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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Overcoming Fear of Success Linked Unconsciously to Fear of Being Disloyal to Your Family

Many clients come to therapy because they struggle with achieving successful completions.  This difficulty can involve almost anything from a writer's struggles to complete a story to a student's struggles to complete high school or college.

Fear of Success Linked Unconsciously to Fear of Being Disloyal to Your Family
Regardless of the particular issue involved, people with this fear often experience unconscious internal conflict about achieving a successful completion.  In this article, I'll address a particular type of fear which involves fear of success linked unconsciously to fear of being disloyal to the family.

Unconscious Fear of Being Disloyal to the Family
People who have this problem often blame themselves by calling themselves "lazy" or "stupid" because they don't understand the unconscious root of their problem.

There can be many reasons why a person struggles with internal conflict about successful completions. One common reason is an unconscious fear of being disloyal to the family.

Let's take a look at a vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, to see how this problem can play out in a person's life:

Ted came to therapy because he was having problems completing an article for a professional journal  that had a deadline which was looming over his head.

Overcoming Fear of Success Linked Unconsciously to Fear of Being Disloyal to the Family

When Ted first came to therapy, he couldn't understand why he was having such a problem completing the the project.  He was an experienced writer who had written many articles before.  But the difference  with this particular article was that his publisher told Ted that he had a chance to get significant recognition in his field, including lucrative speaking engagements, by publishing this article, and Ted felt more "blocked" than he had ever felt before.

It didn't make sense to him why he was struggling so much.

It was obvious that we weren't going to get anywhere in therapy by just talking about it, and there was no quick fix for Ted's problem.

So, I educated Ted about the mind-body connection and how the body can provide information about what's happening on an unconscious level (see my article:  The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Provides a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

I asked Ted to focus on where he sensed the emotional discomfort in his body when he thought about writing the article, and he was able to say he felt tension in his upper stomach.

As we stayed with the feeling and where he felt it in his body, I asked Ted to just see what images, thoughts or feelings came to mind.

As Ted continued to sense into what he was experiencing, he began having thoughts about his mother, who died several years ago.

At first, Ted didn't think his thoughts about his mother were relevant, but I asked him to stay with it and see what else came up.

As he stayed with it, he identified feelings of anxiety, guilt and sadness, but he didn't know why he was feeling this way.

Over time, in subsequent sessions, we continued to work in this way, and Ted began having memories of his mother struggling to make ends meet by cleaning other people's houses after Ted's father left the household.

As the sole supporter of Ted and his younger brother, his mother would often come home exhausted.  As a child, Ted had a very strong wish that he could do something to make his mother's life easier, but he was only 10 years old, so there was nothing he could do.

There were times his mother's employers, who had significant financial means, were inconsiderate of her and didn't pay her on time.  Sometimes, weeks would go by before they paid her, and she was too afraid of being fired to ask for the money.  This usually meant that she was late with the rent.

During one session, as Ted was focusing on his emotions and physical sensations, he remembered how, as a child, he felt such hatred for these people.  He was surprised because he had not thought about this in many years.

Then, Ted felt overwhelmed with sadness as he realized that he was "blocked" in his work because he now had a chance to get significant recognition, and possibly make a lot of money, and he feared being in the same league as his mother's former employers, the people who mistreated his mother.

Unconscious Fear that Success Would Mean Disloyalty to His Mother

Ted remembered that, as a child, he hated people who had a of money.  But, as an adult, Ted he knew better than to lump all people with financial means together as one group.

He also knew that he would never behave the way that his mother's employers did.  But, on an emotional level, he felt his old childhood feelings, which were that his allegiance to his mother's memory would be broken if he became financially successful.

As we continued to work together over time, I helped Ted to work through his conflict and to begin to distinguish himself on an emotionally level (as opposed to only a cognitive level) from "them."

We worked with this younger self using clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy) to soothe and calm the part of himself that became the repository of these old feelings.

We also worked to help Ted to "update" his emotional reaction to his dilemma to reflect what he now understood as an adult--namely, that being successfully would not be a form of disloyalty to his mother (see my article:  Working Through Emotional Trauma: Separating "Then" From "Now").

We also worked through the grief Ted was holding onto for the loss of both his mother and father.

Over time, as we worked through his conflict, Ted became calmer and his ideas began to flow.    He was no longer blocked.

Ted became more confident.  He no longer felt that becoming successful would make him disloyal to his mother.

As Ted Worked Through His Emotional Conflict, He Became More Confident 

As he became more confident, he felt good about his writing again, and he began sharing his draft with his wife, who was emotionally supportive of Ted throughout the process.

Ted was able to complete the article on time, and he was able to enjoy the success that came with it without feeling guilty.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many clients come to therapy because they can't understand why they have problems with completions, whether it's completing a college degree or completing a particular project.

Often, by the time they come to therapy, their difficulty with completions has had a significant impact on their lives.

There can be many reasons why people struggle with completing projects or tasks.  The struggle often involves unresolved unconscious psychological issues tied to family history.

If you 're struggling with this issue, you don't need to struggle alone.  You owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise helping clients with this problem.

Working through this issue can free you from an emotional burden that's holding you back.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:

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