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“How could anyone fear success?! I never understood that.” — Oprah Winfrey
It’s not uncommon. In fact, I see it just about every day in my inbox full of questions and messages, in people’s homes that are deliberately cluttered with obstacles, in bars and at parties where people get numbed to their lives with a few too many cocktails — and even in my own life, I’ve seen it pretty clearly in decisions I have made in the past. Why do you fear the thing you want so badly? How the hell do you fix that?
While I beat a drum for a balanced life, success kicks that balance off its heels. When you're successful — really hitting it big in some area of life — there is a wild rush of energy that floods your space. The excitement, the responsibility, and even the feeling that something could take this moment away from you can be a lot to deal with — even if it’s all good stuff.
Apparently, lots of people who have been traumatized in some way experience the rush of success as a similar emotion to trauma. If you experience that rush of goodness, you may deem it similar to anxiety or shock. When I first heard this idea, it made total sense to me: Excessive greatness and excessive badness both are big doses of energy that physically rev you up and rock your world. So, if something triumphant is happening, it may remind you physically of the experience of something bad. It's a fascinating correlation that Suzanne Babbel writes about in Psychology Today. She also includes a simple exercise to differentiate the feelings of success from trauma:
In order to have a healthy relationship with success (and its flip side: failure, or disappointment), the first step is to learn to differentiate between feelings of excitement and a “trauma reaction.” Here is an easy exercise: Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation of for 5 minutes. Then, recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation of for 5 minutes. Now, tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event — at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you. Now, go back to visualizing your success story. Do you notice a difference?
In your home, look for ways you are creating deliberate blocks to your own success. I see these obstacles so clearly in client’s homes. Whether its the relationship area used as a junk storage area, or the career area filled with TVs, bar carts, and other escapes from reality, there are most always physical ways that obstacles are set up to keep you “safe” from that rush of success.
When you clear obstacles, it can be scary. Let me refine that statement: The greatness that can flood into your life when you are clear of obstacles can be intimidating in its power. Ride it out. Resist the urge top revert back to the mess. It took a lot of energy to stockpile so much opposition to a part of life, kind of like cramming a closet with tennis balls to the brim. It will take a while to get it that full. Open the door a bit and they will start to pour out. Open the door completely and they will flood everywhere. Once the crazy chaos is done, you can stop and collect them and put them in their rightful, useful place.
Have you ever fallen in love and not felt totally out of your mind for a while? Ever get an opportunity so big that you shake at the thought of taking it? Big success — the kind of stuff you all tell me you want, whether it is love, money, career acknowledgement, or other achievement or life event — is going to come with lots of energy attached to it when it comes. It’s up to you to have the space to contain that energy and the grounded sensibility to ride out the wildness until you adjust to the new level of being. It’s not something to fear, it’s something to welcome in a big way!
This article was authored by Dana Claudat.