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Miller, J.R. (1994). Fear of Success: Psychodynamic Implications. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 22(1):129-136.

(1994). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 22(1):129-136

Fear of Success: Psychodynamic Implications

Julie R. Miller, Ph.D.

Early Work on the Fear of Success

The phenomenon of fear of success received little theoretical attention, and even less in the way of empirical investigations until the publication of Horner's (1968) research. However, a search of the psychoanalytic literature indicates that success anxiety as a clinical symptom, especially among men, has been a topic of discussion for some time. In his discussion of “those wrecked by success,” Freud observed an interesting paradox: that, invariably, some individual patients developed conspicuous neurotic symptoms at a point when they had begun to fulfill achievement-oriented strivings. Freud suggested that success was unconsciously equated with the attainment of oedipal desires. It was proposed that the guilt and fear of retaliation associated with the fantasied oedipal victory made the prospect of success fraught with dread and with the need to sabotage achievement in the service of escaping anticipated parental retribution (Freud, 1957). Schuster (1955) described various expressions of fear of success, ranging from the formation of neurotic symptoms attendant on success, to the inhibition of achievement behaviors in order to avoid the issue altogether, and finally to the actualization of success accompanied by continual, massive anxiety. Ovesey (1962) viewed fear of success as a problem reflecting an underlying need to inhibit aggressive impulses, extending to other areas of assertion as well. Dalsimer (1975) summarizes Ovesey's position. Fear of success is seen to have its origin in the:

severe intimidation of the child. While it may occur in the context of the oedipal rivalry, this is not necessarily the case.

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