Why you can’t change your life: what is “fear of success”

Mintimer Missarov, general practitioner, psychotherapist, tells.

For many, such a headline causes internal denial: most of us do not believe that we are afraid of success, or do not want to earn a lot of money, get a dream position and change our lives 180 degrees.

Imagine an up-and-coming athlete who is unable to reach peak performance and suddenly performs poorly. Or a businessman who does not expand his business, always puts off negotiations, avoids active action, although he has long wanted to sell franchises. Another example: a manager who feels that he can grow in his career, but constantly avoids talking to management.

Most likely, none of them suspects that “fear of success” is getting in the way. A person is not afraid of success itself, but of the consequences: new tasks, difficulties, level of responsibility. The athlete is afraid that, as a national champion, he will not be able to withstand more serious competitions and a possible mistake. A businessman understands: with business expansion, possible conflicts, criticism, envy, negativity and competition await. The manager imagines himself in a high position and assumes that the complexity of tasks will increase and new skills will be required that will have to be learned.

How does fear of success manifest itself?


  • you do not act in the right direction or do it passively;
  • spend a lot of time on Instagram, VK, Facebook;
  • you constantly feel procrastination and laziness;
  • you make plans for the day/week/month/year, but don’t follow through;
  • you don’t finish what you start: you have a lot of work “tails” behind you, you work on several projects, but not very effectively;
  • even New Year's resolutions contain the same points: join the gym, learn Spanish, go dancing, visit a new country, get a dream job;
  • you often engage in self-criticism, feel guilty, ashamed;
  • feel guilty for any, even the smallest achievements, if friends, relatives or colleagues have not achieved the same;
  • You don’t tell anyone about your successes and are even embarrassed about it.

Manifestations of fear of change

In fact, there is nothing abnormal or abnormal about feeling nervous about impending, especially major changes. Any unknown is always frightening, because the human psyche perceives it as a possible threat.

The problem arises when a person begins to experience fear of changes in life, leading him to panic, depriving him of decisiveness and the ability to adequately assess the situation. It happens that people lose good opportunities by refusing to change because of fear. Not everyone is ready to honestly admit to themselves and those around them that they are afraid to take a decisive, fateful step or are very worried about the events that are taking place that do not know how they will end. It is especially difficult for men to admit such fears.

The fear of change is called neophobia. This is often associated with tropophobia - a fear of movement. The term metathesiophobia comes from the Greek. “meta,” meaning transformation, and “phobos,” translated as fear. This is a pathological fear of something unknown. In a milder form, fear can manifest itself as a reluctance to try unfamiliar things or break away from everyday life.

If a person is not aware of his fear, tries to suppress it or keeps it to himself without sharing difficulties with anyone, he may develop neurosis, accompanied by psychosomatic symptoms, such as:

  • Deterioration in general health.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Apathy, depression.
  • Cardialgia.
  • Headache.
  • Dyspnea.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Dizziness.
  • Digestive system disorder.
  • Muscle twitching.
  • Body pain.
  • Exacerbation of chronic diseases.

Symptoms appear against the background of constant tension in the nervous system, as a result of which the autonomic system fails. The body simply has nowhere to put stress energy and it begins to suffer from its excessive amount.

“Death is probably the best invention of Life. She is the cause of change. She clears away the old to make way for the new.”

Steve Jobs

Where does fear come from?


A 1972 study (Horner, 1972) found that women were more likely to fear success. But in 1975 (Wheeler, 1975) researchers confirmed that men and women are equally susceptible to this phenomenon. Fear leads to feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame, a feeling of unfulfillment and criticism from loved ones who do not always understand.

It is better to look at such fears, anxieties, and phobias from the perspective of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. Today this is the most scientifically based method of psychotherapy. For example, insurance companies abroad allocate funds for this particular method in order to help people as quickly and efficiently as possible, guided by research results.

Cognitive behavioral therapy states that our emotions and sensations are the result of a person’s perception of a specific situation. Let's take the example of two friends who were bitten by a dog as children. On a walk, seeing the same big dog, one friend will experience joy and tenderness, while the other will experience fear and a desire to avoid it. The reason is the different settings of each of them.

Possible reasons

Fear of change, like other phobias, does not come out of nowhere; it is necessarily preceded by some events:

  • fear of other people's opinions, criticism from outside - a person with low self-esteem reacts very sharply to the words of people who criticize his actions, he does not take risks, does not dare to make any changes, because he is almost sure of possible failure;
  • in childhood there were many punishments - such an individual cannot realize himself, he is frightened by the condemnation of other people;
  • severe stress arising against the background of strong experiences, the need to leave your comfort zone;
  • fear of responsibility - an individual who has once made a mistake while making a serious decision is afraid of a repetition of this event.

There are character traits that influence the development of fear of change:

  • low self-esteem - a person feels that he is incapable of making life changes, believes that he is already satisfied with the state of things, he does not want to change anything in his life;
  • indecision, uncertainty about the upcoming choice;
  • suspicion, fear of making serious decisions;
  • increased suspiciousness;
  • conservatism - lack of desire to change, attachment to established values;
  • anxiety - often there is a feeling that danger is approaching, a person cannot make new discoveries, he is in constant tension;
  • inability to leave the comfort zone. A person who builds a cocoon around himself to protect himself from external influences experiences serious problems when he wants to cross this border.

What attitudes underlie fear of success?


“If I make a serious mistake, I’ll be a failure.” The athlete from the first example imagines that if he becomes more successful, he will then have no room for error, because he can become a failure in his own or others’ eyes. Therefore, he avoids success and postpones active action.

“If I become famous, negativity will fall on me, which I may not be able to cope with!” A businessman does not expand his business, because greater fame will bring into his life those who will react negatively to his activities. He is afraid of negativity, tries to avoid conflicts, because he does not believe in himself.

“I am not capable enough to cope with the serious problems of life.” The manager does not move to a more profitable position - he doubts that he will cope with the new challenges of work.

The most profound work on any fears occurs at the level of working with attitudes: CBT psychotherapy offers different techniques on how to change attitudes. High-quality work is carried out together with a therapist, but there are ways that help you work through fears of success on your own.

Changes in life - do we need them?

Welcome to the “Our Secret” blog!

Each of us comes to a point in life when change cannot be avoided. It is very difficult to get out of the usual, painfully familiar world and take a step into the unknown, especially when everything suited you in your “past life”. Life was predictable and understandable, and at one moment everything changed dramatically and it could no longer be the same. How not to be afraid of changes in life? Can this be learned? Let's figure it out.

Ways to overcome your fear of success


  • Find and acknowledge the fear

Often people with a fear of success experience a lot of shame and irritability. To get rid of it, you need to sincerely and openly look at your feelings, thoughts and actions and ask yourself questions: am I avoiding success, procrastinating, postponing important steps in achieving goals? What is the reason for postponing life until later? Am I afraid of the consequences of a successful life? Treat yourself with understanding: this will reduce shame and irritability, which will make you more relaxed and harmonious.

  • Identify what fuels your fear of success

Notice the avoidance strategies that support your fear of success: reluctance to take responsibility for important projects; constant lateness to work, poor performance of tasks, avoidance of the company of active and successful people, so as not to feel the pressure of the spirit of competition. Notice and write down the avoidance strategies that maintain your fear of success.

  • Keep going

Once you have a list of avoidance strategies, act systematically. Start small: reduce the time you are late. If you were 20 minutes late before, go up to 10 minutes. Further - more: the fear of success lives for decades, so it will take time to reprogram the brain.

Let's summarize: fear of success is not a fear of success itself, but of the consequences: new challenges in life. The reasons lie in human attitudes, which are formed over years and decades. Mild degrees of fear of success can be dealt with on your own, but a cognitive behavioral therapist can help with severe ones.

Tips for those who are afraid of change

Set a specific goal for yourself

When a person is motivated and goes towards a certain goal, he is not afraid of any changes. It is important to understand what you are really striving for, then all life’s fears will seem funny and ridiculous.

Act more and think less

No wonder there is a Russian folk proverb: “The eyes are afraid, but the hands are doing.” When changes occur in your life, you need to start acting, then there will simply be no time to think and there will be no room for fears.

Try to leave as little time as possible before taking a decisive step, and you will not have time to think - you will have to act and act decisively.

Engage your surroundings

There are suspicious people who are afraid to tell their friends about the upcoming changes so that no one will jinx it. But if you are not one of those people, then let your family and friends know about the changes in your life. Then they will be able to support you with a kind word and specific help, and they will not let you forget about the final goal.

Track your development process

If you really set yourself completely achievable goals and strive to bring them to life, then you simply need to observe the development process. To do this, it is recommended to keep something like a diary, where you note what was planned, what the result was, and what prevented you from achieving the desired result.

The last point develops the ability for self-reflection, that is, the ability not only to state the fact of failure, but also to find the reasons for your failures in order to correct everything. Such reflection is always a powerful tool for self-development, contributes to personal development and can serve you well in the future.

Take your failures the right way

It is quite natural if at first you will be haunted by failures, because you may not yet have enough experience. The main thing is not to give up, but to perceive any failure as an invaluable experience, and your own. You need to perceive your own mistakes as an opportunity to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Any failure is a kind of crisis, a turning point, therefore, you need to look for other ways, and this is development and self-development. You learn to maneuver in the sea of ​​life between dangerous rocks, pass difficult rapids, and sooner or later you will get so close to success that you will see the long-awaited shore ahead.

Drop unnecessary fears

Of course, you say, it’s easy to reason: throw away fear. Fear is born of the unknown, but any unknown can easily be turned into knowledge. You can ask more experienced people who have experienced similar changes. You can read what is written on the forums discussing this issue.

At a new job, you can find well-disposed colleagues who will teach you how to overcome the first difficulties. In a word, the necessary information can be easily found if desired, which means that the unknown will no longer be so hopeless and will not be so scary.

Find like-minded people

Regardless of whether you have many friends or not, a large family or not, in modern society it is very easy to look for like-minded people. The Internet unites many people for completely different reasons.

There are professional communities where you can get advice from experienced colleagues or recommendations from representatives of senior positions. You can find answers to questions that torment you. You can even find a ready-made solution or a practice-tested solution to a difficult problem, a way out of a difficult situation.

For other areas of a person’s life - family, love, friendship, etc. - there are dozens of forums. You can join the discussion, ask a nagging question and get practical advice. In this sense, it is easier to resolve intimate issues on the Internet. Nobody knows you (you can even perform under a nickname), and in life you simply won’t dare to ask some questions to friends or relatives.

Give yourself the right attitude

Back in Soviet times, people were taught to engage in auto-training - self-hypnosis. Nowadays you don’t need to have a special psychological education to understand basic things: a lot in life depends on your attitude. When a mother who is just starting to walk says, “You’re going to fall,” he falls. And if you set it to “Don’t fall,” he will learn to run much faster.

It’s the same in life: when you instill the thought “I was abandoned,” you become a victim of circumstances, a scoundrel husband, etc. If you look at the situation with divorce in a different way, for example, “I am now free, independent and can build my life differently.” , then this installation truly spreads its wings for free flight.

You can find yourself a new hobby, finally start taking English or Chinese language courses, and it is quite possible that in your new environment you will find a loved one - your future life partner.

Finding yourself in a foreign city or in a new team, you don’t need to panic because there is no one to support you or lend a shoulder for support. If you take a close look at your new surroundings, you will definitely find an adviser, and then an assistant.

Signs of a fear of new things

The symptoms of neophobia have physical and mental manifestations. Fear of change can cause a person to feel anxious and panicky. A disturbance in a person’s mental state manifests itself in excessive fearfulness, suspiciousness, suspicion, anxiety, loss of control over the situation, and depression.

Signs of disorders of the autonomic system:

  • rapid pulse;
  • breathing problems;
  • pain in the chest, stomach;
  • trembling in the limbs;
  • excessive sweating;
  • dizziness;
  • fainting;
  • lethargy;
  • numbness of some parts of the body.

How to understand that a person is neophobic:

  • there is a feeling of anxiety before something new;
  • Stress arises while being in an unusual environment;
  • there is no desire to communicate with friends or make new acquaintances;
  • there is no desire to learn new things;
  • hostility towards strangers arises.

Why is this happening to me?

Essentially, it is always difficult for an adult to adapt to new circumstances. The mind is already filled with all sorts of restrictions, false and simply “own” beliefs, stuffed with pleasant or disastrous experiences. Therefore, before we do anything, we conduct an internal analysis, and the system, in turn, actively signals a threat, that is, any deviation from the usual state.

One day, sitting in the park, I watched boys about six years old. They rolled head over heels down a steep hill, and more and more children joined their homemade attraction.

Children are open to new things and are not afraid of the unknown Photo: Depositphotos

This scene reminded me of an episode from childhood, when my brother and I secretly decided to ride down a mountain densely covered with vegetation and, as it turned out, full of copperheads. We, of course, didn’t know about this, but simply enjoyed communicating with nature. And it's not that it could end badly. We were free and our minds were open. First of all - new experience.

However, we did not repeat the experiment again. As often happens, parents created a limiting pattern: nature can be dangerous. As a result, my brother is still afraid of mountain walks and generally approaches all more or less adventurous activities with caution.

A completely logical question arises: how to get rid of limiting beliefs and fear that prevents you from moving on?

Who are you to dare this?

Once you decide to become an extraordinary person, fear will ask you this question.

Fear doesn't care what you set your mind to: starting your own business, quitting your job, writing a book, or becoming a nanny. He calls for fear of the future.

Fear doesn't care about the specific details of your undertaking. No matter who you are, what you dream of, or what you try to accomplish, fear will always think that you are completely unprepared for it.

Even a tiny step towards extraordinaryness - and fear flares up in your heart like a signal fire.

“Who are you to do this?”

“What makes you think you could become like that?”

“You don’t have the right education, training or experience.”

“You’re just a mom or a call center operator.”

“Your life experience will be of no use if you try to achieve this new dream.”

The first argument of fear is that you lack the necessary qualifications.

If you believe in yourself and are convinced that a new business will help change your life, take action!

But get ready for the next fear argument.

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