can feel paralyzing.
Or, if you get a big promotion, you may find yourself with new expectations that you have to meet or tasks you have to take on. You may worry you’ll fail at these new tasks.
Fear of success can mess with your head. It can impact your life satisfaction and even impair future success.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to stop the negative impact these feelings can have so that you don’t have to live in constant fear of success.
From therapy and medication to lifestyle tweaks, here are some things you can try.
Fear of success can leave you feeling overwhelmed and you could get stuck in negative thought patterns. Talking to someone about it may help. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to help people deal with their fears and phobias.
Mindful meditation may help ease the anxiety that fear of success may bring on — at least, according to the research.
A study from 2014 found that 20 minutes of mindful meditation can activate parts of the brain (namely, the anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior insula) to help reduce anxiety levels.
A meta-analysis from John Hopkins researchers also reviewed 47 randomized clinical trials and determined that meditation can help those who are navigating anxiety and stress. If you have never meditated before, there are plenty of apps that can guide you through it.
Though meditating may not fully eliminate your fear of success, it can help you manage it when it comes up.
Intrigued? Check out our guide, How to Meditate to get started.
Like meditation, exercise can help you manage anxiety caused by fear of success. Experts agree that breaking a sweat can help keep you mentally well. It’s also been suggested that regular workouts can ease anxiety.
So,if you’re anxious as a result of navigating your fears around success, pausing for a workout session could help. This could be anything from a brisk walk outside to a rigorous spin class.
However you decide to deal with your fear of success, it’s important that you do actually deal with it.
If you don’t, it could overwhelm you to the point where you feel paralyzed. Your first step, of course, is to speak to a healthcare professional. They can help you parse through your feelings and figure out the next steps.
If your anxiety around it is bad enough, they may even suggest anxiety and depression medication. You can begin a consultation with a mental health professional that can make it easier to fit a session in with your schedule.