When I started out as a therapist, I didn’t think much about
what we call “fear of success.” I believed that the underlying problem—the real
fear—was of failure. Now, thanks to the numerous clients who have educated me
about their issues, I understand that people also suffer from a bona fide fear
of success, a fear that is common among people with eating problems. As a
disregulated eater, it’s crucial that you recognize and deal with the fact that
you actually might be afraid of achieving recovery.
Success and failure are natural occurrences. Success is, of
course, more desirable, but each state is part of life. It’s a no-brainer why
people fear failure. When we fail, we may feel ashamed and inadequate, and our
self-esteem may plummet. We’ve all failed in minor and major undertakings and
most of us never would choose failure over success. There are people, however,
who are so uncomfortable with achievement and who feel so at home with failure
that it hardens into their default setting.
Sadly, some children are admonished that being successful
leads to arrogance, false pride, and boasting, when what parents need to do is
encourage children to feel proud of success. Consequently, success generates
anxiety in the child who wonders, “What if I feel too good about myself, is
success a good or a bad thing, what if success makes me think I’m better than
other people?” When success or achievement provokes criticism or anxiety from a
parent, a child often will take the opposite route to please the parent or
avoid criticism and that route leads to failure. So success becomes a mixed
bag. Something within us says that it is a fine thing to be proud, while our
parents send us equally strong messages that succeeding and feeling pride are
wrong and bad.
Many disregulated eaters dwell on their failures and
mistakes with food, but have enormous difficulty sharing their successes.
Listen up: if you think that reaching goals, recovering from disregulated
eating, and being successful are bad things, you will never get there. That is irrational,
unhealthy thinking. Success is a wonderful thing. You want to feel proud
and good about yourself when you make healthy choices and sustain progress.
It’s thrilling to reach your goals and feel as if you’re sitting on top of the
world. There’s no shame, only pride. How will you ever succeed if you believe
in your heart that success will make you feel superior, arrogant, boastful, or
egotistical? If you were taught erroneous messages about success in childhood,
it’s time to rethink them. If you have mixed feelings about success, you need
to resolve your ambivalence so that you can move forward and bask in the glow
of your hard labor and hard-won achievements.