Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sabotaging Success

We've all heard about the fear of failure. Did you know there is also a fear of success? Everyone assumes that people want success and happiness. Yet, there are persons who pursue paths that lead to pain and disappointment.

In today's New York Times an article, "Sabotaging Success, but to What End?" by Dr. Richard Friedman explores the reasons persons engage in self-defeating behavior. Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, believes there is a "hidden psychological reward" in this kind of behavior. Basically, it allows a person to blame others for their disappointments and failures.

Self-defeating behavior also exists in the spiritual realm. The difference is that when we suffer failures here, we tend to blame God. We can believe that failures and disappointments are ways that God disciplines us for our unfaithfulness.

This view of God-as-disciplinarian goes against everything I believe about a loving God who can be fully trusted. God doesn't send failures to punish us or pain to get our attention. We bring these things upon ourselves by our own choices. We need to accept responsibility for our failures.

Even those negative things that happen to us accidentally are not God's doing. There is randomness in our world and we need to learn to accept it. The way to deal with self-defeating behavior is to (1) accept responsibility for our choices, (2) accept the randomness in creation. God wants us to enjoy abundant life, not to sabotage success.


  1. I read the article. To me it is typical 20th century psychobabble which seldom can get itself to the core of a person's problem other than attaching labels to it such as, self-destructive behavior, or self-sabotaging or role playing, or (this one is the most ridiculous) fear of success.

    The writer's solution that the person's motivation was: "she felt morally superior to everyone she felt had mistreated her. This was a role she had no intention of giving up." is simply incorrect. The fact that the woman justifies her position of feeling morally superior because the other person is doing her wrong is her mind trick that allows her distraction. Her role of superiority is not her main motivation. Her main motivation is blaming the other person so she can avoid the pain of her own fear. None of these psychobabble labels, being in themselves simply names of overt behavior, give any clue to the poor person as to what in the heck they are doing wrong. Feeling morally superior is not the error. The error is distracting yourself from your own fear.

    People who are not successful in life are truly unaware that the reason they are unsuccessful and "always victimized" is because they are weak and afraid. Not being aware that they are afraid, they can do nothing to call up their courage. This does not mean that these people are not intelligent, or even successful in some ways. But their lives, despite their various successes, do not work for them. Because they do not call up their courage they are, ipso facto, cowards and make all their decisions out of fear of something rather than love of something. Because nothing good comes from fear, nothing in their life gives them a deep sense of satisfaction.

    The only way out of this is for the person to experience their own fear in such a way as they can recognize it, and have the option to call up their courage. I suggest to people all the time that they take a course in public speaking via Toastmasters International because most people are afraid to speak in public, and this is one way people can experience their own fear, as well as vicariously experiencing the fear of others who are struggling with their microphones.

    The only way a person can call up their courage is to first recognize they are afraid. It is a very painful thing to confront your own fear. It feels like you are dying, but of course, it is not you that is dying, it is your fear. It is so painful that people distract themselves from their own fear with blaming--it's the fault of my mother, my husband, racists, the economy, bad luck, bad therapists, childhood abuse, etc. As long as they can expend their mental energy and focus their attention (we have only one attention) on what is being done TO them, they are distracted from what they are FEELING (FEAR). But you can't get someone to see their own blaming until they can see their own fear. Once a person confronts their own repressed fear, allows it to finish, they have no need of blaming and see other's abuse of them in terms of the other person's weakness. They themselves have lost all interest in blame since it no longer serves any purpose.

    Blaming is the way we avoid our own fear. If you want to know how afraid you are, how much repressed fear you have, check out to see if you blame anyone for anything

    A. B. Curtiss, board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist and http://www.depressionisachoice.com

  2. I like your analysis of the reason for blaming better than Friedman's. You obviously have given this issue much thought. Thanks for sharing.