By Margaret Wehrenberg

Fear of success is sometimes a bigger obstacle than fear of failure. In my previous blog, I was advocating asking others to help you move out of depression, drawing on their creativity, problem solving and their optimism to help you get energized. Whether you want to or not, you probably have to rely on other people to help you get out of depression. All that “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” stuff is fine in theory, but the depressed person usually needs someone to help tug them along. That is because depression sucks the energy right out of you and robs you of the creativity to find a solution to the problem you are in.

One major reason you may not get out of the depressed spot you are in is that you are afraid: Afraid of asking for help and afraid that asking would make you look foolish. You may be afraid that trying and failing PROVES you are no good.

Another aspect of the fear that keeps depression in place, is the fear of what will happen if you succeed in your goals. Uncertainty about life after success can make the process a challenge. The willingness to succeed is necessary, but surprisingly hard. For some, succeeding may make all their previous beliefs about themselves wrong.

So if a person is certain that no love will ever come her way, then she does not have to be anxious and she can remain depressed as an unloveable person. That is better for some than knowing they are lovable and have not as yet achieved the romantic partnership they desire. (In the meantime they overlook all the other ways they can experience love – which might decrease their depression!)

Why is uncertainty such an issue? Anxiety is what we feel in the face of uncertainty: and in depression, uncertainty about how you will accomplish a success or about what it will feel like to succeed can create reluctance to try. Anticipating failure ironically diminishes anxiety if you are stuck in the depressed point of view that you are not the kind of person who gets to have love or money or success.

Keeping fear in place can keep isolation in place too. “No one cares enough,” is a typical depressed way of thinking, and sticking to the notion that no one can help maintains self-fulfilling isolation. And isolation increases depression that robs you of creative problem solving and of optimism that a new solution could work. So if you are ready to draw on another person’s aid, you still have to face the possibility of failure and the possibility of success.

Take a look at your fear specifically. Make some cognitive changes to deal with it and use the input of others to help you find better thought processes.

  1. Take a good hard look at the question, “So what?” (…if I fail?) “What would be different?” Probably nothing. But nothing will be different if you don’t try either. You can fee less fearful of failing if you know what to expect by facing the possibility head on. A new solution might NOT work, but, then “So what?” If you were going to live without love, you still don’t have it- nothing new. If you were afraid you would not succeed and did not try, then you did not succeed. Same difference.
  2. Dial down your assumptions about how bad it will be. Start by changing statements that are ‘all or nothing’. For example, “If he does not want to go out with me a second time it will prove that no one will ever love me,” could be said less extremely, “If he doesn’t want a second date, that is one less bad date I have to go on!” Or, “If I apply for that promotion, even if I do not get it, the boss knows I am interested and may think of me for another position.”
  3. Deal with your fear of success by first assessing what it might look like if something works out for you. Have your friend, colleague or family member help you make a list of the positives that could come of trying something different. You cannot guarantee success, but you can guarantee trying. “If I ask for help and get myself down to dinner, I may not get stronger, but at least I will enjoy my meal more if I eat with company.” “If I do get someone interested in a second date, that will be fun, and I can take my time to know if it is a good relationship developing.”
  4. Healthy skepticism about success may help us form realistic plans that we can achieve, but healthy optimism about success is often hard to come by. Ask someone to give you a reason why you will succeed. Write it down and read it daily.

Your courage develops from small steps, not from leaps.

Here is where courage really comes in. It can be easier to leave things as they are, and trying something new takes courage. And to get that first bit of courage you might need to be en-couraged. It takes courage to tell a friend or mentor or therapist that you are going to do something new. And when you do, their enthusiasm for you to try, and their implicit promise to respect you for trying (not for succeeding) can help you take that next courageous step into the uncertain territory where you can defeat fear and thus diminish depression.

Using that helping person you have chosen is in itself an act of courage that is like planting a seed. In a fairly short period of time it will grow into a strong enough courage to try, knowing you might succeed in changing your outcomes!