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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Why We Fear Success and What to Do

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 11th 2011


successMarianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” These words were later echoed by Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison. Why do we fear success?

Emotions are not so clean. It’s not as if when we feel anger, we just feel anger, or when we feel sadness it’s pure sadness, or even when we feel joy, it’s just joy. We have to remember that the names we give emotions are just labels to help us communicate with one another. There’s many times where sadness will come with guilt or anger will be hiding sadness or joy will come with sorrow.

Maybe we grew up in a family of divorce that instilled the faulty belief that “I am not worthy of being loved.” Or maybe you had to be vigilant as a child walking on egg shells around your parents unable to show your true joy. Or maybe when you came home from school your successes were treated as just what was expected instead of being celebrated.

The point is that success to many people means rubbing against some well worn beliefs that try their best to keep you safe in status quo. If you were to touch success it would create a sense of dissonance as it’s not something you believed you were worthy of or had associations with some previous negative events. And who wants to feel dissonance?  

So we avoid it.

These old beliefs are fairly embedded so if you find your mind saying, “Oh, that’s not me, I just get distracted or too tired, or just procrastinate,” that’s worth exploring a bit further. In other words, that may be the actual fear at work.

Marianne Williamson continues:

“Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Bring her words with you throughout the day and use it as strength to begin breaking out of any beliefs that say “I can’t do it.” The fact is, if you are living and breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you and in spaces of awareness the possibilities begin reveal themselves.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.  


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

who wants to feel dissonance? - - Apr 20th 2013

It is very true that becoming successful will envoke dissonance. I believe that I am not worthy of success, and therefore I accept the failure as "who I am"... when in fact the sheer fact that I am capable of success, means I am worthy of success...I liked the way this was written... I will begin to reframe my beliefs... 

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