Self-Sabotage, Fear of Success, and the Hero’s Journey

Fear of success is actually fear of change.

Everybody’s heard the term ‘fear of failure.’ It’s very easy to hear that expression and think, “Yeah. I get it. Who wouldn’t be scared to fail? Failure sucks.” But when I hear the expression ‘fear of success,’ I scratch my head (figuratively) and think, “Well, why? Why would someone be scared to succeed? I mean success is a good thing.” Why would anyone want to not succeed?

There’s a relationship between self-sabotage and fear of success. Self-sabotage is our way of avoiding success. What’s scarier? Not succeeding or succeeding? Be honest. Does the thought of success scare you more than the thought of not succeeding?

Isn’t failure more…comfortable? Self-sabotage keeps you right where you are – frustrated, but comfortable.

Your fear of success is in love with self-sabotage.

Success, to the soul, means leaving home. It means departing from what’s currently familiar. Abandoning the present, and embracing the unknown. Success requires risk-taking, large and small risks. Being open to success means becoming open to the possibility of leaving all that is familiar, and comfortable. It means leaving yourself as you know yourself. It could mean leaving a familiar neighborhood, town, and being farther away from family. Success entails change. Change of job, change of location, and a change of you.

No wonder so many people take the path of least resistance. No wonder so many people avoid success and, instead, veer toward self-sabotage…toward the comfortable familiarity of the old.


If you want to discard your fear of success and self-sabotage, then you must embrace your life’s journey. The hero’s journey is an old, archetypal description of life’s path. (It’s also a developmental dramatic arc often used for movies and novels – Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.)

The stages of the hero’s journey are:

The Ordinary World
The Call to Adventure
The Refusal of the Call
Meeting with the Mentor
Crossing the First Threshold
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Reward (seizing the sword)
The Road Back
Return with the Elixir

Your present life is the Ordinary World.

If you commit to starting and finishing a project, that is your Call to Adventure.

Your Refusal of the Call will be self-sabotage, the part of you that wants to talk you out of the idea. Addiction is one form of self-sabotage. Addiction prevents growth – that is textbook self-sabotage. It’s scary to change because it can feel like abandonment, so addicts choose to keep using instead.

Once you meet someone (or read something) that causes you to reconsider your journey (or project), you will have had your Meeting with the Mentor.

Once you successfully get past a tremendously difficult aspect of the project, you will have met and Crossed the First Threshold.

Along the way there will be Tests (events or people (including yourself) that test your steadfastness), Allies (folks who help you toward your goal), and Enemies (folks who try to distract you from your goal). One “test” could be your old self testing your new self, in the form of perfectionism (a precursor to self-sabotage). Many ACoAs are perfectionists. The need for something to be just right, perfect, paralyzes us. The need for something to be “perfect” before it’s finally done derails us. It is a distraction. It prevents us from starting projects (because they won’t turn out perfectly) and it prevents us from finishing projects (because they don’t match up with our perfect vision).

Your Approach to the Inmost Cave is both a personal insight, potentially life-changing, as well as a reaching of a certain point of no return.

At this point an Ordeal may come, in which your project or goal will be in some sort of jeopardy. But because you are steadfast and because you have made a personal discovery, you are not going to be prevented from your path at this point.

Your Reward is either the reaching of your goal or completion of your project, or an unexpected but incredibly fortunate surprise.

The Road Back is your journey back towards the “home” from which you began the adventure.

Your Resurrection is the creation of a brand new self – you have been deeply affected by your journey and goal-reaching. This is your new identity revealing itself to you, and the world.

The Return with the Elixir is your reaching “home” and sharing your journey, new self, and ‘helpful message’ to others based on your new understanding and adventure.

That’s success – transformation.



  1. Amy,
    I’m most interested in the “Ordeal” phase of this journey.
    I often wonder that if ACOAs have had no model for “normal,” then can we really be trusted to make reasonable, healthy goals for ourselves?
    What if that which seems to jeopardize us (“Ordeal”) might be the thing to help us transcend from our self-destruction (which I think would have to be sub-conscious, for the reasons you describe about the love of success…)?
    Especially if we end up on the “Road Back,” have we really transcended anything at all? And if we have, has that transcendence led to its own destruction–are our goals shaped by our other qualities (perhaps perfectionism, like you stated) that always seem to lead us to our “self-sabotage”?
    I guess this comes from a current feeling of confusion in setting life goals. What I feel so confident about wanting for myself seems to be the worst choice, although not seemingly personally destructive. Yet, how am I to know otherwise?
    I guess I’m just guessing at what normal is…

  2. amyeden says:

    You really cut to the heart of things! Why should we trust ourselves to know what a good decision feels like if we didn’t have models for that? Oh, man, that’s tough.
    You can learn to. You have to learn to. You learn it through…doing.
    Once you learn what a good decision feels like inside your body/mind and what a bad one feels like, you can guide yourself going forward. If you make a decision now that seems right based on all the information you can gather, then go for it. If it turns out to have been an unhelpful decision, then learn from that. (No decision is “bad” if you make it from a place of goodwill.)
    You said that what you feel so confident about seems like the worst choice…why? What does “confident” feel like, what are the thoughts behind that feeling in your mind, and also Why oh Why do you think it seems like the worst choice? Will it piss off others? Is it “selfish”?
    I’m intrigued, because you also say that the decision isn’t self-destructive, but seems like the worst choice…
    The best thing I’ve learned in making various life decisions (and I mean lifepath-altering ones) is to learn what it feels like to have made a bad decision, what a hunch feels like, and then, conversely, what it feels like to make a good decision. I’ve had to learn this on my own — and it took a while. It took sticking with poor decisions and really feeling lost for a while before I taught myself what good decisions feel like.
    I attempt to live by this guide: make one best decision at a time knowing all that can be known at the time of that decision, then follow that best decision with other best decisions, one at a time.
    …what do you think?

  3. weird phobia says:

    List of phobias and fears
    Fear of long words and fear of success are only a few of the phobias and fears that people experience. Let’s get down with the madness of phobias and fears. We promised you an exhaustive list of phobias and fears, and an exhaustive list of phobias and fears you will get.
    This list of phobias include many of the categories used to describe phobias and fears. From social phobias as common as phobia of public speaking, to specific phobias like fear of success, passing through really unusual phobias like fear of long words.
    Unfortunately we cannot include all of the phobias and fears that exist, but this list of phobias is pretty complete:
    * Ablutophobia: Fear of washing or bathing
    * Anemophobia: Fear of wind
    * Anthrophobia: Fear of flowers
    * Batophobia: Fear of being close to high buildings
    * Bibliophobia: Fear of books
    * Chaetophobia: Fear of hair
    * Chionophobia: Fear of snow
    * Chronophobia: Fear of time
    * Dendrophobia: Fear of trees
    * Didaskaleinophobia: Fear of school
    * Eisoptrophobia: Fear of mirrors
    * Eosophobia: Fear of daylight
    * Ergophobia: Fear of work
    * Geliophobia: Fear of laughter
    * Graphophobia: Fear of writing
    * Heliophobia: Fear of the sun
    * Hemophobia: Fear of blood
    * Homichlophobia: Fear of fog
    * Kainophobia: Fear of anything new
    * Lachanophobia: Fear of vegetables
    * Logophobia: Fear of written words
    * Melophobia: Fear of music
    * Metrophobia: Fear of poetry
    * Neophobia: Fear of anything new, again…
    * Oneirophobia: Fear of dreams
    * Phengophobia: Fear of daylight, again…
    * Photophobia: Fear of light
    * Pogonophobia: Fear of beards
    * Sciophobia: Fear of shadows
    * Scolionophobia: Fear of school
    * Sociophobia: Fear of society or people in general
    * Somniphobia: Fear of sleep
    * Spectrophobia: Fear of ghosts
    * Spheksophobia: Fear of wasps
    * Stenophobia: Fear of narrow things or places
    * Suriphobia: Fear of mice
    * Tachophobia: Fear of speed
    * Taurophobia: Fear of bulls
    * Technophobia: Fear of technology
    * Telephonophobia: Fear of telephones
    * Thalassophobia: Fear of the sea
    * Thanatophobia or Thantophobia: Fear of death or dying
    * Tocophobia: Fear of pregnancy or childbirth
    * Tomophobia: Fear of surgical operations
    * Traumatophobia: Fear of injury
    * Trypanophobia: Fear of injections
    * Urophobia: Fear of urine or urinating
    * Verbophobia: Fear of verbal words
    * Venustraphobia: Fear of beautiful women
    * Verminophobia: Fear of germs
    * Virginitiphobia: Fear of rape
    * Wiccaphobia: Fear of witches and witchcraft
    * Xenoglossophobia: Fear of foreign languages
    * Xenophobia: Fear of strangers or foreigners
    * Xyrophobia: Fear of razors
    * Zeusophobia: Fear of God or gods
    * Zoophobia: Fear of animals
    That’s a pretty long list of Weird phobias and fears. I would like to call the attention of two phobias that will be discussed in another article, and hopefully in a future list of phobias: Fear of success and fear of long words. Fear of success is not as uncommon as it seems. Many people feel too much pressure in their life to achieve success, therefore, making fear of success an every day thought in their life. Now, fear of long words is plain funny. People actually cringing at the sound of the word ‘physiographies’ makes me realize I’m not that crazy. For more information on fear of long words read the article in this site.
    You can find more info at:

  4. James says:

    First let me say i am enjoying your thoughts.
    I stumbled across your page and I am intrigued and very glad that i did.
    My one question to your sabotage thoughts, would be “is this the model for all endeavors–such as in business, in our relationships, in our family???”"
    i wonder because i see this more in my personal relationships and not as much in business or in my military career.. however, there are things i could have done that would have insured better success in both the military and my present career. People looking on the outside would consider both very successful, although i know that i could have done even better. I wonder did i knowingly make decisions that sabotaged my ability at success even in areas where i am relatively successful?? hmmmmm

  5. amy-eden says:

    Hey James -
    There are always things we can do better – always. :-) It’s tricky to navigate around perfectionism and self-sabotage so that we’re viewing our goals and accomplishments with kindness and fairness, no matter what the result is.
    For me, regarding “doing better,” the question comes down to, am I OK with what I DID do, or do I think I didn’t push myself to do more because I was afraid to succeed/change?
    It’s not so much what we do and don’t do, but the inner motivation for what we do and don’t do. Because the fact is, I can be appearing to be totally successful to my friends and family, but not feel that I’m “there” yet in terms of the success I really want to have; so, I know that I’m holding back but people around me wouldn’t know that. So I can be avoiding change/success while people around me think I’m “successful.”
    We’re so trained to believe that what appears to be true…is true…that sometimes we’re shocked to realize that our inner experience isn’t matching up with what’s seen…sometimes not at all.
    To answer your Q, I wrote this post with all things personal in mind, our own personal journey in life. Not so much applying this to relationships and career, but it could still be useful in that regard. The Hero’s journey is the…spiritual framework…a new viewfinder for looking at our lives.
    One thought about military life for an ACA, is that it’s helpful in the it provides structure (to people who didn’t have much structure growing up) but tricky in that the authority figure stuff can be too familiar and not flexible enough for people with uneven, untrustworthy parents/authorities growing up.
    I’d love to hear what you think about what being in the military is like for someone from an alcoholic home.
    Regarding the appearance of being successful and being successful, it reminded me of how un-even our inner worlds are (what we feel) and our outer selves (what the world sees, and even close friends) can be at times (I know mine is) — some of that is isolation (not sharing with others our “weaknesses” and true selves) and some is that our Survivor mode is still in high-gear.
    We’re…”well-wrapped!” Sometimes a great thing, sometimes something to…peel back a bit.
    Thanks for the note!

  6. Troyann says:

    Hi Amy,
    I just recently found your site and I truly enjoy your writings! I believe that people are much more afraid of success than they are failure – for many of the reason you stated such as failure being much more familar. Building success is often like trying to bust through a cocoon – it is a challenging struggle and takes a great deal of persistence and personal fortitude.
    I am very happy to have found your site and I plan to read many of your blog posts!
    Take care, Troyann

  7. amy eden says:

    Troyann, thanks so much for your comments and I’m glad you’ve found writings here that you can relate to.
    Feel free to suggest a topic you’d like to have me focus on, anytime.
    And, right, it takes a lot of courage and personal fortitude to try to feel comfortable within success, not because it’s “bad” or “good,” just because it’s different. :-) Thanks!

  8. [...] Here’s a link to a post I wrote about The Hero’s Journey, which I mentioned in my talk yesterday. [...]

Leave a Reply