top of page

Wrecked by Success: Four Reasons Success Leads to Failure

Image of crumbling building inside Asian walled town. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway

Have you had the experience of wanting something, working hard to get it

and when you finally earned it, you no longer wanted it? You're not alone.

While reading The Little Paris Book Shop, I was introduced to a

character who exemplifies the experience of getting something he wanted

and then no longer wanting it. Max has written a best selling novel. As a

result, he is wildly popular and well known. Rather than feeling proud of his achievement and success, he is hiding from the world. Max is suffering

from guilt and writer’s block. He says, “I really cannot stand the

money and the horrible heat of success! I wish none of this had ever

happened. Anyone who’s good at something is hated—or not loved in any


I want It Or Do I?

It happens to many of us. I knew a man who wanted a certain SUV, so he worked hard to save a down payment. After months of saving, he was able to buy the car. He had it a month and no longer wanted it. He did not understand how he did not see the flaws before he bought it.

Maybe you had your eye on a new dress or suit. You put off buying it until you can’t resist any longer. In the store, it looks great and is exactly what you want. After wearing it a couple of times, you decide it doesn’t fit right and you just don’t like it. You wonder what happened to the outfit that you not longer find it flattering.

It is a common held belief that unhappiness, depression and anxiety are

caused by frustration, lack of fulfillment and failure. Most of the time this is true, but there are cases where success can be the hidden source of these


Freud Makes History

In the 1800’s, Freud and his colleagues were making history with their

radical ideas. They were considered extremists, zealots and charlatans; however, many of their ideas have stood the test of time. The ideas they had that were not on target became the starting point for study of the human mind and behavior. Most of what we know about human nature and psychology has its roots in these ideas.

In his paper, “Wrecked By Success”, Freud postulated that there were

times and situations where achieving success or getting what you want

leads to dissatisfaction and no longer wanting what you have.

This can be seen many times in romances. Jack pursued Emily for several

months. She was deeply involved in her career and was not available to

have a relationship. During a holiday lull in her business, she agreed to go

out with him. They continued to see one another on a limited basis for

several years until she finally reached her goals and was available to

pursue a serious relationship. Two months into an intense romance, John

decided he was no longer interested in having a relationship.

What could possibly be wrong in these cases?

There are several reasons why this may happen:

1. Guilt that you achieved more than your family:

I once had a woman say to me, “How can I believe that I can be happy

when my mother wasn’t?” In many families, the subtle and unconscious

message is that you cannot rise above your origins. Success will lead to a change in the relationship with family.

To return to the example of Max, he tells of the interaction he had with his father after his book became a best-seller. He expected his father to be proud of him, instead his father felt shame because he had not chosen to remain in the his family's neighborhood and socioeconomic group.

2. The fear of power, jealousy and competition:

The belief goes something like this: If I become successful, others will be

intimidated by me. If I am successful, my friends and colleagues will

become jealous of me and grow distant. If I compete and win, people will envy me and hate me. They will then be out to hurt and defeat me.

3. Shame that you have more than others and do not deserve it:

You may have heard the quotation, “From those to whom much is given, much is required.” President John F. Kennedy said it – a mangled articulation of Luke 12:48 – and many have latched on to the concept. When I heard it from my friend Stan, it was not a statement of gratitude and happiness. He was struggling with his guilt because his success brought him rewards and privileges. He felt he didn’t deserve it. He believed that he could never give back enough to justify having more that others.

4. Fear of losing the success and what it has brought:

After working for years and achieving success in her chosen field, Ruth

worried all the time that she was going to make a mistake and ruin everything. The pressure grew until she could no longer tolerate it.

Her performance at work was suffering and she could not seem to face

work any longer. She felt it was better to quit before she got fired.

In all these examples, success led to failure. There were different reasons

for this but the same result. It is not necessary to let any of these thought processes ruin the success in your life. If you see yourself in any of these examples, I can help you discover the reasons you are uncomfortable with success.

bottom of page