One of the reasons many struggle to break free of addiction is that they are held back by fear of success. This may explain why they start of so positively in an attempt to become sober, yet still, somehow, manage to end right back in addiction. The idea that some individuals ‘fear success’ may sound like an odd claim, but this condition has been studied by psychologists and is believed to be fairly common; it is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Jonah Complex’.
What is Fear of Success?
It is probably easier to explain fear of success by providing an example of how it might occur in a real situation.
John feels that he has hit rock bottom due to his alcoholism but is certain that he would only be able to break free of this addiction by entering an inpatient treatment programme. He cannot afford private rehab, so he is put on a waiting list for an NHS facility. John tries to keep his drinking in check while he waits for a place to become available but, when this great day arrives, he goes on a bender and does not stop until the opportunity of going to rehab is lost. John is baffled by his own behaviour, and his family and friends struggle even harder to make sense of it all.
This story is a classic example of how fear of success can cause people to self-sabotage their own efforts. It is a real problem, and it is made worse by the fact is that it usually happens subconsciously. The person can be completely oblivious to the fact that they are afraid of success, yet this fear is dictating their behaviour.
What Causes Fear of Success
The most common cause of fear of success is low self-esteem. If a person does not really feel that he or she deserves to be sober, this doubt can trigger acts of self-sabotage. He or she could decide that the pain of addiction is better than trying to be something that they are not. They may individual even look upon their current plight as a type of penance for past mistakes.
Another reason many struggling with addiction could fear success is that they believe it would involve too much hard work. It is always tempting for individuals to remain in their ‘comfort zone’ even when this lifestyle involves a lot of pain; the individual may justify this with the idea that ‘it is better the devil you know’. Giving up alcohol or drugs does require a significant amount of effort, but it is staying the same that is actually harder to do.
Some people fear successfully breaking free of addiction because it would mean moving away from their drinking or drug using friends. There is also the worry that these same individuals may ridicule the attempt at sobriety or actively try to sabotage it. The reality is that real friends would want what is best for you, so you can afford to let go of those individuals who begrudge your happiness. One of the benefits of sobriety is that you can have the opportunity to enjoy deep and meaningful friendships.
The most important step to eliminating the fear of success is to identify it. If every time you get close to achieving long-term recovery things begin to fall apart, this could be evidence of the phenomenon. If you suspect that fear of success is holding you back, you may benefit from spending some time with an addiction therapist. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can also give you the support you need in order to break free.