Editor at Large: As I See It Fear of Success
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
I sat with a psychiatrist for ten years on a weekly basis. He was the high point of my week as he was the only human contact I had. I grew attached to him. I do remember one particular topic that we discussed. Fear of success. Sounds absurd. Who fears success? I personally did not get it -- at least not then.
While working on a job, one of the three situations would develop: I would get fired, quit, or return to a psychiatric hospital. This happened for twenty years. I had no stability to my life. I never stayed on a job for long. Most of all I didn't have a support system.
I still feel uncomfortable with successes and compliments. Many times when someone gives me a compliment, I negate it in a few ways. I can pooh-pooh the compliment by saying, "I could have done better" or "Oh, the job should have been completed earlier." Depending on the situation, I came up with any number of similar comments. I still don't feel comfortable with praise.
Just because I understand the problem doesn't mean I've solved it. I live with the problem every day. However, there is some progress.
A big problem was handling promotions. Since I was basically a good worker, I at times received a promotion. I couldn't handle the success. Once I became psychotic at work and was hospitalized. Many times I quit when I was succeeding. The elements of my illness, quitting, getting fired, then hospitalized blended into a pattern I really didn't understand nor could I seem to control.
Eventually, I went back to work without solving the problem. I continued to go from job to job as I had previously. All told, I've worked in most major industries in New York City.
Fear of success still permeates my total being. I live daily with a monkey on my back. God gave me a silver lining. After leaving Kings Park State Hospital, I met Reta, my future wife, at a YMCA. Reta offered me love for the first time in my life. I call her love "unconditional." She alone stayed during the good, as well as the bad times. Newer medicines turned my life around. Reta always offered a listening ear to my frustrations, hopes and dreams. As a result I have stayed out of hospitals for the last nine to ten years.
For the most part I still remember what my psychiatrist told me: "Marvin, you aren't afraid of failure, you are afraid of success."; I never forgot his words, but tragically I never completely solved the problem. Fortunately, I'm working on the problem with a warm, giving, supportive therapist. A problem of forty years is hard to tackle, but I am trying.